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At A Pub In Hyderabad, I Saw How Zomato Is Helping Homophobic Businesses Flourish

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IMPACT: Jeet’s story was read and shared widely by thousands. In just 24 hours, the story caught Zomato India’s attention and the company tweeted out that it will create an ‘LGBTQ-friendly’ tag for restaurants they feature.

If you are from Hyderabad or Bangalore, you would be familiar with Prost Brewpub, a popular local brewery. A few months back, I went on a date with a guy to Prost and was shocked by the way we were treated. The bouncers told us that Prost allowed “girl-boy” couples only. We tried to reason out but they didn’t budge. We spoke to the receptionist and explained the Google definition of a couple: two people who are married or otherwise closely associated romantically or sexually. But the lady denied us entry, too, citing restaurant policies.

Meanwhile, two white men walked in and the bouncers did not stop them. We figured they were gay too, thanks to Grindr (a social networking app that shows you LGBTQ folks around you who use the app). At this point, we asked to meet the manager, who came out and offered to bring us two glasses of beer in plastic disposable cups and suggested we consume it on the road at the entrance. At this point, we left the place and decided never to come back again.

This incident kept me awake for nights to come and I kept wondering how this could be solved. I reached out to Zomato as I had booked the table through their platform and flagged the incident and suggested the following:

  1. Have a word with the restaurants and positively influence them to discontinue the anti-LGBTQ entry restriction.
  2. If (1) failed, remove the restaurant from the platform for enforcing discriminatory entry practices based on gender and sexuality.
  3. If (2) is too harsh, disable the “Table Booking”, “Food Delivery” and “Zomato Gold” options for the restaurant as these directly contribute towards its revenue and growth.
  4. If (1), (2), (3) are not feasible, add an LGBTQ-friendly tag to the restaurants which are LGBTQ-friendly for ease of distinguishing.
  5. If (1), (2), (3) and (4) was too difficult to implement, add a note in the Table Booking section that entry is allowed for heterosexual couples only.

Zomato tried (1) and failed. Zomato refused to try (2), (3), (4) & (5) citing that, “We, as a restaurant search and discovery platform, would not be able to administer restaurant activity in matters where it calls into question their operational decision with regard to admittance into their restaurant since it is entirely their own prerogative. This is something that we, unfortunately, cannot govern or influence since this lies within the management’s discretion to do so.”

Despite having features like Table Booking, Zomato Gold, Food Delivery, which directly contribute towards the revenue and growth of Zomato and their restaurant partners, Zomato still continues to call itself a search and discovery platform. Google is a search and discovery platform, Zomato is much more than that. I mentioned this to their team and got the most ridiculous explanation: “Taking an example over this, there are restaurants who allow people wearing shorts or open footwear, but high-end restaurants have a specific dress code. This is specific to restaurants and even in this case, these are restrictions. But, as a platform provider, we don’t have enough say over.”

The Zomato team failed to realize that footwear can be selected and purchased to suit a restaurant’s policy however, sexuality and gender cannot be altered to match a restaurant’s requirement. At this point, I decided to discontinue the conversation with Zomato which lasted for months.

One last disappointment remained, I had opted for a Zomato Gold membership. Several Gold partners practised discrimination against LGBTQ couples. I told Zomato that it was unfair that they charge me the same Gold membership fee that they charge heterosexual couples but I get access to a lesser number of restaurants due to their entry restrictions. I asked for a proportional refund and a list of LGBTQ-friendly Gold restaurants that I could visit in order to not undergo the experience that I had at Prost. Zomato informed that it was not possible for them to do this and instead offered to refund the entire amount and take away my Gold membership, thereby making it clear how little the company cared about the LGBTQ community although in their emails they kept stressing, “we completely feel how bad the experience is for you”.

They had shared an image soon after Section 377 of the IPC was read down, to celebrate the historic judgement and join the other corporates in the celebration.

The image said, Let’s get one thing straight, Love is Love. Zomato had an opportunity to emerge as a market leader by forming policies for their restaurant partners which were relevant in today’s world. But despite being a global company that pretends to celebrate Pride, Zomato failed to make any positive changes. Their responses and the examples provided by their team to explain their stance deteriorated the situation further. It became very clear that the company’s primary focus is revenue, not its users.

