Teenage waitress shares horrific story of being racially abused by Auckland Viaduct restaurant customer

Headlines 26/08/2019

A teenage waitress was left embarrassed and ashamed after a customer mocked her for being Māori.

Mia Griffiths, 17, works part-time at a popular restaurant in the Auckland Viaduct.

During a busy evening shift on Monday, she served a table of employees from building materials company James Hardie, who were attending a senior leadership team dinner. 

Mia says one man at the table was a difficult customer who complained about the set menu multiple times. When she set down a platter of Kaipara lamb shoulders, his comments took on a racist tone.

"He looked me up and down and said, 'I bet your whānau doesn't come here often, they're at home eating boil-up'."

She felt he was implying that because her family is Māori, they couldn't afford to eat at a Viaduct restaurant. Mia told Newshub her parents eat there reasonably often.

"I didn't know how to reply because I was so ashamed. I was standing there in absolute embarrassment and shock. I just couldn't believe what I heard."

She says the man repeatedly used the word 'whānau', mockingly pronouncing it 'faarnow'. 

None of the other customers at the table - most of whom were white, she says - challenged the man on his remarks, and most of them seemed amused.

"This guy kept looking at the other people for validation, and they kept laughing like they were watching an animal at the circus… the whole table was laughing at me."

She finished serving the food and returned to the kitchen, where she burst into tears. 

The bartender told her he'd seen what had happened, and the head waitress gave her permission to take a break and compose herself. But soon she had to return to the table, which kept ordering more food and was "difficult to maintain".

"I just had to continue serving because I'm better than that. I tried to push it to the side."

She was afraid to say anything to the man for fear of losing her job. She was also mindful that August is Restaurant Month, and didn't want to jeopardise any reviews for the establishment, which is relatively new and owned by her friend's parents. 

Still upset, Mia got picked up early by her father. When he heard what had happened, he threw the car in reverse and stormed into the restaurant to find the man, but the table had left by then. 

Mia says in the eight months she's been at the restaurant, she's never experienced abuse and customers are usually kind. She hasn't worked since Monday and is apprehensive about returning.

"I feel a bit defeated and insecure."

However she says she's been well-supported by her employers, who quickly demanded an apology from James Hardie. The man who made the comments, who doesn't work for the company, has been banned from the premises.

His partner, a high-ranking James Hardie employee who was seen on security footage "laughing during and after the exchanges", has also been banned. 

The owner told Newshub while she wasn't at the restaurant at the time, she's heard multiple accounts of the "really unfortunate" encounter.

"A man seems to have singled out a young waitress, identified she was Māori and shamed her while the other guests laughed along."

She says the restaurant's waitstaff is young and diverse, and what happened to Mia has made her realise they need a procedure in place to protect staff from potential abuse from customers. Mia's manager filed an incident report on Tuesday. 

James Hardie's country manager Alan Bones sent the restaurant a written apology on Wednesday, which the owner feels was "wholehearted" and genuine. 

He said he would personally deliver the restaurant's ban to his employee and her partner, and said he was sorry if Mia felt "uncomfortable or abused".

Mia's mother Kiri Turketo told Newshub she's furious about what happened to her daughter. She says it's an example of "insidious" systemic racism and intends to report the incident to the Race Relations Commissioner.

"We were going to let it go, however I am an intelligent educated wahine toa. We want to call this out. 'Racist AF', as Taika Waititi said."

She says Bones' "weak" apology to the restaurant isn't good enough. She's repeatedly contacted him seeking a personal apology for Mia, as well as an apology from the man who made the remarks. 

Bones did not respond to Newshub's multiple requests for comment. 

Mia, who wants to study medicine at the University of Auckland next year, feels the man who humiliated her at work should say sorry. 

"He needs to recognise that what he did was not morally correct," Mia says. "He needs to implement some sort of change, because maybe this is how he is all the time. Maybe I'm not the only one this has happened to."

Credit to Sophie Bateman and Newshub.