Why this viral restaurant receipt is all kinds of problematic

Last week, Alissa Maugen, a bartender in Ohio-based restaurant Lakewood West End Tavern, was visited by a group of friends. All was going seemingly well until she handed them their receipt —instead of printing her friends’ names, she typed down an incredibly homophobic slur.

Maugen claims she meant nothing serious by this, and her friend—the recipient—thought it was funny and posted it to Instagram, according a local ABCNews affiliate. Soon, someone else saw it, didn’t find it funny at all (rightfully so), and posted the receipt to Facebook.

It wasn’t long before the image went completely viral, angering members of the community as well as complete strangers.

Maugen, who was interviewed by the local news station WESW-TV, states she did not mean to make her friends feel badly (even though she was well-aware the word she used is an offensive one). A recipient of the receipt was also interviewed, and he stated, “Something like that obviously shouldn’t be put out there. That’s just something amongst friends, just joking around.”

While they didn’t “mean” it—and some news outlets are calling this whole thing a misunderstanding—the ‘f’ word was used in a way that it’s been used for too long. And this time, people hopefully got the message: It’s not a joke. It’s hurtful—and judging by reactions on the Internet—people have had enough.

Negative reviews have been published on the tavern’s Facebook and Yelp page, calling out the bartender for her actions. And while some attacks get way too personal, other comments on social media have been really insightful and speak to a larger issue.

“Words like that should never be used jokingly,” wrote one commenter on Facebook. “Not when there are LGBT teens committing suicide over being called that word or worse.”

As the Cleveland Scene smartly pointed out, the takeaway isn’t that this was a joke between friends and be careful what you write. The takeaway is that this slur is offensive in ANY context and it shouldn’t be used—even between friends.

In response to the backlash, the restaurant owner posted on their Facebook page, stating, “We’re horrified that such a stupid thing happened. The West End Tavern abhors this type of slur. It isn’t funny and it hurts our friends and our customers. We welcome all of our guests.” He added that Maugen has been suspended for the time being.

While the situation is being handled as graciously and smartly as it (probably) can be, this event is a perfect example of how powerful our choice of words can be, and that it’s never OK to use slurs (homophobic, sexist, racist or otherwise) with ANYONE, period.

We’d like to say that the Internet saved the day and educated people on the power of slurs and their potential to cause pain. But this story continues to be problematic: the Facebook poster who first made the receipt public also referred to the female bartender as the “b” word, further perpetuating targeted, offensive slurs. That’s not cool either.

(Image via Facebook)