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When to refuse service to a guest

man walking past empty restaurant

Question:

I had a guest not tip his server and on the back of the receipt the customer wrote "I don't tip [insert racial slur here]." If this customer comes back into the restaurant, what are my options? I have a number of servers that have said they would not wait on this customer if he does come back in.

– Rachel Williams, General Manager, Colton's Steakhouse and Grill, Conway, Arkansas

Answer:

Last week’s column on what to do if you suspect a guest is asking to avoid a particular server based on race or ethnic origin brought a lot of good feedback and lively discussion. Thank you to the readers. This scenario is a follow up question from that one. It is hard to believe it happens in this country in this time. Sad.

Your question is whether you can refuse service to a guest for saying (or in this case writing) something racist to an employee on a previous visit. My advice is not only can you refuse service to that guest, you should do exactly that. As important as your external marketing is, internal marketing—creating a positive working environment and supporting your team—is equally important.

If you knowingly seat a guest like the one you describe, your server could fairly argue that you are allowing for a hostile environment as well as denying income opportunities since the guest doesn’t tip—and not for any service failures. Explain to the guest that he is not welcome to be seated. He should know why—if he doesn’t, avoid an extended confrontation or explanation. In case the guest tries to take to the media or complain that he was denied service, maintain a copy of the receipt in question and document the servers’ expressed concerns.

It’s always hard to turn away business but this is the right guest to lose.

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