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.
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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