Prost too had shared a celebratory post on Facebook which said, #SayProst to love and #ByeByeSection377! But clearly failed to celebrate freedom.

It became very clear, that restaurants in India follow a system:

  • Acceptable- All white people, women, heterosexual couples
  • Unacceptable – LGBTQ couples, Stags

It is 2019, and the LGBTQ community does not have the same access to food and a pint of beer that heterosexual couples do. These restaurants cite women’s safety as a reason for not allowing stags and they do not allow gay couples because they cannot distinguish between a gay couple and two heterosexual guys. They are trying to protect women by banning another vulnerable minority community. There are various ways to ensure women’s safety – adding ample CCTV cameras, employing a number of security guards, etc. But restaurants choose to put a blanket ban on all gay men. And the most disappointing part is that Zomato refuses to leverage its position to bring about a change.

In the Congress manifesto that was launched recently, it is mentioned that Congress promises to pass an anti-discrimination law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, gender or language in the supply of goods and services that are made available to the public in general such as housing, hostels, hotels, clubs, etc. It will be interesting to see if Zomato changes its stance in case Congress comes to power and manages to implement such a law.

Meanwhile, here is a petition that you can sign to let Zomato know that they should no longer support anti-LGBTQ establishments.

You must be to comment.
  1. IndraJeet Ghorpade

    Here’s a link to the petition that you can sign: https://www.change.org/p/zomato-com-zomato-stop-supporting-anti-lgbtq-restaurants
    to push Zomato to:
    1. Remove anti-LGBTQ restaurants from its platform
    2. If (1) seems too harsh, don’t allow anti-LGBTQ restaurants to use Table Booking, Food Delivery, Zomato Gold and other features which directly contribute towards their revenue.
    3. If (1) and (2) is not feasible, add a “LGBTQ-friendly” label to all the restaurants which do not discriminate against the LGBTQ community under the pretext of women’s safety.

  2. IndraJeet Ghorpade

    [UPDATE] Here are the revised asks:

    We want Zomato to:

    1. Have a word with the restaurants and positively influence them to discontinue the anti-LGBTQ entry restriction by incentivizing them, if needed.
    2. If (1) failed, remove the restaurant from the platform for enforcing discriminatory entry practices based on gender and sexuality.
    3. If (2) is too harsh, disable the “Table Booking”, “Food Delivery” and “Zomato Gold” options for the restaurant as these directly contribute towards its revenue and growth.
    4. If (1), (2), (3) are not feasible, add an LGBTQ-friendly label/tag/badge to the restaurants which are LGBTQ-friendly for ease of filtering.
    5. If (1), (2), (3) and (4) was too difficult to implement, add a note in the Table Booking section that entry is allowed for heterosexual couples only.

  3. IndraJeet Ghorpade

    THANK YOU everyone for the massive support that you’ve shown towards this cause. It means a lot to me and the entire LGBTQ community and I have immense gratitude in my heart for you.

    I want to share a small victory with you. The Zomato team got in touch with me recently and assured that Zomato fully supports the LGBTQ community. Additionally, they are now working towards adding an “LGBTQ friendly” tag to *restaurants, bars, cafes, pubs, clubs, etc. which do not discriminate their guests based on their gender or sexuality. The tag will help us to easily identify restaurants that will welcome us without any judgements. Hopefully, it will motivate other restaurants too, to tweak their entry policies, once they see the benefits of being open to all.

    Thanks Zomato, for taking the first step. I am sure that you will set a positive example for other companies that follow similar business models.

    Having said that, I want to add that creating an LGBTQ friendly tag alone, does not solve the issue at hand. Many restaurants might not opt into it and Zomato will continue to support the growth of these homophobic restaurants by providing them sophisticated growth tools like Table Booking, Food Delivery, Zomato Gold, etc. Therefore, I urge Zomato to take a more substantial stance on this by either:
    – Influencing all its restaurant partners positively on being open to the LGBTQ Community OR
    – By taking a harsher but the right action of disabling access to tools like Table Booking, Food Delivery, Zomato Gold, etc. to homophobic restaurants, if Zomato truly wants to emerge as a company that fully supports the LGBTQ community.

