Entertainment

Côte Brasserie “innocent until proven guilty” says CEO, after Asian diners accuse Welwyn Garden City branch of racism

The CEO of Côte Brasserie has said his company is “innocent until proven guilty” after two British Asian diners claimed they were refused service in Welwyn Garden City because of the colour of their skin.

Dr Fatima Rajina and Nasar Rehman accused the company of racism after they were turned away from the Howardsgate branch on Mother’s Day (11 March) — only to be offered a table straight away when they phoned up moments later using a “white accent”.

The company — which says it is taking the allegation “very seriously” — has faced a barrage of criticism after Dr Rajina’s tweet about her encounter went viral, prompting a response from CEO Alex Scrimgeour, who put the incident down to a “mix-up”.

Mr Scrumgeour was a guest on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme this morning (March 13), along with Dr Rajina and Nasar.

He claimed that the pair had spoken with a centralised bookings team in Charlotte Street in London when they called the restaurant — rather than the team who had turned them away moments earlier.

“Mix up”

He explained: “We don’t have a telephone receptionist in our restaurant. It’s off-site so you called an off-site reservations team, and they have different access to the restaurant manager.

“My only conclusion can be that there has been some sort of mix up with the reservations team.

“I will go on record, I am absolutely certain that it is not the same person, it is someone who is in Charlotte Street. It is not Welwyn Garden City, categorically.”

Callers who dial the number for the Welwyn Garden City branch of Côte Brasserie are are asked to select from a menu of options; if they choose to book a table, they are put through to a bookings team.

Alternatively, they can choose an option for ‘any other enquiries’, at which point they are connected to the restaurant directly.

Recruitment manager Nasar has insisted that he went straight through to a member of the restaurant team when he phoned them at 12.10pm on Sunday, and could hear the sounds of the restaurant in the background.

He told Mr Scrimgeour: “I disagree with the reservations team being off-site. I spoke to (a woman) and she goes ‘why don’t you come back here’. It was the lady that I heard when I was at the counter.”

Côte Brasserie CEO Alex Scrimgeour told the Victoria Derbyshire that the company would act "to the fullest extent" allowed by law if racism was found to have been a factor

Côte Brasserie CEO Alex Scrimgeour told the Victoria Derbyshire that the company would act “to the fullest extent” allowed by law if racism was found to have been a factor
Despite Cote’s explanation, the pair have still been left questioning why they were not offered a table in person if there was space available — something Mr Scrimgeour says is under investigation.

According to Dr Rajina’s account, a white waiter approached them while they were waiting to be seated and told them ‘sorry, we only take reservations’.

Nasar, meanwhile, recalls being ‘looked up and down’ before being told the restaurant was fully booked.

He added: “I was a bit shocked really. Usually when you go to a restaurant they tell you ‘let me just check the list’.

“The guy just said ‘sorry, reservations’. It was like a closed sort of question, there wasn’t any ‘oh let me check for you’ or anything like that.”

Mr Scrimgeour told the Victoria Derbyshire programme that he was “incredibly sad” at how the encounter had made the pair feel, but insisted that around 60 other customers had been similarly turned away throughout the day.

He continued: “I’m incredibly sad and disappointed to hear that you were turned away from one of our restaurants feeling that in some way there was an act of racism or prejudice against yourselves.

“I’m not sorry for an act of racism because we haven’t established that. I’m sorry that you left our business feeling that you had been in some way prejudiced against.

“Innocent until proven guilty”

“I’m not saying categorically if there was or wasn’t any act of racism.

“It’s an ongoing investigation and I believe very strongly that before we are accused, tried and convicted on the storm of social media that has ensued with this, I think it is only fair to the team in the restaurant that we actually take a balanced view and we make sure that all of the facts are presented and it’s not just a one-sided affair.

“People are innocent until they are proven guilty and we are taking this matter extremely seriously.

“If there is any act of racism you have my word we will act to the full extent that we are allowed to under the law.”