Côte investigates perceived racism at Welwyn Garden City restaurant

PUBLISHED: 18:17 13 March 2018 | UPDATED: 12:04 14 March 2018

Dr Fatima Rajina was on BBC's Victoria Derbyshire discussing her experience at Côte Restaurants. Picture: Screenshot BBC Victoria Derbyshire

Dr Fatima Rajina was on BBC's Victoria Derbyshire discussing her experience at Côte Restaurants. Picture: Screenshot BBC Victoria Derbyshire

Screenshot BBC Victoria Derbyshire

After a series of tweets by a woman visiting Welwyn Garden City went viral, BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire has quizzed the chief executive of Côte Brasserie about an allegedly racist incident in his restaurant.

Dr Fatima Rajina and Nasar Rehman, with Alex Scrimgeour of Côte Restaurants on BBC's Victoria Derbyshire. Picture: Screenshot BBC Victoria DerbyshireDr Fatima Rajina and Nasar Rehman, with Alex Scrimgeour of Côte Restaurants on BBC's Victoria Derbyshire. Picture: Screenshot BBC Victoria Derbyshire

Dr Fatima Rajina and her friend Nasar Rehman, who also appeared on BBC, visited the French-style restaurant chain at noon on Sunday March 11 and were told that the restaurant was reservation-only that evening.

Nasar, 28, said the person who greeted them gave them a “funny up-and-down look”.

A few minutes after leaving, Mr Rehman and Dr Rajina said they felt uneasy.

Dr Rajina told Victoria Derbyshire: “I instantly got this gut feeling. I said to Nasar, ‘I feel like there’s more to the story.’”

Côte in Welwyn Garden CityCôte in Welwyn Garden City

They decided to put their minds at rest by calling the restaurant back to ask for a table.

This time the person on the end of the phone told them that a table would be available within 10-15 minutes.

The two friends believe the difference between the two instances was because of the colour of their skin.

Mr Rehman had put on what Dr Rajina calls a “white voice” when calling the restaurant.

Explaining to the Welwyn Hatfield Times what that means, Dr Rajina explained regretfully: “It makes you instantly more palatable to whoever you’re talking to.”

Once they were offered a table over the phone, Mr Rehman said: “That confirmed my initial doubts I’d felt after walking out of that restaurant.”

A spokesperson for Côte Restaurants responded to the Welwyn Hatfield Times’ enquiry by explaining that an offsite reservations team handles telephone enquiries and has different access to booking information compared to the restaurant manager if a diner walks in through the door.

Alex Scrimgeour, chief executive of Cote Restaurants, said on television: “I’m incredibly sad and disappointed 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.

“It’s a matter that is under investigation in our restaurants right now.”

He said that as it was Mother’s Day, it was their busiest day ever, and that around 60 guests that day had been turned away from the Welwyn Garden City branch.

“We were in fact overbooked.

“My only conclusion is that there must have been some sort of mix-up with the reservations team,” said Mr Scrimgeour.

Yet Mr Rehman disagreed that the call centre could have handled his call, as he believed he spoke to the same woman who told him to “come here”, as though she was in the same location.

Mr Scrimgeour said he was “absolutely certain,” that Mr Rehman spoke to someone else.

Dr Rajina replied: “It’s important to consider these factors of how when we sounded different. In these two different contexts we are offered two different things.”

“I have never, ever, ever come across something like this,” said Mr Rehman to the Welwyn Hatfield Times.

Dr Rajina said: “This is part of a bigger conversation here in Britain about race and how we don’t want to talk about it.

“Conversations about race make people shudder.”

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