A blind woman was left feeling “humiliated” after being refused entry to a restaurant because of her guide dog.
Joanne Roberts, 55, was told to leave Panda Mami in York while meeting up with her friend last month for the first time since lockdown began.
Staff at the buffet restaurant gave the excuse that her black Labrador, named Candy, could trigger a customer’s allergy or introduce food poisoning.
Under the Equality Act in England, Scotland and Wales, guide dogs and other assistance dogs have the right to enter most services, premises, and vehicles.
After pointing out the business’ legal obligation to allow her dog, a waiter said that it was at the manager’s discretion.
Joanne, from Cheshire, told the Mirror: “My initial feelings were anger, frustration, embarrassment and humiliation.”
She believes there was a lack of communication between staff at the restaurant.
Joanne said: “We walked in and it hadn’t even been two minutes before a member of staff scuttled over and said ‘sorry you can’t come in, you’ve got a guide dog and one of the customers in here has an allergy to them’.
“To me it suggested they knew fine well what the rules are, and were thinking of an excuse.
“I said I would really like their manager to come over and speak to me, to put some weight and proof into that claim. They went away and we were left standing around very embarrassed, and I was getting a bit angry.
“Another gentleman came over who was squirming and I could tell he felt awful. He said his manager asked him to tell me that I couldn’t come in, it’s up to his discretion and he doesn’t want me to come in because of the dog.
“So I said ‘do you know that’s actually a civil offence’. He said ‘this is what my manager said’.
“Another excuse they tried to give was that the dog might introduce food poisoning, but she was sitting near the table and wouldn’t even be going near the food.”
Joanne and her friend returned to their hotel for dinner, where they ended up paying £50 for two burgers.
She spoke with Panda Mami over email afterwards and said they “couldn’t have been more apologetic”.
However, this is not the first time that she has been refused service due to her guide dog.
Joanne, who has been blind for 21 years because of complications from diabetes, said: “In the UK it tends to happen in restaurants, bars and taxis constantly. They are the worst culprits.
“I get denied entry with Candy two or three times every year.
“What upsets me is just the fact that it’s still happening after all this time.”
Panda Mami York said it is now planning to train its staff in how to serve disabled customers.
A spokesperson told the Mirror: “Without any doubt, we have no any intention to refuse blind people or anyone with a disability. We really welcome disabled customers and deem it an honor that they choose us to visit.
“However, we also need to have a special staff training regarding how to serve disabled customers and improve our customer service quality. At the same time, we are going to introduce some special offers for disabled customers and are expecting their visit.
“Again, we are apologising for any uncomfortable experience Mrs Joanne Roberts got from us and the upset caused to the public.
“We do wish to take this opportunity to make us a better restaurant for disabled customers where they can feel more care, comfort and joy.”
The comments come as the Guide Dogs charity creates an app where blind people can report access refusals as part of its Open Doors campaign.
A spokesperson said: “Guide dog owners deserve to be able to live their lives the way they want and feel confident, independent, and supported in the world.
“The law is clear, and yet guide dog owners continue to experience access refusals, which are almost always illegal.
“Our research shows that 76% of guide dog owners have been refused access to a business or service at some point, and around half said they changed or restricted their plans because they were concerned they would be refused access because of their guide dog.
“Businesses and services need to do more to ensure they have open doors to guide dog owners.”