80-year-old Marti Warren of Anniston, Alabama was preparing to attend a Kiwanis Club banquet at the local Olive Garden when she was told she couldn’t display the Kiwanis banner, or the American flag, inside the restaurant.
A company spokeswoman explained: “The Oxford Olive Garden does not have a private dining area. To be fair to everyone and avoid disrupting the dining experience for all other guests, they are unable to accommodate flags or banners of any type in the dining room.”
Warren was very upset by this decision, and shockwaves rolled across the Internet into a national outcry against the Olive Garden, as the local Anniston Star reported:
“I can’t lie down and keep my mouth shut about this,” Warren said. “I’m not backing down and not going to be quiet.”
Warren, immediate past president of Oxford Golden K Kiwanis, said she and many of her fellow Kiwanians are upset after the Oxford Olive Garden would not let her group hang a U.S. flag during a meeting at the restaurant last week. The club was holding its annual changing of the guard banquet, in which new officers took control of the organization. Warren stepped down as president at the meeting, but stayed on as vice-president.
Warren said her organization had planned to hang up the U.S. flag so members there could say the pledge of allegiance at the beginning of the meeting. Many of the members there were veterans and were upset when they were told the flag would be unavailable, Warren said.
“My grandson was in Baghdad when we took Iraq,” Warren said. “This was just a real affront to those veterans who were at the banquet.”
Details of the incident have since gone viral, with angry comments spreading onto many Facebook pages, including Olive Garden’s Facebook presence. Warren said many Kiwanians and friends of hers have decided to no longer dine at Olive Garden because of the incident.
Warren told the local CBS News affiliate that without a flag, she was reduced to asking “club members to close their eyes and picture the flag waving in the wind as they said the pledge of allegiance.”
Although Warren was told her American flag was unwelcome in the restaurant as a matter of corporate policy, the corporate office swiftly issued a statement that “some members of our team were misinformed about company policy,” and declared American flags are welcome wherever those bottomless Olive Garden salads are served:
We are very sorry for any misunderstanding about this issue. We do not have a policy at Olive Garden concerning bringing the American flag into our restaurants. Some members of our team were misinformed about company policy by our corporate office. As a company, we take responsibility for that and we regret it. We take pride in how we communicate to our restaurants and we are correcting this so it doesn’t happen again.
Like all Americans, we have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for the American flag and everything it symbolizes, and we welcome anyone who wishes to bring the flag into our restaurants. In fact, we periodically provide American flag collar pins to our employees to wear while serving guests.
(Emphasis mine.) So we’ve got a happy ending, in which a private business voluntarily corrected its behavior, and apologized to its customers for the affront to their uncompromising patriotism. This might be a good weekend to show some support for the company’s admirable decision by bringing an American flag to dinner.