I recently had a guest ask not to have a particular server “because his accent is hard to understand.” I happened to have that party assigned to a different section anyway but suspect this was about race more than difficulty understanding. The more I think about it the angrier I get that that would happen in 2014. Plus he is my best server. Am I even allowed to honor a request like that?
– Restaurant Owner, Philadelphia, PA
This sounds like a guest you could do without.
One of the tenets of hospitality law—and employment law in general—is "for any reason but not the wrong reason." That is to say, if a guest asks for a particular server because of personality, skill, a previous positive experience, or for just about any reason, the answer should be “of course,” if possible. If the request is to avoid a server based on his being a member of a protected class, you have a problem.
A tipped employee could easily make a case that by honoring that request, you are causing him to lose income by not picking up the tips he would otherwise be making on the table and providing a hostile environment. If that employee is a member of a protected class based on sex, disability, age, race, sexual orientation in some states, or national origin, he could rightly complain.
In this case, the key assessment you have to make is whether the guest's request is in fact for any reason or a wrong reason. You seem to suspect it’s for the wrong reason and if so you would be better served to stand by your employee than a bigoted guest.