Escorted out of a Sioux Falls Denny’s: ‘We just wanted to order some food’

Published: Sep. 4, 2023 at 9:21 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Imagine sitting at a restaurant, only to be told you won’t be served. It sounds like something from the past, but that was a recent experience in Sioux Falls.

The alleged incident happened on Aug. 13 at Denny’s. It ends with two black men being escorted out by police.

One of those men is speaking out, describing the interaction as racial profiling.

Damon Whitfield and his driving partner Hector are cross-country truck drivers traveling from the East Coast to the West Coast. But a quick pit stop to eat and shower at the gas station Denny’s off Interstate 29 put Damon and Hector in a difficult position.

Damon was seated, given a menu, and the orange juice he ordered from his server. While waiting for Hector to come back from the shower, he noticed something else.

”Then she walked away, and I didn’t hear from her. She was serving people that came in before us, people that came in after us. She was cleaning up tables. She was just walking by us,” Whitfield said.

When Hector returned, he tried to grab the server’s attention so they could order.

”He says, ‘Excuse me, we’re ready to place our order.’ Then she immediately said, ‘I don’t appreciate you yelling at me.’ Then I’m like, ‘He just said excuse me. He didn’t yell.’ Then she goes, ‘I don’t need you people calling me over to this table.’ He says, ‘Yeah, but I see you serving people that came in after us,’ and then she goes, ‘You know what? I’m not serving you people. You leave now or I’m calling the police,’” Whitfield said. “Then she snatches the menus out of our hands. Snatches the orange juice off the table, spilling some of the orange juice on me. Then she walks over, and she’s on the phone, and I assume she’s talking to the police.”

Hector went back to the server to try and defuse the situation, and that conversation went like this:

“‘Maybe it’s a misunderstanding, but we just want to order some food.’ Then she said, ‘There’s no misunderstanding. I want you people to leave. The cops are on their way,’” Whitfield said.

Damon then tried to place an order with a different server.

“First, I think she went to get the menus. I’m not sure, but she came back, and she was there and she said —

Video Audio: Server: “To make the situation more calm, because we do have a lot of people here, it would just be nice if you guys could leave.”

Damon: “What did we do?”

Server: “I have no idea.”

”It was just embarrassing. As I’m walking through the restaurant, I’m trying to explain to people that we were just trying to order food and they’re refusing to serve us. People were still looking at us like we did something wrong. It was like the more I talked, the more they looked at us. So I felt helpless. Then I turned around to look at the police to see if they would do something, and then they said, ‘Out this way,’” Whitfield said.

In the video, Damon and Hector explain to the officers what had transpired, and the situation de-escalated.

Video Audio: Officer: “I’m sorry that happened to you guys.”

“I just want the world to know what happened here so it doesn’t happen again,” Whitfield said.

Dakota News Now out to Denny’s corporate office in regards to the incident, and they provided the following statement.

Denny’s is committed to a culture of inclusion and service excellence for all guests. We conducted a thorough third-party investigation into the incident at the Denny’s location in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. As a result of the investigation, the franchise owner immediately took decisive action, and the employee is no longer with the company. Denny’s maintains a strict zero-tolerance policy when it comes to any form of discrimination. We acknowledge there were opportunities to improve the service level in this specific situation. We maintain our commitment to ongoing training and development of all staff. The employees at the location will immediately go through a dedicated training program to ensure the team delivers above and beyond our guests’ expectations. We regret this incident and want to apologize to the guests involved. Clearly, we fell short of our own standards that day and are committed to making it right.

Roland Spongberg, President and Chief Executive Officer