Do restaurants and bars have the right to refuse service?
How many times have you went into a bar or restaurant and saw a sign that reads, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”? I’ve seen these signs many times. They don’t seem like a very friendly greeting and, today, most restaurant or bar patrons tend to emphasize their right to service. Do restaurant and bar owners have a right to refuse service to anyone?
The right to refuse service signs are very popular. They are even sold as a novelty for people to hang wherever they’d like. Since there are so many of them, it would seem as if they are asserting a factual claim.
Such negatively phrased signs are definitely a bad way to greet your customers, and I have read many sources claiming that a restaurant or bar cannot refuse to serve someone unless they have a very good reason. For example, a bar has a responsibility to stop serving a customer who is extremely intoxicated and behaving in an unruly or dangerous way.
Still, others say that restaurants are private property and an owner has no obligation to serve anyone, whatsoever. In other words, service can be refused arbitrarily or based on race, gender, etc..
The problem is a loaded one. If a restaurant has a right to refuse service to anyone, then you cannot say that they must serve certain people because of race. A racist owner might refuse to serve a black man, but if he has a right to refuse service to anyone, then you cannot make him serve the customer regardless of his motivation.
While those signs are quite legal, in fact, they are not accurate. A restaurant and bar owner does not have the “right to refuse service to anyone for any reason,” which is basically what the signs seem to claim.