Owning a Restaurant

Denying Service to Restaurant Customers

If you own a restaurant, you will occasionally need to kick a customer out or refuse service. We discuss when you can do this without having to worry about being sued. The law allows you to ask a customer to leave in certain scenarios.

Every restaurant owner will wind up in a situation where they have customers they'd rather not serve.

When Restaurants Can Choose Not to Serve a Customer

In this article, we discuss some scenarios in which you may be justified in refusing to serve a customer.

Valid Reasons for Refusing to Service a Customer

Businesses do not need to tolerate customers who damage property, injure others or disrupt business.

Most states have laws that prohibit anyone from intentionally interfering with a business by obstructing or intimidating employees or customers and "refusing to leave after being asked to do so by the owner or manager."

In California, for example, violators of this law can be penalized by 90 days in county jail and fined up to $400.

In denying service to restaurant customers, make sure you apply your policies equally to all patrons.

Keep in mind that business establishments may institute reasonable regulations that are rationally related to the services that are performed and the facilities provided.

As an example, a restaurant manager can impose a mandatory 15 percent service charge for larger parties. However, this charge must then be imposed on all such parties, not just those made up of a specific demographic, such as teenagers or a particular ethnic group.

Similarly, a manager could set a time limit on how much time patrons have to decide to place an order or remain at their table once they finish eating or drinking. But again, these limits must be imposed uniformly--not only upon select individuals.

Furthermore, the owner of a liquor license has the responsibility to see that the license is not used in violation of the law. So underage patrons can of course be refused service.

Customers that break the law can also be banished. Acts of patrons that are criminal in nature such as prostitution, narcotic usage, pandering or sexual perversion are grounds for removal.

Clearly, the law does not allow a business to arbitrarily exclude a prospective customer. In order for courts to determine what constitutes arbitrary discrimination, the court will examine whether the action taken by a business owner is reasonable and for good cause.

Good cause is established when there is evidence of improper, illegal or immoral conduct by the customer that occurs on-premises and that is contrary to the public's welfare or morals. To determine whether a customer's conduct is "contrary to the public welfare," the patron's actions must be evaluated and found to be harmful and undesirable.

In some cases, this will be based on what the local community perceives to be immoral. The courts actually look to the particular local community to decide what the standards are to determine whether or not good cause has been established for the denial of service.

The community's definitions and standards of appropriate moral behavior constantly change and adapt according to the current views of the public. Based on this constant change, the courts must judge each situation on a case-by-case basis, looking at the behavior of the individual within the context of current social norms.

The key is to apply your exclusions equally to all patrons and to always have witnesses to your actions when you do decide to remove somebody from a restaurant or deny them service.

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Conversation Board

Ever had to kick out a customer? Share your experiences below. We also welcome all comments, suggestions and advice.

  • Jeek Kim posted on 8/13/2010
    Jeek Kim
    hi my name is jeek kim and gm of this japanese cuisine. there was guy always came to restaurant, don't order much of food and few days ago, he gave our business phone number to his friend and told them to call him with our restaurant phone for 15 minutes just like his personal phone. also came in one night with his friend and ask for free sample and didn't order anything and left. tonight, his friend came in and ask for only water, sit at the bar, didn't order anything, and left about 30 minutes later. also there is rumor that they are drug dealer. i really want to get rid of them but don't know how. please help us.
  • Ken Gaebler posted on 8/17/2010
    Ken Gaebler
    Jeek Kim, that sounds like a tough one! In ordinary circumstances, you could simply tell these guys that they are no longer welcome in your establishment. In your case, however, it seems like they may be gang members or drug dealers so you need to proceed with caution. If you get on the wrong side of them, you could be subject to violence, vandalism, extortion or a demand for protection payments. But you cannot allow yourself to be bullied. Get law enforcement, i.e. the local police, involved as soon as possible and tell them the situation. Good luck.
  • QSR OWNER posted on 8/29/2010
    Why is it that a restaraunt is expected to comp patrons who get what they order but forgot to ask for the dish a certain way? And why are we expected to tolerate childish fit pitching, look-down-their-nose attitudes, complainers, unruly people who are obvisously trying to scam you? After sixteen years in the restaurant business, i have grown tired of the perception that restaraunts are easy targets for whiners to get free food. In my opinion, we are all perpetuating the problem by allowing this sort of behavior and not calling the customer's bluff.
  • curiouskate posted on 12/30/2010
    A restaurant business owner threw out individuals from his restaurant because they gave the restaurant a poor review. i was really surprised that he did this. can a restaurant owner kick people out of a restaurant and refuse to serve them because they gave him a bad review and then had the gall to come back in?
  • 11711 posted on 2/16/2011
    So, a local wendys near by my house kicked out every single Jr. high student, because one student got a shake ate the shake and put lemonade in that same cup. The manger wont serve any Jr. high student without a parent with them is that legal?
  • thtreasure posted on 3/16/2011
    I was a patron of a restaurant and was then hired as a bartender by the former owner. My manager was egotistical and he fired me shortly after the former owner sold it. I go back occasionally to have a drink with friends and former customers. My old manager would make disrespectful comments about the state of my finances to former customers. One night, after a few drinks, I told him off. He banned me. Can he do this?
  • Ken Gaebler posted on 3/16/2011
    Ken Gaebler
    Generally speaking, federal law prevents restaurant owners from discriminating against you for race, color, religion, national origin, or any disability you might have. Furthermore, certain states may have their own regulations regarding a restaurant owner's ability to refuse service. A state might, for example, not allow discrimination based on your wearing unconventional dress or based on your sexual orientation. Beyond these scenarios, it really depends on whether the restaurant's refusal to serve you was arbitrary or whether they had some specific, legitimate interest in refusing service. If they had good reason to bar your from their establishment, you're probably best off to find a new place to hang out. Mind you, the laws on this stuff change constantly and it depends where you live. On something like this, your best bet is to speak with a local lawyer and see what they say.

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