French authorities launched an investigation Friday into accusations that a top Parisian restaurant, favoured by celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Rihanna, systematically sought to decline reservations from Arab, African or veil-wearing customers.
The Buzzfeed website reported on Thursday that L'Avenue, an ultra-chic brasserie near the famed Champs-Elysees boulevard, had "put in place a veritable system of discrimination", notably turning down reservations from diners with Arabic-sounding names.
Middle-Eastern tourists from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain were also told that the restaurant was fully booked, Buzzfeed said in its investigation, based on testimony from four former waitresses.
"If a veiled woman showed up to the restaurant, they had to be told that the restaurant was full, even if it was not," the report said, adding that the former waitresses charged that the system was still in place.
Buzzfeed printed screenshots of text messages between staff that appeared to support the allegations, as well as a list of telephone country codes kept at the front desk, allegedly to help staff decline reservation requests from citizens of the four Gulf countries.
French rights chief Jacques Toubon, announcing an investigation, said in a statement that the restaurant was also accused of "discrimination in terms of physical appearance".
The former serving staff told Buzzfeed they were ordered to sit the "good-looking and presentable" customers on the ground floor and terrace where they would be the most visible.
The restaurant was unreachable for comment on Friday afternoon.
But its manager Alexandre Denis denied the allegations in comments to Buzzfeed, telling the website: "All cultures, all nationalities come here... What is certain is that I never gave instructions to refuse customers."
L'Avenue announced in 2015 that it was set to open a New York branch in mid-2018 in partnership with department store Saks Fifth Avenue.