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When is an operation exempt from ADA regulations?

country club dining

Question:

I was intrigued with your article, “Balancing service areas and sanitation.” I run the Food and Beverage for a private country club. Therefore we are not a “privately owned business” and we do not serve “the public.” So does this exempt us from the ADA requirements in allowing service animals in our establishment?

– Richard Murray, Director of Food and Beverage, Private Country Club, Banning, California

Answer:

If you really had a goal or good business case to be exempt from the ADA, it is possible as a private club when all conditions are met. Specifically, your organization needs to be a 501(c)7 private membership organization and—this is the key—only open to members. Where most clubs fail the qualifications for exemption is in the many events—catered social events, golf outings, venue rentals—and so on, that are open to non-members. These events are often vital to the financial sustainability of private clubs. As soon as you enter into that territory, for the purposes of the ADA, you stop being a private membership organization and start acting like a privately owned restaurant or banquet hall for the purposes of both employment and accommodations.

The Club Managers Association of America (CMAA) has a dated but very good guide for private clubs and of course the National Restaurant Association (NRA) has one for restaurants—useful since you straddle both worlds.

As always, consult your attorney for legal advice but for the vast majority of food and beverage operations in the US—no matter the ownership or organizational structure, my advice is to be as compliant with the ADA as you possibly can, for reasons of ethics, being inclusive of the widest possible market, and maintaining positive public relations. 

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