Determining whether or not a restaurant can legally refuse service is a little tricky. The truth is, yes sometimes they can. Whether or not refusing service is legal depends completely on why they are refusing service.
What are the Most Common Reasons for a Restaurant to Refuse Service?
Anytime a customer requires special accommodation, or creates a distraction in the restaurant’s environment, they are subject to refusal. There are four common reasons for which service is refused.
- Patrons who cause a scene are often asked to leave. If a customer is loud, using profane language, or picking a fight, they will often be refused service and escorted out of the restaurant.
- Patrons who come at the wrong time are also often refused service. If a person’s presence puts the restaurant over capacity, according to local fire code, or if they arrive after the kitchen is closed, then their order cannot be taken.
- Customers with extremely bad hygiene are consistently asked to leave. If your cloths are noticeably dirty, or do not conform to the dress code, or if you smell bad, you will likely be refused service.
- Customers who make a minimal order, and have several sit-in friends will be refused service and asked to leave. This is common in larger cities. A group of 10 might come in but only one orders water and fries. These patrons are looking for a place to sit, but are not truly customers. Even the one who ordered will likely be asked to leave.
Can a Restaurant Refuse Service Because of How I Am Dressed?
We might laugh at the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” signs, but truth of the matter is, they hold water. If the way you are dressed violates the health code, the restaurant not only does not have to, but is legally forbidden to take your order.
Also, restaurants are well within their rights to set a specific dress code and require guests to follow it. If the restaurant is black tie, and you arrive in a t-shirt and jeans, expect them to ignore you. The dress code is considered part of the restaurant’s ambience, and is legally protected. In short, dressing to meet the classification is considered a choice. If you choose to eat at the restaurant, then you must choose to dress appropriately.
Are Restaurants Private Property?
Most restaurants are operated on private property. However, this does not make them subject to all the laws that protect private property owners. They are considered public venues, and are subject to anti-discrimination laws, and other federal and state protections. However, if you cause trouble — for example, getting drunk and disorderly — then the restaurant owner can have you removed, just as they can from any other private residence.
What if the Restaurant Has a “Right to Refuse Service” Sign Hanging on the Wall?
The truth is that those signs that say that a restaurant has the right to refuse service to anyone really have no meaning. The restaurant has the same rights and limitations whether they have hung that sign up or not. A patron that becomes loud and belligerent can be forced to leave without being served, even if the restaurant owner does not have a sign. A restaurant can be sued for refusing service to people in wheelchairs even if they do have the sign. The sign is really just a reminder that rude people can be removed from the premises.
What Law Protects Me from Restaurants Who Discriminate?
The federal Civil Rights Act states that everyone should have equal enjoyment of goods and services, or the accommodations of any public venue. It specifies that services cannot be refused because of race, religion, color, or national origin.
The Americans with Disabilities Act prevents discrimination against those with physical, mental, and emotional impairments, stating that they cannot be refused service as a direct result of their limitations.
Certain other protections are provided by state laws, on a state-by-state basis. For example, the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which is a California state law, protects hippies, homosexuals, members of specific political parties, police officers, and other special groups from discrimination.
Is it Discrimination to Deny Me a Discount That is Offered to Others?
No. A restaurant can lawfully provide a discount to any sub-group. Discounts for children, senior citizens, women, homosexuals, local residents, bus drivers, members of the armed forces, members of the clergy, or members of any other subgroup are completely legal.
Can I Sue a Restaurant for Refusing to Take My Order?
It depends on why they refused service. In short, if you are discriminated against because of something you cannot change, or control, then it is illegal. If you are discriminated against because of a choice you made, it is legal. Restaurants cannot refuse service to people because of disability, race, religion, gender, or sexuality. These groups are protected by federal, state, and local anti-discrimination law, and so refusing them service is not permitted.
Restaurants can, however, cater to, or offer preferential treatment to, a specific group. For example, a local pub can have a lady’s night and offer drinks at a reduced price, but cannot refuse to serve men during the lady’s night event. Similarly, a gay bar can cater to the LGBT community, but cannot refuse straight customers entrance.
Other than these protected groups, a restaurant can refuse service for any reason it wishes. To be able to sue, you would have to be able to prove that you were refused service because of your race, or disability, etc., and not because you violated the dress code or had a reputation for lousy tips.