Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The right restaurant discount coupon for you

     A Pennsylvania restaurant announces that it gives a discount on a Sunday midday meal if you bring in your church bulletin.
     Okay. Good advertising gimmick I think. That is my knee-jerk reaction. Hold on. There’s more to consider.
      A bigger question is looming. Is the decision within the legal rights of the owner? The customer?
      The restaurant owner has the right to make a business decision, and in his mind it is the way he wants to promote his place. He knows his clientele better than those of us who are looking at it from the outside. He wants to acknowledge his faithful Sunday customers.
     If he is expressing his own values along side, then he has the right to do so. In his eyes, Sunday is worship day. From what I gather from his story, he is not telling anyone which church to attend either.
     Certainly though, the policy would discriminate—if you look at it that way— against all the gentle folk who choose not to attend church on Sunday.
     If non-church attendees are willing to spend their discretionary dollars to have a meal at that particular restaurant on that specific day of the week, are they getting the short end of the stick?
     Or does it matter to them one bit? They like the food, the owner and the atmosphere regardless. Besides, it’s often hard to find a restaurant open on a Sunday in a small town.
     Perhaps, the non-church attendees will refuse to go there because they disagree with the owner’s stand. In their eyes, it is violating the rights’ of others who do not share the same beliefs. They see this as intolerance on the part of the owner.
     Not all people who worship do so on Sunday morning, and furthermore, are of a Christian bent.
     The local college campus has an ecumenical service late in the day on Sunday when students are up and around. It is informal and meets the needs of those wishing a contemporary form of worship.   
     Technically, the students who go to the restaurant for brunch ahead of service should not get a discount because they haven’t attended yet. They are unable to wave their bulletin to be validated.
      How will the restaurant take into account that the Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday sunset and ends on Saturday evening?
     Likewise, there is no holy day of worship in Islam, and it is taught that every day is the same in acknowledgement of their beliefs.
     Muslims have Friday public service at noon. I don’t recall a church bulletin being handed out at the mosque when I was there as a visitor. There is no program at the Buddhist temple either. People worship in the Hindu temple throughout the week to honor their gods.
     These people have their spiritual nourishment, but apparently that is not the same as the kind Christian souls who go to service on the designated day in the eyes of the Pennsylvania restaurant owner.
     Honestly, can you explain how it is different from a military, student, or senior discount? You have to provide proof for those discounts. Does it ruffle your feathers that you don’t get the discount because you don’t fit into one of those categories?
     I think that there are forms of differentiation that are legal and forms that are not legal.
     In general, you can't discriminate for certain protected attributes (religion, age, gender, race, sexual orientation,) but you can legally discriminate for others (loyalty discounts for buying a car, student discounts, 10% if you wear the home team’s clothing on game day, etc.)
     The problem is that in this case there is really no discrimination that would fall under the protected clause because the proprietor isn’t forcing anyone to convert, he's just requiring a pamphlet from a church.
     What is stopping you from being creative and getting around it? Print out a bulletin from your make-believe “Church of the Spaghetti Monster” at home, and you get the discount. Ethical? Well, you have to look into your own conscience on that one.
     The more I think about this restaurant policy, the more it reminds me that I am glad that I live in a country where a diversity of people may cross my path in any single day. There is a wealth of sharing and learning in this great melting pot of a nation.     
      No business establishment is immune from it. I choose to go to a Vietnamese restaurant established by recent immigrants through their hard work and diligence. In a very small way I am helping them stay in their tiny rented neighborhood mall space by my regular visits, and I am getting to know them as interesting individuals with their story to share of leaving Viet Nam for a better life.
     Last week there was a sign in their window: “Sorry. No discount coupons accepted.” The owners are on a shoestring budget, and can’t do it right now. Am I going to turn around and go to the chain restaurant across the mall? No, sir. I tend to support local restaurants, as I am able. 
     On the bigger issues in life—those inalienable rights that citizens in our democracy receive are not for debate here.  
     As for the Pennsylvania restaurant, your opinion is as good as mine. Fairness is in the eye of the beholder.