Atlanta restaurant Le Bilboquet in Buckhead has recently come under fire for appearing to arbitrarily enforce its dress code, first by a patron attempting to dine there on May 16, then by Hawks basketball legend Dominique Wilkins over the weekend.
Monica Johnson had reservations for brunch on the patio with two friends Sunday, May 16, and drove 40 miles to dine at the French restaurant. In an interview with CBS46, and in a post detailing the May 16 incident on Le Bilboquet’s Facebook page, Johnson says she was turned away for wearing a matching cotton track suit, which she was told violated the restaurant’s dress code. She complied and dined elsewhere in the area. After walking by Le Bilboquet later, Johnson claims patrons were seated outside and dressed in similarly casual attire, including wearing ripped jeans, sneakers, and t-shirts.
When Johnson confronted the manager on duty, she says he acknowledged the “inconsistencies” in the dress code that day and suggested she contact the general manager. In an email to general manager Mark Hoefer last week, Johnson says she attached a photo of herself in the green cotton track suit and other patrons dressed similarly on the patio. He reportedly replied and compared her outfit to “pajamas” and told her everyone else in the attached photos were in compliance with the dress code.
“When I saw the people that were seated and the on-site manager agreed that there were unexplainable inconsistencies, it makes you feel hurt,” Johnson tells Eater of how Le Bilboquet handled her situation on May 16. “You feel like you were targeted. It makes you feel like something about you is not acceptable. I’m one person, but nobody should feel that way.”
Days later, Wilkins arrived at the Buckhead French restaurant without a reservation wearing what he describes as “designer casual pants and a shirt” and was initially told there were no tables available. Wilkins then claims he was told he wasn’t dressed appropriately.
“In my many years in the world, I’ve eaten at some of the greatest restaurants in the world, but never have I felt prejudice or been turned away because of the color of my skin, until today in #atlanta in @LeBilboquetAtl #turnedawaybecauseimblack,” Wilkins said on Twitter Saturday evening.
Beyond his decade-plus run as a Hawks basketball player, for which he is often referred to as “the Human Highlight Reel”, Wilkins is also the vice president and an advisor to the CEO for the team, and a commentator for Bally Sports.
“I would have been fine if they said just no tables,” he adds on Twitter. “But they looked me up and down before that and then said that and to add insult, talked about how my clothes were not appropriate when I was wearing designer casual pants and a shirt.”
Similar complaints over the dress code policy instituted by the restaurant last spring are listed on Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor, which the restaurant claims was put in place due to “consistent complaints from our patrons regarding other guest’s wardrobe choices.”
“We, at Le Bilboquet, do our best to accommodate all of our guests. However, we have received consistent complaints from our patrons regarding other guest’s wardrobe choices,” the restaurant says in its initial statement to the press. “As a result, to protect our restaurant’s culture, we installed a minimum standard in our ‘business casual’ attire dress code which includes jeans and sneakers but prohibits baseball caps and athletic clothing including sweatpants and tops. Though the definition of ‘casual’ is ever evolving, we strive to maintain our policy requirements daily, but it isn’t a perfect system.”
Wilkins received a public apology from Le Bilboquet on Sunday. However, Johnson says she has yet to receive one from the restaurant regarding her experience on May 16.
A statement provided to Eater Monday afternoon from Le Bilboquet claims the restaurant continues to “reevaluate” its dress code, with plans to eliminate “any ambiguities that may lead to misunderstandings.” The statement indicates changes to the dress code policy, which take effect immediately, include requiring all current and future employees to undergo communication training as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion training and instituting “more rigid protocols” to ensure all policies at the restaurant are “consistently and equitably” enforced.
“While we will continue to have a dress code, we realize our current policy is subject to interpretation and can be unintentionally demeaning and divisive,” the statement reads, in part. “We will not tolerate implicit or explicit bias. We have done and will continue [to] do the work to ensure our restaurant is a place where all feel welcome. Again, we apologize to Mr. Wilkins and hope these changes will be met with an eye toward progress.”
Last October, upscale sushi restaurant Umi in Buckhead faced backlash and threats of a boycott over its dress code policy, which an Atlanta couple alleged was used to racially discriminate against them. Kaylan Colbert and William Johnson were told by Umi management that Johnson was in violation of the restaurant’s dress code for wearing white Nike Air Force 1 sneakers. After an exchange regarding the policy, the couple was denied service and asked to leave.
Atlanta restaurant Houston’s has also been the center of racial profiling allegations over the years, including an incident in 2015 stemming from a baseball cap and use of a cell phone.
Atlanta attorney Yussuf Abdel-Aleem sued parent company Hillstone Restaurant Group claiming a manager at Houston’s on Peachtree Road in Buckhead directed him to remove his baseball cap and demanded he hang up his cell phone before asking the table to leave, citing the restaurant’s policy. According to the lawsuit, members of the dining party (which did not include Abdel-Aleem) returned two months later with two other minority businessmen. The restaurant reportedly called the police and had the party escorted from the restaurant.
In 2017, calls for a boycott of Houston’s followed an accusation by actress Ernestine Johnson, who claimed she was denied service for “no sound reason” at the now-closed Lenox Road location in Buckhead. A demonstration was later held outside the restaurant after Johnson alleged Houston’s had not attempted to rectify the situation.
Update, May 24, 2 p.m.: This story has been updated to include a statement from Le Bilboquet indicating new changes to the dress code policy, staff training, and a further apology to Dominique Wilkins.
- Umi Sushi Faces Backlash and Threats of a Boycott Over Enforcement of Its Dress Code [EATL]
- Atlanta Rapper T.I. Leads Boycott of Houston’s Over Racism Allegations [EATL]
- Buckhead Restaurant Continues Drawing Ire for Tone-Deaf Banner During Student-Led Protest March [EATL]
- SNL Comedian Leslie Jones Is Not Happy With Atlanta Fish Market [EATL]