What happened at Cafe Flo: discrimination or just a prudent security measure?

What happened at Cafe Flo: discrimination or just a prudent security measure?

Restaurateur Sikander Rizvi and disgruntled customer Waqar Siddiqui tell their sides of the story
04 Aug, 2016

Did Cafe Flo really bar a customer from entering simply because he arrived there on a motorbike?

This is a controversy that's weighing on a lot of people's minds on social media, as it divides them into two camps: those that side with the restaurant and its apt concern for its patrons' safety and those that side with the slighted customer, Waqar Siddiqui, who lodged a public complaint of discrimination via Facebook last night.

We spoke to both parties to see what else they had to say on the matter.

Speaking to Images, Waqar began his narration of the evening's events as follows.

"My two best friends and I love to check out new places. We were discussing this Cafe Flo, and thought we should check that out too. So we decided to go yesterday.

"I arrived at the cafe before my friends, so I called them and they told me they'd reach in 10 minutes. They were bringing a client for our new startup, a small online store, so I was quite excited.

"I parked in the bike parking area in front of the cafe, and proceeded to head inside. Suddenly, the guard stopped me and asked where I was going. I said that I was going inside the cafe, to which he asked me why I was doing that!

"I said to him, 'This is a cafe, right?' He said yes, but asked me again why I wanted to go in. I said I wanted a cup of coffee. He said that the cafe doesn't serve coffee and asked me to leave. I have to mention that his tone, while not insulting, wasn't very polite either. He just refused my entry."

"I called up my friends to tell them I'm not being allowed in. My friend protested, 'But we are on our way.' So I thought 'Okay, I'll just wait by my bike.' I checked my Whatsapp in the meantime, and 5 minutes later, my friends arrived. When I told them again that they're refusing my entry, my friends didn't get off their bike and instead went ahead to receive our client whom we had asked to meet at Cafe Flo.

"Now, I went to the guard again and asked him why he wasn't letting me in. He said we don't serve coffee. I said, 'But you serve food, right? What if I want to eat here?' He said 'No, you first said you want to drink coffee.' I asked him if he asked every customer about what they wanted to eat before entering. He said no. Then I asked him why he was stopping me. He said, 'Because you are on a bike.'

"I just went in shock. I said, 'What did you say?' He said, 'You're on a bike and you're trying to enter. That's not our policy.' I asked him again in shock, 'Are you not letting me in because I'm on a bike?' He said, 'Yes. that's why you're not allowed.'

I didn't say anything then. I just returned to my bike, trying to calm myself down, and then decided to put the matter on social media. Then, I left."

Actor and restaurateur Sikander Rizvi, whose mother established Cafe Flo years ago, tells a different story.

"Waqar has made it look like Cafe Flo discriminates against people on motorbikes, and that's simply not true. We've been in the business 18 years — you can't stay in business that long if you don't entertain people from all walks of life. We have customers who dine with us in shalwar kameez, in jeans, in niqabs, and they come to us in all kinds of transport."

"This is simply misinformation. Waqar says he was discriminated against on the basis of what he was driving. Actually, he was not allowed entry for security reasons. Our security guard has been with us for 7 years and we trust him to make certain calls. He said this gentleman parked outside Flo on a motorbike, then spent about ten minutes on his phone while observing customers going in and out of the restaurant. After some time a few other men showed up. Then Waqar came up to the guards wanting to enter the premises, and the guard informed him that we don't serve coffee and that the cafe was full. According to the guard, he never said anything about a motorbike."

Waqar, however, insists the guard brought up his bike as the cause of his barred entry.

"I specifically asked him why he was refraining me from entering. He said loud and clear that it was because I am on a motorcycle. I think that's unacceptable. And if cafes don't want to entertain customers on bikes, they should post that on their gates. We won't come. Seriously, we will find another cheap place for ourselves. But hearing that from your guards, when you actually have an appointment to meet someone is frustrating. Well, the good news is that we covered it up with the client and took him to Boat Basin.

"I think any cafe or restaurant has the right to refuse service to anyone. I don't think that's a bad thing. But guards giving out menus? Is that how lavish cafes are operating now? Where are the floor managers?

"The most disappointing thing is that instead of the cafe management asking me what happened, they are giving lame excuses on their Facebook page that I was staring at customers and me and my friends were attempting some kind of break-in. Please show me the footage that shows that they even left their bikes; they just moved ahead to take care of client. I was the only one there."

Sikander, on the other hand, points out that this whole situation could have been avoided had Waqar just asked to speak to the management:

"The issue would have been resolved if Waqar had asked to see the manager then and there. If he had asked, the manager would have come to the gate and spoken to him and judged the situation for himself. But Waqar didn't do this, he simply walked away and then posted this on Facebook.

"I think that was a very unethical thing to do. He could have easily gone to management, but he didn't. Now he's trying to drag Cafe Flo's name through the dirt.

"You can't make assumptions about an entire restaurant based on one interaction. That's totally outrageous," Sikander adds, "This was simply a case of ensuring security for our customers, and the guard made a decision on the spot like he has been doing for years."