What's Your Liability In Your Restaurant?

Posted on October 3, 2017 by Michelle Locke

When it comes to guest safety, an important question you should always be asking is: when it comes to safety, what are you really liable for? You then should ask: what kind really is liability?

The old definition of liability is that you are lawfully responsible for something; that is, if a guest is injured on your restaurant’s premises before, for example, you didn’t fill in a hole from an old sign and they fell into it. They would have to prove in the court of law that you did not fill in the hole, that you knew the hole was there, and potentially how long the hole existed for. If they proved all of these things, you would be responsible for their medical bills and potentially other damages (such as lost wages if they could no longer work).

This definition, in the age of social media, is starting to change. But before we get into that, let’s cover the basics.

What Is Your Liability?

The website, Justia, has a great rundown on restaurant liability. We highly recommend you read the entire article here. We will just cover a few of the highlights.

  • Restaurants are required to keep all areas safe and, if circumstances don’t allow it, to warn people that the area is not safe. As an example, if there is a major food spill in the middle of the restaurant and the busser just finishes mopping the area, a Warning sign should be put up that the area is still drying. Failure to do so may cause a guest to fall or slip—and the restaurant would be liable.

  • Restaurant’s can also be held responsible for a variety of alcohol safety violations, such as having negligent or ineffective security, dangerous conditions, or failure to stop serving inebriated guests. A great example here is if the parking lot does not have adequate lighting and customers have been mugged or assaulted late at night; failure to add lighting, warn guests, or hire increased security for guests can lead to the restaurant being held liable for future assaults or thefts.

Essentially, your liability boils down to a few facts:

  • Did you know about the issue?
  • Did you take steps to fix the issue?
  • Did you warn guests about the issue?

If an injured guest can prove one of the above, then you are liable for any injuries or issues.

We also recommend this blog post to learn more about bar liabilities.

Liability in the Age of Social Media

Here is where things get sticky: liability is often considered in terms of law and what you are liable for in terms of a guest’s injuries. However, in the age of social media, where guest’s can leave reviews that can be seen by hundreds of eyes, liability is no longer something that can be measured by law alone.

Here is a great example: let’s say you serve a dish that has an egg on it. You have a guest who orders it, but says they are allergic to eggs. Your server notes this on the order and the dish is served without the egg. However, because you don’t have a clean kitchen and there are other dishes on the menu that use egg and egg products, the guest starts to have an allergic reaction. Legally, there is not a lot they can do because the egg was not put on the dish; they just happened to have a sensitive enough allergy.

( Click here to read one our blog posts about allergen training.)

What they can do, however, is post a review online about the incident, warning others with severe allergies not to visit your restaurant.

It doesn’t just end there. Perhaps they ignore a warning sign and slip on a wet floor; regardless, they might post that on social media. Perhaps they ignore a warning about lighting in the parking lot and get mugged; they can’t prove you are liable, but they can post about it on social media.

What’s a restaurant to do? Manage your social reputation yourself: post about safety issues and warnings on your Facebook page and respond (with a level head) to reviews like these. And as always, keep your safety training fresh for your employees to prevent any potential issues.