‘We just wanted to order some food’: Truck drivers say they were racially profiled at Denny’s

The men say a quick pit stop to eat and shower at a South Dakota gas station Denny’s put them in a difficult position. (KSFY)
Published: Sep. 5, 2023 at 9:07 AM EDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY/Gray News) - Two truck drivers say they were racially profiled at a Denny’s in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, KSFY reports.

Damon Whitfield and his driving partner Hector are cross-country truck drivers.

Whitfield says a quick pit stop to eat and shower at the gas station Denny’s off Interstate 29 put the men in a difficult position.

The incident happened Aug. 13.

Whitfield says he was seated, given a menu and orange juice that he ordered from his server. While waiting for Hector to come back from the shower, he noticed something else.

“Then she walked away, and I didn’t hear from her. She was serving people that came in before us. People that came in after us. She was cleaning up tables. She was just walking by us,” Whitfield said.

When Hector returned, he tried to grab the server’s attention so they could order.

“He says, ‘Excuse me, we’re ready to place our order.’ Then she immediately said, ‘I don’t appreciate you yelling at me.’ Then I’m like, ‘He just said excuse me. He didn’t yell.’ Then she goes, ‘I don’t need you people calling me over to this table.’

He says, ‘Yeah, but I see you serving people that came in after us,’ and then she goes, ‘You know what? I’m not serving you people. You leave now or I’m calling the police,’” Whitfield said. “Then she snatches the menus out of our hands. Snatches the orange juice off the table, spilling some of the orange juice on me. Then she walks over, and she’s on the phone, and I assume she’s talking to the police.”

Hector went back to the server to try and defuse the situation.

“‘Maybe it’s a misunderstanding, but we just want to order some food.’ Then she said, ‘There’s no misunderstanding. I want you people to leave. The cops are on their way,’” Whitfield said.

Whitfield then tried to place an order with a different server. He says at first, it looked like the server was getting them menus but came back asking them to leave.

When they asked what they did wrong, the server told them that she had “no idea.”

“It was just embarrassing. As I’m walking through the restaurant, I’m trying to explain to people that we were just trying to order food and they’re refusing to serve us. People were still looking at us like we did something wrong. It was like the more I talked, the more they looked at us. So I felt helpless. Then I turned around to look at the police to see if they would do something, and then they said, ‘Out this way,’” Whitfield said.

In the video, Whitfield and Hector explain to the officers what had transpired, and the situation de-escalated.

The officer apologized to the men.

“I just want the world to know what happened here so it doesn’t happen again,” Whitfield said.

Denny’s President and Chief Executive Officer Roland Spongberg provided the following statement in regard to the incident:

“Denny’s is committed to a culture of inclusion and service excellence for all guests. We conducted a thorough third-party investigation into the incident at the Denny’s location in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. As a result of the investigation, the franchise owner immediately took decisive action, and the employee is no longer with the company.

“Denny’s maintains a strict zero-tolerance policy when it comes to any form of discrimination. We acknowledge there were opportunities to improve the service level in this specific situation. We maintain our commitment to ongoing training and development of all staff. The employees at the location will immediately go through a dedicated training program to ensure the team delivers above and beyond our guests’ expectations. We regret this incident and want to apologize to the guests involved. Clearly, we fell short of our own standards that day and are committed to making it right.”