In a customer service situation, the owner or manager is potentially liable for anything that the employee says. It is very common for stores to get complaints that claim someone was mean or used bad language, when in fact the person was polite and properly professional. How can the manager defend his employee if he didn’t understand what was said, and what the normal behavior of the employee is when speaking Spanish? Also, employees can only testify that the other employees were polite and professional if they can understand what was said.
There are some phrases and words in Spanish which are totally innocuous in one Latin American country, and totally insulting or obscene in another. Some of them are food-related. So there’s another problem.
There is also a tendency for some customers (okay, it’s usually criminal types, but sometimes it’s even respectable grandmothers) to be more nasty, threatening, and abusive in their language toward employees, if they think that the employee can understand them but that nobody else can. It’s a sad part of human nature, but it happens.
Reading the article, I see that the owner referenced the business principle of standardization. This is pretty common as a worry for businesses doing food. Everybody would like to give people special stuff, but generally it is frowned upon. What if the other employee or the other location can’t make the ice cream spell out words, or do latte pictures? The customers will complain and feel bad. So it’s better just to do the standard thing. (Of course, in this case the customers complained anyway, which is usually the case. Most people are reasonable and want to be happy, but some people love to complain and make a big deal out of things.)
So rules like this are pretty common. Even in call centers that provide Spanish speakers, one is usually prohibited from speaking Spanish unless one is an official member of the Spanish-speaking call center area, so that liability rules and management will be able to cover you or discipline you for whatever you say. (The thing to do is to transfer people to the correct call center area, or in case of a minority language, to contact the interpreter service which provides an official go-between.)
Finally, many English-speaking customers are shy of ordering from someone in English, if they hear the person before them ordering in Spanish. They assume in their heads that the person taking the order doesn’t speak English, or doesn’t speak it well. They may try to speak Spanish (usually badly) because of this, or they may just go away.
(The same thing is true of certain strong English accents spoken by extremely American or extremely white people, so it’s not a hatred of foreignness or a form of racism. In fact, a lot of minority people exhibit the same reluctance. It doesn’t seem to be a function of education level, either; it’s just something that worries some people and doesn’t worry others.)
Shrug. It’s hard to know what other factors may be playing into this.
Probably there are countries and US neighborhoods where bilingual ordering is common, but the US doesn’t have any normal across-the-board business procedures for such a situation. Experientially, most foreign-language-speaking neighborhoods only last a generation or two in the US before becoming all-English, at which point the inhabitants usually move out and are replaced by new immigrants speaking new languages. The only exception to this are places like the Southwest or the parts of Maine right next to Quebec, where you’re not dealing with immigrants but rather with long-time inhabitants.