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Frankie & Benny's restaurant staff made blind woman feel like the 'lowest of the low'

PUBLISHED: 10:00 11 November 2016

Maria Walker and her guide dog Basil.

Maria Walker and her guide dog Basil.

Archant

A blind woman said she was made to feel like a "second class citizen" after being asked to sit away from customers, next to the door of a restaurant - because of her guide dog.

Maria Walker, who lost her sight nine years ago, says she was left “disgusted” by the treatment of staff in Frankie & Benny’s in The Brewery, Romford.

The 49-year-old visited the branch on Sunday afternoon to get some lunch with her partner and her two-year-old golden retriever guide dog Basil.

After entering, she claims a waiter greeted her by questioning whether she was allowed in with Basil.

The brief exchange with the waiter was followed by a discussion with the store’s manager who is believed to have told Ms Walker he was worried other customers could be allergic to dogs.

The guide dog user has now said she will “never eat in there again” after being told she could stay but only if she sat away from the kitchen next to the exit.

She said: “I eat in Romford quite a lot and never have any problems with Basil.

“But what made Sunday worse, was the way that the manager spoke to me, it made me feel really upset and the lowest of the low.

“Me and my partner ended up losing our appetite and decided to leave as it ruined my whole day and we didn’t want to stay where we weren’t wanted.”

The Newbury Park resident said Sunday “really knocked her for six” and now wants better training for staff.

“Luckily I am thick-skinned and I have built up my confidence over a long time, I would hate to think if this has happened to someone who just acquired a guide dog,” Ms Walker said.

“I want the company to now train staff and for them to be aware of the law so that someone else is not made to feel like a second class citizen.”

Dave Kent, Guide Dogs UK engagement officer for London, said: “Guide dog access denials are extremely distressing especially when owners have every right to be there.

“To be challenged at the door when all you want to do is sit and enjoy a meal like any other member of the public does, can leave a blind person feeling marginalised and saddened.

“It’s remarkable that we are still going through this time after time in 2016, when all guide dog users want is to be treated like any other member of society.”

A spokesman for Frankie & Benny’s said they were “satisfied” with the staffs’ treatment after reviewing CCTV.

He added: “All guide dog users are welcome in our stores and staff are trained to know this.”

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