LEGAL BRIEFING - Rowdy diners rude, but not a court matter

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Dear John,

The other day my wife and I were at a restaurant. We were enjoying a nice meal when a group of teenagers came in and were seated at a booth about 20 feet from us. Well, they were not just loud and laughing, they were also vulgar.

Needless to say, my wife and I were quite upset. We could not move to another table because the hooligans were so loud that would not do any good. I complained about the situation to the server, who said there was nothing she could do. The manager came over and apologized but also said that there was nothing he could do because they, too, were paying customers.

I told the manager that I did not enjoy my experience, but he did not do anything except apologize. Can I sue him for the cost of our meal?

Sincerely,

Disgusted Diner Dan

Dear Disgusted,

I, too, am sorry about your experience. I remember growing up before the ban on cigarettes in restaurants were implemented. Many of my meals were ruined because of that nasty habit. It is unfortunate that the rude behavior of others can so easily squelch a nice time with loved ones.

While I am sympathetic to your plight, I do not see a claim against the restaurant. They have a duty to serve you food that is safe to eat. Beyond that, there is not much else they owe you.

You could argue that you are also paying for the atmosphere where you eat your meal. For example, people expect a different environment in a restaurant with candlelight than they do with establishments that have climbing toys. However, the restaurant could easily claim that the atmosphere they offer is one that strives to welcome everyone - including boisterous teenagers - and you are the one who expected something not offered.

It would have been nice if the manager attempted to remedy the situation differently, by asking the other group to keep their voices down. It would have been fair, in my opinion, to compensate you for your trouble, by discounting your ticket in some way or giving you a free dessert.

There are many businesses struggling to keep their doors open. Restaurants have been hit quite hard by the economic downturn. If I were a restaurant owner, I would rather have a boisterous group than a couple. The truly skilled manager would have taken this as a challenge to find a way to have both, not only for this occasion but future occasions.

I see this as a missed opportunity by the manager rather than a litigation opportunity for yourself. If I were you, I would take my business elsewhere. There are many great local restaurants that would love to have an opportunity to serve you great food in a warm, welcoming environment.

Happy eating,

John

John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only. Any information given is to illustrate basic legal concepts and does not state how any court would decide any matter. Have question? Ask John at askjohn@wwub.com.

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