Carissa Chantiles was hoping to take her friend from Thailand for a nice dinner at her dad’s favorite restaurant in Frederick, Maryland, last Friday. But the evening quickly took a sour turn when the staff started questioning the friend’s work visa before serving her. In the days since, the Frederick County liquor board has voted to change a regulation that opened the door for potential discrimination in the first place.
When Chantiles and her friend, who wished to remain anonymous to avoid negative attention, first arrived at Ayse Meze, they joined Chantiles’s father and his fiancée at the bar. According to Chantiles, the friends were looking at the menu—but hadn’t ordered anything—when the bartender asked for their IDs. Chantiles’s friend handed over her national ID card first. The restaurant didn’t accept it, which wasn’t totally out of the norm, so she took out her passport as well. The bartender told them that he’d have to consult a manager. When the manager arrived, she started going through all the passport pages, Chantiles says.
“She said that it looked as though the visa had expired. So my friend told the manager she was looking at the wrong page and tried to show the manager, ” Chantiles recalls. “I felt pretty alarmed at that moment. Why was she looking through all of my friend’s passport pages? That’s not relevant.”
The Thai woman tells Washingtonian in an email that one has ever asked to see her visa documents before. “They were not police officers or government officials, so they don’t have the right to look at this private information. This made me feel unsafe,” she says.
Chantiles says the manager told them that she had recently attended a training where she learned that it was illegal to serve alcohol to people who had less than six months remaining on their visa. The manager even pulled out an alcohol regulation handbook to try to find the rule, but wasn’t able to. At that point, Chantiles told the manager she didn’t care; they were leaving.
Chantiles would later learn that Frederick County alcohol regulations require foreign visitors to have valid US Homeland Security entry stamps on their passports no older than six months to purchase alcohol. She says what the manager allegedly told them was a misinterpretation of this rule.
But the manager, Jaime Ellis-Ade, says in an e-mail that this is in fact the law that the restaurant was following. She says it’s possible she misspoke or that Chantiles and her friend misheard her. Regardless, “the actions of the staff were in no way motivated by any bias to the patron’s race, national origin, or status as a foreign born person living in the U.S.,” she says. She points out that the restaurant could be fined and jeopardize its liquor license for improperly serving alcohol.
“We do not agree with this [regulation], but are bound to abide by it,” Ellis-Ade says.
Either way, the Thai patron would not have been able to purchase a drink, because her visa extended for more than a year and wasn’t stamped within the past six months. And either way, Chantiles says the regulation is discriminatory and gives restaurants and bars cause to unnecessarily snoop through foreigners’ visa documents.
“Restaurant managers should not be looking at people’s travel documents in any sort of analytical way like that,” Chantiles says. “There’s almost 200 countries in the world, and they all have different passports and they all have different types of visas, and some don’t even have to have visas. It’s such a complex system that there’s no way that anyone who hasn’t received significant training on this can accurately validate any of the information.”
The following Monday, Chantiles contacted the Frederick County liquor board about the incident and to find out more about the regulations. That very same day, the board voted to remove the six-month stamp requirement for passports. (The clause is not part of Maryland state law.)
Chantiles is happy to see the change but not with how the rest of the night unfolded. After leaving Ayse Meze, the group headed to a nearby restaurant called Bella Trattoria, which Chantiles didn’t realize was run by the same owner. Ellis-Ade says an employee overheard that’s where they were going, so she called to give her colleagues a heads up.
“We walked in there and the bartender said, ‘Oh you just came from Ayse, didn’t you?'” Chantiles says. “And we just looked around like what? Very confused. Not only did we feel like what they had done in their own restaurant was discriminatory, but then to call other restaurants in the area is just beyond necessary.”
The group sat at the bar, but Chantiles was so upset that she excused herself to the bathroom to try to calm down. Shortly after, her friend came in and told her that this restaurant wouldn’t take her ID either. They left and didn’t try to dine anywhere else. They weren’t sure if the Ayse Meze staff had called around to other places too.
“I hope that this incident involving me, my friend, and her family will have at least some benefit,” the Thai woman says. “I want everyone to pay attention to the the law before using prejudice against anyone else. As for what happened, I have to say thank you to my good American friend and her family for trying to protect me and my rights.”