Restaurants: Right to Refuse Service

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Most Common Business Law Issues:

Do Restaurants Have the Unrestricted Right to Refuse Service?

No. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 explicitly prohibits restaurants from refusing service to patrons on the basis of race, color, religion, or natural origin. In addition, most courts don’t allow restaurants to refuse service to patrons based on extremely arbitrary conditions.  For example, a person likely can’t be refused service due to having a lazy eye. 

But Aren’t Restaurants Considered Private Property?

Yes, however they are also considered places of public accommodation. In other words, the primary purpose of a restaurant is to sell food to the general public, which necessarily requires susceptibility to equal protection laws. Therefore, a restaurant’s existence as private property does not excuse an unjustified refusal of service. This can be contrasted to a nightclub, which usually caters itself to a specific group of clientele based on age and social status.

So Are "We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to Anyone" Signs in Restaurants Legal?

Yes, however they still do not give a restaurant the power to refuse service on the basis of race, color, religion, or natural origin. These signs also do not preclude a court from finding other arbitrary refusals of service to be discriminatory. Simply put, restaurants that carry a "Right to Refuse Service" sign are subject to the same laws as restaurants without one. 

What Conditions Allow a Restaurant to Refuse Service?

 There a number of legitimate reasons for a restaurant to refuse service, some of which include:

In most cases, refusal of service is warranted where a customer’s presence in the restaurant detracts from the safety, welfare, and well-being of other patrons and the restaurant itself.

How Can a Lawyer Help Me?

If you were unjustly refused service at a restaurant, you should contact a constitutional law attorney immediately. A lawyer can help determine the existence of any unlawful discrimination, as well as the overall strength of your individual case.

If you are a restaurant owner, an attorney can provide more details on your right to refuse service, including guidance on placing limited restrictions on who gets served at your restaurant.

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Last Modified: 02-27-2014 03:14 PM PST

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