Customer service isn’t the easiest aspect of running a restaurant. There may be times when you need to refuse service to a customer, or even remove the customer from the premises of your establishment. While these situations are unpleasant, they do come up and it is important to know your rights when they take place. Below is a further explanation of when you can and cannot refuse service from someone entering your restaurant.
While there are a few exceptions under some state laws, the answer is usually no. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 explicitly prohibits restaurants from refusing service to patrons based on race, color, religion, or national origin. In other words, restaurants do not have a constitutional right to refuse service. However, this law does not protect those from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
This means restaurants can prevent gay people from entering their restaurant and it is not against federal law. There are up to about 20 states, including New York and California, that have enacted that prohibit discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation. However, it gets even more complicated when factoring in local city ordinances within states that allow certain discrimination laws.
For example, in Arizona, there’s no state law banning discrimination against sexuality, but there are local laws in some cities that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. This can become confusing because depending on where the discrimination took place the court will have to rule differently.
In terms of discrimination for things outside of a protected class like the ones stated above, courts don’t allow restaurants to refuse service to patrons based on reasons that are arbitrary or capricious. For example, a restaurant must have a legitimate reason for preventing someone from coming into their restaurant. Some common situations where it is okay to discriminate would be if your establishment required a dress code, based on etiquette or if someone’s behavior is rowdy and disturbing other guests.
There are more of these examples listed below. Either way, this is much different than just randomly denying service to someone because you don’t like the customer.
But Aren’t Restaurants Considered Private Property?
Any establishment that involves a large amount of public money is considered a public place. This would include places like public parks or recreational centers. However, privately-owned restaurants and bars are an exception to the rule. They are also considered public places by most legal definitions because the public is invited into the establishment.
A ‘Public Place’ is an enclosed area where the public is invited or which the public is permitted including, but not limited to, banks and other financial institutions, schools, college buildings, public conveyances, recreational facilities, lounges, taverns, and bars, The best way to analyze whether somewhere is a public or private place is to ask if you can enter without an invitation if you can it’s a public place on the other hand if you cannot then it is probably private.
While restaurants are considered places of public gathering the primary purpose of a restaurant is to sell food to the general public, which requires susceptibility to equal protection laws. A restaurant’s existence as private property does not excuse an unjustified refusal of service. A restaurant is much different than a country club or a nightclub, which usually caters itself to a specific group of clientele based on and social status.
So Are “Right to Refuse Service to Anyone” Signs in Restaurants Legal?
Right to refuse signs came into popularity back in the 1960s and were used by establishment owners to prevent various customers from entering their establishments. Today, the right to refuse service signs are legal; however, they have not been born on the restaurant’s rights to deny customers based on a protected class.
In other words, right to refuse service signs are in place to visually make a statement but have no effect on the rights of the owner of the restaurant and do not give a restaurant the power to refuse service based on race, color, religion, or national origin. These signs also do not stop a court from finding additional arbitrary refusals of service to be discriminatory. To conclude, the law on restaurants with a right to refuse sign applies equally to those that do not have them.
What Conditions Allow a Restaurant to Refuse Service?
Listed below there several legal reasons for a restaurant to refuse service, some of which include:
- Patrons that act in a certain way that is rude or disrupting other guests
- Patrons that overfill the capacity of the restaurant can lead to safety hazards
- Patrons that enter the restaurant after the restaurant is closed and no longer serving food to customers
- Patrons accompanied by large groups of non-customers looking to create rowdy behavior after hours
- For patrons lacking adequate hygiene or cleanliness, discrimination for this purpose is acceptable because it puts the health and safety of others in the restaurant or establishment at risk
- Patrons who bring their dog to your restaurant, which is a violation of local health ordinances. When this happens it is okay to tell the patron to leave because of their dog. One exception would be if the dog is a service dog and protected by the American Disabilities Act.
- Patrons looking to enter a private establishment that requires a certain dress code for etiquette purposes
When telling a customer they are not allowed to enter a restaurant or denying them service, how you ask is almost as important as why you ask. If you deny a customer access your goal should always be to deescalate the situation. The rationale for this is to limit tension between the situation and ensure. It is advised to talk with your employees and co-owners about specific customer behaviors that will not be tolerated before you have to deal with an angry customer. This will ensure they know how to act when things are becoming problematic
In most cases, where a customer’s presence in the restaurant negatively affects the safety, welfare, or well-being of other patrons and the restaurant itself. It should be noted the cases listed all vary based on different facts and circumstances. If you have specific questions or concerns regarding the policies of your establishment, you should contact a lawyer in your area for advice and guidance.
How Can a Lawyer Help Me?
Because cases dealing with discrimination can be complex legal situations it is important to contact a constitutional lawyer if you feel you have been discriminated against. A constitutional lawyer will advise you on how to handle a situation where you have been discriminated against. Furthermore, If you were unjustly denied service at a restaurant, you should contact a civil rights attorney specializing in premises liability or constitutional law as soon as possible.
A civil rights lawyer in your area can help determine if there was any existence of any unlawful discrimination, and advise you throughout the course of your trial as necessary. If you are a restaurant owner, a business attorney can provide more details on your right to refuse service, including guidance on placing limited restrictions on anyone who gets served at your restaurant.