A group of black professional soccer players dining at a branch of Pizza Hut in Bournemouth, England, were asked to pay before their food arrived and were told it was “because of the way you look.”
The five players from League One side Bournemouth were told that they would have to pay first, despite a Pizza Hut employee admitting to them it was not company policy.
The incident prompted the soccer club’s chairman, Eddie Mitchell, to say on Monday that it was “upsetting to hear that people are treated differently because of the color of their skin.”
Pizza Hut apologized on Monday, but claimed that the incident was not racially motivated. The restaurant had called police after the men refused to leave the branch in Castle Lane West.
“We ordered our food. The manager came up with the bill and said, ‘would you mind paying first?’ We asked if that was the policy and he said ‘no,’” midfielder Anton Robinson, 24, told the Bournemouth Echo. “When we asked why he had asked us, he said: ‘It’s the way you look.’ We had a good idea what he was trying to get at. A group of white kids came in straight after us and they weren’t asked to pay before they had their food. The only thing different was the color of our skins.”
Robinson said that the group of players, including first-team regulars Marvin Bartley and Liam -Feeney, told the Pizza Hut employee that they were professional soccer players and were happy to pay when they had finished the meal.
“That’s what normal people do,” Robinson said. “He hadn’t asked other customers to pay before their meals. It got a little bit heated, then he said, ‘if you’re not going to pay the bill now, I’m going to call the police to escort you off the premises.’”
Robinson said that during his group’s lunchtime visit to the cafe all the players had been smartly dressed.
“When the lads go out for a meal we know we’re representing the club. We know that people recognize us and we have to behave,” he told the Echo.
Dorset police were called to the cafe during the incident on Thursday, after receiving a call from Pizza Hut.
“A group of men had been asked to leave. They weren’t happy about this, but we spoke to them and they did leave,” police said.
“Our players are magnificent ambassadors for AFC Bournemouth. Their behavior is exemplary and they are a credit to the club,” Mitchell said.
A Pizza Hut spokeswoman said: “This incident was not racially motivated. We have recently had a spate of customers leaving without paying their bills, so were advised by the police to ask people to pay before dining. We have been doing this at our discretion and in this case the situation was poorly handled.”