Trending Topics

Refusal of restaurant service: How to take the high road after a low blow

How can cops prepare for being told, “We don’t serve your kind around here”?


An Outback Steakhouse is shown Tuesday, June 5, 2007, in Brandon, Fla.

AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

Feb 2, 2018: “Uniformed cop asked to leave eatery over service weapon

Restaurant treats officer badly. Story goes viral. Corporate issues apology. Police supporters boycott the business.

It’s not enough that cops and their families live with the daily reports of police officers being assaulted, but the most recent accounts of living with insults while doing the most ordinary of things like grabbing a burger raise the frustration level even higher.

A quick internet search shows Outback Steakhouse, Denny’s, Whataburger, Buffalo Wild Wings, McDonalds, Noodles & Company, Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts, Arby’s, Chuck E. Cheese, Krispy Kreme, Starbucks, Portland’s Red & Black café and others have shared in the inevitably disastrous public backlash after refusing service to police officers.

Insults written on law officer’s receipts and employees blasting music or bearing slogans hostile to police officers also make news and, typically, result in an employee getting fired or reprimanded.

The good news is that the vast majority of eateries are more than happy to have a police presence on site, and the public response to these affronts is overwhelmingly supportive of the blue line. But a plan always beats a spontaneous reaction, so what can agencies and individual officers do in preparation for an announcement of, “We don’t serve your kind around here”?

Safety First

It should go without saying that officer safety demands a defensible position and clear sight lines anytime an officer is going to be stationary for very long.

Dining with friends and family imposes a moral and tactical obligation to prepare for their safety, as well as that of the target officer. Even the classic back-to-the-wall position does not guarantee quick access to a sidearm and a tenable shooting position.

Giving some thought to available cover, concealment, distraction and weapons of opportunity should be habit. Check to see if the table can overturn, and try to estimate the weight of chairs since they are excellent devices for creating distance.

Outreach to Gun-Free Zones

Many states allow individual properties to prohibit concealed or open carry firearms. If these properties are posted or known by officers, a visit or letter explaining the law regarding police officers’ statutory rights and obligations regarding their weapons can pre-empt any misunderstandings an employee or shift manager may have about their company policy.

Community Policing Opportunity

Taking breaks in public, with all of its attendant risks, is a great way to humanize police officers and have positive interactions with the public.

Any time we are out of a truly “green” safety zone, we forfeit the opportunity to actually relax. Civilians joining us must accept our wandering eyes as we scan our environment, our cocked heads as we hear a call in our earpiece, and the slight distraction from the warm conversation we would like to be having.

We voluntarily give up our right to be left alone, trading that luxury for the opportunity to effectively defend ourselves and our fellow customers. The opportunity to smile and greet customers and workers can reduce the tension and fear that we necessarily carry into any group.

Managing the Conflict

There’s seldom an immediate “win” with a disrespectful or misinformed premise manager or employee.

If it is possible to clarify the law or policy and make a quick end to any objection to your presence, make sure that happens calmly and quickly. There’s no joy is trying to eat with your teeth set on edge or being stared at by an upset employee.

Take note of who witnessed the affront so that the he-said-she-said argument can be quickly squashed. Body cams should go on, or even your dining companion’s cell phone video can prove how reasonably the officer acted. If there is a Twitter or YouTube war, you have to play to win.

Offering to speak with any offended party and being open to conversation, along with your super-calm demeanor, will be more important than any quick victory won by harsh words, threats, or dramatic exits.

Leaving on request is not a defeat, but a tactical disengagement for the ultimate win. It’s also the best defense against consuming “secret ingredients” and “special sauces.”

Let Your Department Spokesperson Handle the Aftermath

We know from experience that the negative responses will come down heavily on the business that discriminates against police officers. Once the controversy begins to brew, realize that time and your good citizens are on your side.

Your department’s administration will want to have a measured response to any public controversy, so let them know the facts and they can handle it. Hopefully they will be diplomatic and wise in their response. In the meantime, learn to make a mean peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You might be brown bagging for a while.

Joel Shults retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30-year career in uniformed law enforcement and criminal justice education, Joel served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and a bachelor degree in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the U.S. Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over 50 police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards, including the Colorado POST curriculum committee, as a subject matter expert.