Tom Carls was just hoping to have a nice waterfront dining experience.
Instead, the Fort Lauderdale man said a restaurant practicing double standards shamed him.
“I felt really embarrassed,” Carls told SFGN.
Carls said he and his boyfriend Dale Janni were asked to change attire at Houston’s in Pompano Beach. The men were wearing sleeveless shirts and the restaurant manager said they would not be served until they switched tops.
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“The manager said we needed to cover up our shoulders,” Carls said. “He brought us two Hanes tee shirts to put on. I felt really stupid.”
Carls said he looked around the restaurant to see several women, with shoulders exposed, dining and enjoying their evening. Carls said he did not want to change shirts, but was informed by management it would be the only way they would be allowed to stay at Houston’s.
“The manager said if you don’t put on your shirt, you’ll have to leave,” Carls said. “He said ‘your food is in the kitchen, but we’re not going to serve you until you are in compliance.’”
SFGN contacted Houston’s in Pompano Beach and was referred to its parent company, Hillstone Restaurant Group. In an email, Gail Chesney, spokeswoman for Hillstone, said the group is “glad to apologize to any of our guests for their embarrassment in Pompano Beach, thank you.”
Chesney also sent a link to the Hillstone website, outlining rules for attire, family dining, large groups, special requests and allergies.
The attire section reads as follows: “We want you to be comfortable in our restaurants. Jackets or ties are not required, but we do request the following to help ensure everyone has an enjoyable experience. For men, please avoid sleeveless shirts, flip flops, and casual athletic attire. Hats may be worn in a conventional manner. For men and women, we request you avoid beach wear or active wear that is often overly revealing.”
For Carls, an apology is just the start. He contends his shirt was not a “low quality tank top.” He emailed SFGN pictures and said the restaurant should write him a formal letter of apology and compensate he, his boyfriend and a third member of their party, for a future dinner.
“I was pissed,” Carls said. “They put a lot of attention on me. This was discrimination.”
Houston’s in Pompano Beach has been engulfed in controversy of late since the restaurant ended access by boat. Located on the intracoastal waterway, Houston’s advertises itself as a restaurant with a modern feel with meals prepared daily from scratch.