How much power should perception have? What’s the line between assuaging people’s fears and asking offenders to bow down to arbitrary markers? What’s your definition of discrimination in the first place?
These are some of the questions that were brought up last Saturday at Yushoken, a popular ramen place in the south. Lawrence Miranda, a physician working for a major hospital in the south, posted on Facebook that he was denied entry by Yushoken Alabang because he was wearing his spare hospital scrubs. “This day, I witnessed first-hand how modern day ‘heroes’ are discriminated against,” he writes at the beginning of his long post, which he headlined with the word “discrimination” in all caps.
Miranda arrived at the ramen place with his fiancée. Speaking first to the restaurant’s order taker, an exchange the healthcare worker described as calm and respectful, Miranda was first asked if he was a doctor. Upon saying he is, the Yushoken staffer asked if he could change what he was wearing, which was his spare scrub top, jeans, and boat shoes. When Miranda asked why, the order taker replied that it was company policy not to allow people in scrubs to dine in.
After explaining he has yet to enter the hospital in the clothes in question, the 27-year-old doctor asked who gave the no-scrubs directive. The lady said it came from “the higher ups” and asked Miranda to change clothes, wear a jacket, or go home and find other things to wear. After which she referred him to the Yushoken Alabang manager.
According to Miranda, the manager said the no-scrubs rule was put in place so that other customers would not be “startled or disturbed,” and asked for his understanding of the situation. “I then ask [sic], ‘Are you afraid of the marketing repercussions just because I’m wearing scrubs?’” the doctor writes in his Facebook post. He then asked her to define the word “discrimination.”
“Sir, this is not discrimination,” the manager replied, as per Miranda.
“If me not being allowed entry into your establishment just because of my clothing is not discrimination then I don’t know what this is,” the doctor shot back.
Feeling he wasn’t being given an appropriate or acceptable response, Miranda said the matter was referred to another restaurant higher-up. “We were then escorted to an area away from their other customers. Again, implying that we were a health threat without any basis or explanation,” Miranda continues in his post. “After waiting for 15 minutes or so, we were finally able to meet their Restaurant GM. First she apologized, and explained for the reason behind [the rule]. She said it was to ‘protect me from the other patrons judging me.’” The GM, Miranda says, was the first and only person to apologize for the altercation.
Still, the doctor wasn’t buying it.
“Yeah right. Just a few minutes ago, Yushoken management was defending their regulation banning my entry into the establishment due to ‘fear of spreading the disease,’” he writes, claiming that the Yushoken personnel did not ask if he had COVID symptoms, did not do a proper physical examination nor a proper interview. “No amount of sugar-coating will ever remove the fact that you initially denied me because you had a preconceived notion that I was a carrier of disease, due to the mere fact that I was wearing my scrub shirt.”
According to Miranda, after the GM reiterated he was not discriminated against, she told him he is always allowed in the restaurant as long as he doesn’t mind the other customers giving him judging looks. In the end, Miranda and his fiancée decided to dine somewhere else, saying they now consider themselves as former loyal customers of the restaurant.
The young doctor’s main beef with the whole situation seems to be that Yushoken did not do its fair share in proving he was a danger to anyone. He enumerates the health and safety checks the restaurant failed to do: temperature reading, issue him a health declaration form, do a symptoms check, etc. He says he was denied entry by virtue of his clothes.
“I am not posting this to shame the establishment, but to EDUCATE and to cut the chain of fear mongering prevalent in our society. We celebrate healthcare workers, yet society dictates that they are to be reviled against,” he says in the post. “As I said to Yushoken’s Manager, I just want to END this cycle of fear and misunderstanding. I do hope proper policies will be put into place to avoid this from happening to all frontliners, not just doctors and nurses, but everyone else just trying to survive these trying times.” He then attached a description of Muntinlupa Mayor Jaime Fresnedi’s COVID-19 Anti-Discrimination Ordinance at the end of his post.
As is expected when you post an incident like Miranda’s on Facebook, the comments section will be busy. Both Yushoken and the physician have received criticism on the matter. On one hand, many commenters feel that the restaurant did not do its part in protecting Miranda from this supposed perception of the other customers. On the other hand, many have also pointed out the physician shouldn’t be wearing scrubs outside the hospital.
Responding to someone who said the restaurant practices discrimination against frontliners on their Facebook page, the restaurant categorically stated they did not in any way discriminate any customer, as it is not “within the way we operate or what our beliefs are. We would be more than happy to accommodate anyone regardless of the risks associated with their profession.”
The statement says that Yushoken is well aware that it is not clothing that the restaurant should be worried about but other factors such as if diners are wearing masks, washing their hands, or showing symptoms. But the restaurant insists they want to protect their customers from feeling judged by the other diners. “While we can speak for ourselves in how we feel about these situations, unfortunately at the same time we cannot speak in behalf of our customers,” the reply goes, adding scrubs are usually worn in COVID-sensitive areas and the expectation is that they will be discarded or at least removed after use.
The Yushoken people believe they cannot simply expect every other customer in the restaurant to understand what each health worker’s story is, or what they did that day. They would gladly allow anyone to dine in in their establishments if they are willing to behave in a manner they describe as for the greater good.
“What we are asking for is for people to not aggravate or raise fears in what is already considered a relatively high risk environment as it is enclosed with a good number of people not wearing masks for an extended period of time,” the reply continues. “Restaurants are already struggling to keep their doors open and it does not help when people leave out of fear for their safety.”
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Tere Ribano, a commenter who is also a physician, lays out both sides. “On the healthcare worker’s side, the guy just wanted a meal, was cognizant of the fact the he had to be upfront and explain to the doorman/woman that it’s a clean scrub top, etc. I would admonish him that especially in these times, he shouldn’t be wearing scrubs unless nasa ospital siya,” she says. “Yushoken needs the business badly so they want to be fair for everyone.”
What riled Ribano about Yushoken’s response, however, is a line where they say “we may just as well be sued by someone who turns out positive later on by allowing someone dressed that way in our premises.”
“It all boils down to the fact that public perception of HCWs are narrow. Yes, we applaud you for putting your life on the line for the least amount of money, and while the government is taxing you and getting so much from you through PhilHealth—but, no, you can’t come into the shop or resto because you give us COVID. Ika nga ng friend ko, hero from a distance, leper up close.”
Today, Yushoken CEO and managing director Ryan Cruz released an official statement that acknowledged and apologized to the medical community and health care workers who were offended and felt unsupported by the restaurant because of the incident. Saying that they have fallen short of being empathetic with medical frontliners, Cruz expressed his gratitude for the valuable contribution of health workers.
“We failed to take an active role in educating the communities we are part of, on how establishments can be both safe and inclusive for all,” Cruz writes. “Bias and discrimination are against our values and culture, yet our words and actions made the parties concerned feel unwelcome.” The restaurateur writes that they have reached out to Miranda and have apologized, and promised further action will be taken to make sure an incident like this won’t happen again.
“This positive change must begin with our organization, and the communities we serve. We will be working closely with Dr. Miranda to develop safety guidelines that are mindful and fair,” Cruz says. “Thank you for calling us out on this matter. We are humbled by your messages. We hope to earn your trust back through our actions.”