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Explaining kosher certification to non-Jewish customers

Question:

How do I explain kosher certification to non-Jewish customers? I own and operate a kosher restaurant. Operating a kosher restaurant is extremely challenging, because we have to make sure that every morsel of food that comes into the restaurant is kosher. Recently, a customer pointed out to me that another family was feeding their baby food that was not from the restaurant. I approached the guests and politely told them about our outside food policy, and requested they put the food away to eat later.

– Josh Katz, Owner, Ben Yehuda Cafe & Pizzeria, Silver Spring, MD

Answer:

Kosher establishments that appeal to both Jews and non-Jews face particular challenges. A restaurant can lose its certification not just by flouting religious law, but based on the behavior of employees and guests with regard to the law, as you experienced. The importance of obeying the rules to maintain certification cannot be overstated.

If there is a theme to this column over the years it is that clear communication can prevent many problems before they occur. At this point, after explaining the situation to the guest, there’s nothing more to do besides focusing on preventing similar misunderstandings in the future. Rachel Saks, cofounder of TableHealth and author of Jewish American Food Culture says, “I think that there are a few ways to approach it. If it’s a casual place…it would be good to hang up signs that say something like, ‘Because of the dietary laws we adhere to as a kosher business, please refrain from bringing in your own food and drinks.’ I also think that if it becomes an issue with a particular person, as in this case, its best to approach them assuming that they know very little about kashrut [kosher law], while also not talking down to them…I think it's important to say something like, ‘Because of our religious observances all of our food needs to be checked and watched. The restaurant is a sectioned off space in which all food that goes in and out and all food that is prepared needs to be checked for certain standards. No one, even the people who make sure our food is held to the proper kashrut standard, may bring in food. If you have questions about what it means for food to be kosher, or how we ensure that our establishment stays kosher, I'm happy to answer them.’"

In addition, try some FAQs targeting non-Jewish guests on your menu. The guests’ dissatisfaction may have as much to do with the embarrassment of not knowing the rules and being called out on it, more than any specific service failure on your part.

A useful primer on kosher law here.

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