Monday, August 13, 2007

Discrimination and Food

Today we had lunch at a very good ethnic restaurant. One of the more unusual things was that the restaurant had multiple menus. One was printed on paper in English and had the standard, bland Americanized versions of the cuisine. The one we were given, a bound booklet, listed many more uncommon and spicy dishes and was also in English. A third menu was posted on the wall, with over a dozen permanent and rotating items listed in a foreign language. (There was also fourth version, a second paper English menu with some but not all of the adventurous dishes from the booklet.) We were not advised of the existence of any menus but the one we were given, the English booklet version. Not everyone received the same menu(s); another Anglo couple was given the booklet and the boring takeout menu when they sat down.

Now I am aware that in at least some jurisdictions, businesses can be sanctioned for posting help-wanted notices in a foreign language without providing a translation. Similarly, I don't think it would hold up in court if a restaurant gave its black customers a menu that included only cheap plates of collard greens and fried chicken, even if it could produce evidence that those customers were generally poorer and didn't order the foie gras. So is there a legal problem with untranslated menus? With providing different menus to different customers?

UPDATED to add that different menus can allow restaurants to establish dual pricing schemes as well.

*I hasten to add that I have no desire to get the restaurant in question in any sort of trouble; the service and food were excellent. This is one of the ways how law school warps your brain.
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