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

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.

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