Keisha Lance Bottoms says Capital Grille turned her away over her leggings

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Dress codes have caused no end of controversy for restaurants; they’ve been variously slammed for being outdated, elitist, confusing and discriminatory.

The latest installment in the ongoing saga came this weekend when former Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she was asked to leave a suburban Capital Grille restaurant because she was told the leggings she was wearing apparently violated its ban on “gym attire.” “I was just turned away at @CapitalGrille at Perimeter Mall because I have on leggings,” she tweeted, captioning it with an emoji of a shrugging woman.

Later, she suggested that she might have been singled out for the enforcement of the code. Someone replied to her first tweet by noting the restaurant’s website outlines its policy. It reads, “Polite Notice — For the comfort of all guests and to better deliver on our promise of a refined atmosphere, proper dress is required. Thank you for not wearing: gym attire, sweatpants, tank tops, hats, clothing with offensive language or images, exposed undergarments.”

Bottoms, though, indicated that another woman apparently dressed similarly to her might have been permitted to dine there. “Odd that a restaurant in a mall parking lot turns away customers in ‘mall’ attracts,” she responded. “Asked if I could sit in the bar area and was told, ‘No.’”

She added: “Rules are the rules, just wonder if the woman who came in immediately after me, who I did not see come back out, was also denied service.”

People responded to her post with photos and messages describing diners they claimed to have spotted at the Capital Grille wearing leggings, jogger-style pants, jeans, T-shirts, tank tops and hats.

Attempts to reach Bottoms were unsuccessful. The people answering the phone at the Perimeter Mall restaurant referred The Washington Post to a representative for the corporate office who did not return a phone call, and emails and phone calls to media contacts for parent company Darden Restaurants were not returned.

Dress codes have landed other restaurants in trouble. In Baltimore, the owners of the Ouzo Bay restaurant apologized to a Black woman and her son after the woman posted a video showing a White manager informing her that her son’s outfit violated the ban on athletic wear — while a White boy dressed similarly was dining with his parents nearby. Another restaurant operated by the same owners had previously been accused of targeting diners of color by banning items such as pants worn below the waist, hats worn backward or sideways, and construction boots.

Critics say that dress codes can be problematic by being too specific, such as banning clothing items that are associated with particular cultures. But vaguely worded rules can also create problems, particularly leading to accusations that the codes are unevenly enforced. Reuben May, then a sociology professor at Texas A&M University who has studied discrimination in nightlife and public accommodations, told The Post in 2019 that giving restaurant staffers wide discretion can lead to unequal treatment. “It says, ‘We can pick and choose who comes in,’” May said.

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