A group of black professional footballers dining at a branch of Pizza Hut in Bournemouth were asked to pay before eating and were told it was "because of the way you look", reports The Guardian.
Five players from League One side Bournemouth were told they would have to pay, despite a Pizza Hut employee admitting to them it was not company policy. The incident prompted the club's chairman, Eddie Mitchell, to say that "it is upsetting to hear that people are treated differently because of the colour of their skin".
Pizza Hut apologised, but said the incident was not "racially motivated". The restaurant called the police after the men refused to leave.
"We ordered our food. The manager came up with the bill and said: 'Would you mind paying first?' We asked if that was the policy and he said 'no'," midfielder Anton Robinson, 24, told the Bournemouth Echo.
"When we asked why he had asked us, he said: 'It's the way you look.'"
"We had a good idea what he was trying to get at. A group of white kids came in straight after us and they weren't asked to pay before they had their food. The only thing that was different was the colour of our skins."
Robinson said the group of players, including fellow first-team regulars Marvin Bartley and Liam Feeney, told the Pizza Hut employee they were professional footballers, and were happy to pay when they were finished.
"That's what normal people do," Robinson said. "He hadn't asked other customers to pay before their meals. It got a little bit heated, then he said: 'If you're not going to pay the bill now, I'm going to call the police to escort you off the premises'."
Robinson said all players were smartly dressed, telling the Echo: "When the lads go out for a meal, we know we're representing the club. We know that people recognise us and we have to behave."
Dorset police were duly called to the restaurant during the incident last Thursday, a spokesman confirmed today, after receiving a call from Pizza Hut regarding disruptive customers.
"A group of men had been asked to leave. They weren't happy about this, but we spoke to them and they did leave," the spokesman said.
Mitchell, Bournemouth's chairman, said the club was "highly disappointed to hear about the treatment a number of players received on a recent visit to Pizza Hut."
"Our players are magnificent ambassadors for AFC Bournemouth. Their behaviour is exemplary and they are a credit to the club ," he added in a statement posted on the club's website
"In this day and age, it is upsetting to hear that people are treated differently because of the colour of their skin, and at AFC Bournemouth we will not condone any treatment of people in such a way."
A spokeswoman for Pizza Hut said: "This incident was not racially motivated. We have recently had a spate of customers leaving without paying their bills, so were advised by the police to ask people to pay for their meal before dining.
“We have been doing this at our discretion, and in this case the situation was poorly handled. We have spoken to the team member involved and have contacted the customers concerned to apologise for any offence caused."