All I wanted was a mimosa, but what I got was a reality check.

The sun had finally made a cameo in D.C. after weeks of snow and cripplingly cold weather. It was a Saturday, I had no food in my apartment and I was starving. After much deliberation, my two roommates and I decided to go to a local restaurant with a really sweet brunch deal—$20 for an entree and bottomless mimosas. Our pockets were empty after Spring Break, so this option fit our struggle budget perfectly.

As soon as we arrived something felt off, but I couldn’t quite put a finger on it. I surveyed the crowd and noticed a sea of blonds with blue eyes. There were no people of color. As a student at Howard, a historically black university, I thought perhaps I was being too sensitive. At Howard there is a spectrum of chocolate hues from many different backgrounds and walks of life, so going somewhere and not seeing any black people feels a little weird. I decided to let it go and proceed to take full advantage of the brunch deal.

At Howard there is a spectrum of chocolate hues from many different backgrounds and walks of life, so going somewhere and not seeing any black people feels a little weird.

“Do you have a reservation?” asked the hostess.

The three of us looked at each other with widened eyes. U Street was getting fancy on us. During our four-year stay in D.C. we never had to make a reservation for brunch. The host assured us that we would be put on the wait list and a table would be ready within the next 20 minutes. “You can go to the bar upstairs and start the drink portion of your meal,” she said.

She definitely didn’t have to tell us twice.

The restaurant was beyond crowded and the bar on the rooftop deck was even more congested. Everyone was trying to squeeze their way to the bar, but no one on the staff bothered to say “Excuse me,” or “How may I help you?” There was no common courtesy. Clearly, the staff was dealing with a bunch of drunk customers on a very busy day. I get it. But that doesn't mean my friends and I didn't deserve basic customer service.

When we arrived at the bar upstairs, no one on staff approached us to take our drink order, and we grew tired of watching other people be served, so my roommate asked the nearest employee if we could start a round of mimosas. He ignored us. (NOTE: If you’re going to ignore someone, you probably shouldn’t make eye contact.)

We found a cheerful blond worker who seemed a little apprehensive, but made us drinks. The wait for the drinks lasted longer than the drinks themselves, and before we knew it we were ready for another round. We asked a different waiter to help us out, and her reaction wasn’t what I was expecting.

“That’s not how it works. We don’t do that here,” she said.

Well, this is awkward. The host told us to come upstairs for drinks before our meal. If we weren’t allowed to do that, why did someone just serve us a round of mimosas? We asked to see the manager. I decided to handle the conversation because my roommates were less calm. I explained our concern politely.

The manager said, “In order to have bottomless brunch, you need to order your food either at the bar or at a table. I’m not sure if you’re aware of the price, but it’s $20 dollars for the brunch deal. If you want to stand and drink we’re going to have to charge you an additional $22."

I replied, “We’re aware of the price. It’s why we wanted to dine here. We’re not trying to drink for free. We were just doing what we saw everyone else do. Everyone on this rooftop has received some type of service, while we’ve been standing here being ignored.”

I went on to point out the fact that there was no room at the bar and our only option was to stand next to it and that other customers were doing the same thing and had no problem getting refills.

All I wanted was a mimosa, but what I got was a reality check.

The manager continued to bicker, perplexed as to how we could have been under the impression that we were allowed to do what it appeared everyone else in the restaurant was doing. She said she would check with the host. When she returned, the situation got even weirder.

“So, we’re not going to charge you,” she said. The magic words! I rounded up all three glasses and told her to have a nice day. The three of us couldn’t believe it was such a hassle to get spiked OJ.

After telling a friend (also an employee of the restaurant) what happened, the series of events made even less sense. She said she had no clue that people were charged extra for mimosas when not at a table or the bar. People started their drinks before their meals regularly, regardless of whether or not they were seated. Apparently, the additional $22 we were threatened with doesn’t exist. She talked us into revisiting the restaurant the following weekend.

Take 2. The same feeling overcame me. I surveyed the crowd, less concerned with facial features and more concerned about the “protocol." Every hand was holding a glass overflowing with mimosa. What the hell?  

I know what you're thinking: This isn't necessarily about race. But how else am I supposed to feel after being denied service only to find out that this was an imaginary formality? Could it have been because I'm a woman? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Maybe it was because I'm young. Then again, I feel certain that at least half of the restaurant's clientele is made up of university students. So let's survey other possible options: I'm a black woman, and I'm young. All factors that I have no control over—all factors that, in this situation, made me feel invisible. 

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