One thing we can always count on when the national media latches onto a local story is that they will screw it up.

Last week, a tourist visiting Winston-Salem posted to Facebook a receipt from Mary’s Gourmet Diner with a 15 percent discount for “praying in public.” The story went viral, replicated by daily and weekly newspapers and NPR, picked up by the Huffington Post and the Daily Beast, link-baited by the Blaze — “The surprising thing a customer found on her diner receipt…” — and even the international press. The Times of India posted the story on Sunday afternoon. 

And in the comment threads, everyone had something to say about the Christian woman in downtown Winston-Salem who gives discounts for Jesus.

The stories are more or less the same. But the most telling details are the ones they left out.

Notably: The discount is but one among almost a dozen various discounts the restaurant gives — at the server’s discretion — to customers. All Trade Street employees, for example, get 15 percent off their tickets if their servers choose to apply the discount. These discounts have never been advertised or otherwise used as marketing. And when it comes to the “praying in public” markdown, its name may be misleading.

“We just had to name it something for the [point of sale] system,” Haglund told Triad City Beat. “But we’re not looking for people holding hands or bowing their heads. It’s just a simple gesture of gratitude. I’ve lived in other countries. I’ve seen people who don’t have food to eat. We all have so much to be thankful for.

“I have access to such beautiful food,” she continued. “I’m always grateful for it.”

Haglund herself is not so much into what she calls “organized religion.”[pullquote]The calls started coming fast in the middle of last week — friends and family, reporters of every stripe.[/pullquote]

“I’ve seen people damaged by it and I’ve been damaged by it,” she says. “I don’t fit into any one particular group, but that’s what they’re trying to do with me.”

The calls started coming fast in the middle of last week — friends and family, reporters of every stripe. She took most of them in good humor, save for a pushy Fox News producer who wanted her to be on the morning show, “Fox & Friends.”

“I told her, ‘I don’t like your station,’” Haglund says. “Then click. She hung up.”

It’s been good for business to a degree. Weekdays have picked up, she says, but the booths and tables haven’t been filled with people saying grace and looking to cash in.

“No one has said, ‘Hey, I prayed. Where’s my discount?’” she says.

One customer did ask Haglund how she would know who her customers were praying to.

“That’s the thing,” Haglund told her. “I don’t care.”

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