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White House press secretary Sarah Sanders asked to leave Virginia restaurant

Nick Allen
The owner of Red Hen said she asked Donald Trump's spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders (pictured), to leave out of a duty to uphold honesty and compassion - AFP

Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, was refused service at a restaurant on Friday, sparking angry accusations that Donald Trump's aides are the target of liberal "bigotry".

Mrs Sanders said she had been asked to leave by the owner of the Red Hen, a three hour drive outside Washington.

The story was confirmed by the restaurant's owner who said she felt she had to take a stand for "honesty" and "compassion".

Mrs Sanders wrote on Twitter: "I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia to leave because I work for the president and I politely left."

"Her (the owner's) actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so."

The confrontation comes at a particularly tense time in American politics, with protests growing over the Trump administration's zero-tolerance border policy that has separated children from parents. It follows months and years of growing polarisation in American politics - the cause and effect of Mr Trump's rise to power. 

Republicans lost no time in accusing liberals of policing restaurants.

Mrs Sanders' father Mike Huckabee, the former Republican presidential candidate, said: "Bigotry. On the menu at Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. Or you can ask for the 'Hate Plate'. And appetisers are 'small plates for small minds'."

Earlier in the week, Mr Trump's homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, cut short a dinner at a Mexican restaurant after protesters shouted "Shame!" until she left.

The Red Hen Credit: Daniel Lin

Mrs Sanders' treatment at the restaurant created a social media commotion with people on both sides weighing in.

On Yelp, a reviewer of the restaurant wrote: "Don't eat here if you're a Republican, wearing a MAGA hat or a patriot."

But other reviewers supported the restaurant owner's actions.

Profile | Sarah Huckabee Sanders

One said: "12/10 would recommend. Bonus: this place is run by management who stuck up for their beliefs and who are true Americans."

The restaurant was in the town of Lexington, population 7,000, which voted heavily against Mr Trump.

Stephanie Wilkinson, co-owner of the tiny 26-seat eaterie, said she was at home when staff called to tell her Mrs Sanders was dining and she went to see.

She told the Washington Post: "I’m not a huge fan of confrontation. I have a business, and I want the business to thrive."

"But this feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.”

Both sides of the debate have been leaving comments on the restaurant's social media sites Credit: Daniel Lin/AP

When she got there; Mrs Sanders, her husband and several others had cheese boards in front of them.

Ms Wilkinson consulted her staff who had all seen Mrs Sander defending the separation of illegal immigrant families at the border. The staff said they wanted Mrs Sanders to leave.

Ms Wilkinson said she went to Mrs Sanders, told her she was the owner, and and asked her on to the patio "for a word".

She said: "I was babbling a little, but I got my point across in a polite and direct fashion. I explained that the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation. I said 'I’d like to ask you to leave'."

Mrs Sanders was polite and said simply: "That’s fine. I’ll go."

Her party followed her out, offering to pay, but were told they did not need to.

Someone claiming to be a member of the waiting staff posted details of the incident on social media, including a memo about Mrs Sanders being 86ed - slang for ejecting someone.

The details were forwarded in a tweet by Brennan Gilmore, the executive director of environmental group Clean Virginia.