    It might seem like a very difficult ask, but it is not. If you compare the current restaurant industry with what it was 3-4 years ago – few restaurants would deliver food, not all restaurants took table reservations and barely any restaurants had a 1+1 or 2+2 offer on food and drinks (Zomato Gold). But Zomato managed to influence these restaurants through aggressive creative strategies, due to which, almost all restaurants today deliver food, take reservations and the company boasts of thousands of Zomato Gold partners who are comfortable offering 2 drinks at the cost of 1.

    Therefore, if Zomato truly has the will to open up all the restaurants in the country to all their users irrespective of their gender and sexuality, they can and they should. So please continue to share this petition with your friends and family and urge them to sign it. With enough support, I am hopeful that Zomato will prioritise its users over its restaurant partners.

    If you have any suggestions that can help Zomato, the restaurants and the LGBTQ community, please share them in the comments section of this petition.

    Once again, I thank you for your massive support and request you to continue spreading the word.

    Regards,
    Indrajeet

    *the term restaurant is used here as an umbrella term which encompasses cafes, pubs, clubs, and all other establishments that are listed on Zomato

  4. IndraJeet Ghorpade

    Dear all,

    Thank you very much for your support. I’m thrilled to see that 7200+ individuals have now signed the petition for equal rights for the LGBTQ Community: change.org/zomatoforlgbtq

    Last week, Zomato announced that it fully supports the LGBTQ Community and is creating an “LGBTQ friendly” tag to display on restaurants which do not discriminate against the community. The tag will be launched by mid-May and will help us to easily identify restaurants which offer safe spaces for our community, a feature that currently no online restaurant listing site offers in India. It might also encourage other restaurants to open their doors to the LGBTQ community.

    Many people have expressed their thanks to Zomato for promising to take this step.

    One user said, “Zomato is doing incredible work. Getting people to see it’s okay to have lgbtq customers as they are same as others will take time. Forcing things will just make it worse. Also, when I’m on a date I can’t randomly pick a restaurant and assume it to be friendly; an lgbtq tag would be incredible.”

    However, many are not satisfied by Zomato’s response and have criticised the idea of an “LGBTQ friendly” tag for being discriminatory itself.

    Tania Singh, CEO of Make Love Not Scars, an NGO that supports acid attack survivors said, “The tag seems extremely misguided and sad and angers me because guess what – all restaurants should be human friendly. This is a weak stand for a great community. If you really cared about the community, you know what you would do? Ban all restaurants from your platform that discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Don’t give them your platform. End of story.”

    Another user said, “This is a terrible idea. It further emboldens restaurant owners to believe they reserve the right to discriminate against customers.”

    In response to that, a user said, “Just like couple friendly hotels, it’s LGBTQ friendly restaurants. No business would want to be branded non-LGBTQ friendly as they know the consequences of being one. This will make them more aware about the LGBTQ community and acceptance. The negative side is yes, it feels discriminatory, but good things come with some drawbacks.”.

    I have emailed these responses to the Zomato team and made the following suggestions:

    Run extensive sensitization programs for all restaurant partners and positively influence them so that they are open to all guests regardless of their gender or sexuality.
    For restaurants which continue to ban entry to guests based on their gender or sexuality, temporarily disable their access to Zomato’s business growth features like Gold, Table Booking, Food Delivery, etc. as these directly contribute towards the revenue of these homophobic establishments.
    I hope Zomato considers these suggestions and soon assures its LGBTQ users that it will take stringent, effective and meaningful measures to curb discrimination by their restaurant partners against their guests.

    Please continue to share the petition with your friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. and request them to sign it and reshare it: change.org/zomatoforlgbtq

    To achieve the best possible resolution of this issue, both me and Zomato, seek your inputs. Please share your feedback or suggestions below in the comments or DM me: http://www.facebook.com/jeet91

    Thank you very much once again for being strong advocates for equal rights!

    Regards,
    Indrajeet

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