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Bob walked past a restaurant and saw 35% of their tables are empty, so they are reasonably busy, but have plenty of open tables.

He asks to be seated as a party of one, but is told in a most palpably disingenuous manner that they are fully booked, and, upon challenging this, that all of those open tables he sees are in fact "reserved."

The front of house guy shouts something back to the manager in Bengali, and the manager mutters back in English quite firmly that they have no open tables for a party of 1.

Clearly this implies that they have tables available, which they would be willing to seat a walk-in party of two at, they just don't wish to "waste" it on a party of one.

This would seem to unintentionally have the effect of sitting on those who are not married and thus single, even though the motivation is clearly profit driven. Unintended discrimination as I understand is permitted by the Equality Act 2010, insofar as it is motivated as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, however, this must not be simply increased profits if it is not combined with some type of other concern than sheer profit.

Is the restaurant's conduct lawful?

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    I don't think being an unaccompanied person is a protected characteristic in UK (or US) law, as long as the rule is applied without regard to gender. Bob could surely make a loud and extended complaint. If this disturbed other patrons, the staff might seat Bob to end the complaint. Bob could post a negative online review. But I doubt Bob has a winning legal case. I am not sure enough to make this an answer rather than a comment. Oct 29, 2022 at 20:48
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    Are we sure they didn't just deny Bob service because he's obnoxious or whiny?
    – bdb484
    Oct 29, 2022 at 21:41
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    @DavidSiegel of course being unaccompanied is unprotected, however the argument would obviously have to be indirect discrimination on the basis of marital/relationship status. Oct 29, 2022 at 22:42
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    @Joseph But one in a relationship might still wish to eat alone on a given occasion, and one who is single could choose to eat with a friend, or even a stranger. I doubt the law covers "discrimination" as indirect as that. But I could be mistaken. Oct 29, 2022 at 22:50
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    Is it discrimination if the only open table is for six people and they don't want to sit you alone at it? It's a fine line between economics and discrimination.
    – DKNguyen
    Oct 30, 2022 at 2:41

3 Answers 3

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One question - does this policy of the restaurant, if it is a policy, have a disparate impact on people of a protected characteristic due to a tenuous connection that unmarried people might have a higher probably of dinning alone?

Much more important -- are single people a protected characteristic in the first place?

Apparently not --

In the Equality Act marriage and civil partnership means someone who is legally married or in a civil partnership. Marriage and civil partnership can either be between a man and a woman, or between partners of the same sex.

People do not have this characteristic if they are:

single
living with someone as a couple neither married nor civil partners
engaged to be married but not married
divorced or a person whose civil partnership has been dissolved

It is meant to avoid discrimination against those who are in "official" couples. It does not apply to discrimination against the un-married.

So the real off-the-wall discrimination question would be if tables of two were not allowed.

On the same page is says -

What is marriage and civil partnership discrimination? This is when you are treated differently at work because you are married or in a civil partnership.

I haven't found out one way or the other if the actual law is only employment related, as this implies.

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  • So in general is it the case that you are protected from discrimination because you have or because you don’t have some characteristic? So it is not allowed to discriminate against you if you are married, in a civil partnership, with a man, woman or other, or divorced, or living with someone unmarried or just single? And discrimination because you are gay, or because you are not gay, is equally illegal?
    – gnasher729
    Oct 31, 2022 at 23:11
  • It says being married or in a civil union is a protected characteristic. All the other things you mention are not. The same source on a different page says sexual orientation is symmetrically protected - Sexual orientation Whether a person's sexual attraction is towards their own sex, the opposite sex or to both sexes. equalityhumanrights.com/en/equality-act/… Oct 31, 2022 at 23:40
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Is the restaurant's conduct lawful?

Yes

They can refuse to serve anyone they like (or don't like) as long as that decision is not discrimatory based on one, or more, of the relevant protected characteristics defined by section 4 Equality Act 2010, which includes:

marriage and civil partnership

Bob not being in the company of someone else does not equate to his marriage / civil partnership status. It just means he was on his own at the time.

  • HOWEVER, this is a moot point as...

Part 3 of the 2010 Act, which deals with discrimination when providing "services and public functions", states at section 28 that:

(1)This Part does not apply to the protected characteristic of—

[...]

  • (b)marriage and civil partnership.
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  • Yes but doesn't this discrimination, however otherwise lawful, still disproportionately exclude the unmarried/unpartnered? Oct 29, 2022 at 22:44
  • @JosephCorrectEnglishPronouns No. Even if you are not married, you could come with a friend or 5.
    – Trish
    Oct 29, 2022 at 23:48
  • Yes you could but it happened that most of the groups eating there appeared to be couples. Oct 30, 2022 at 0:27
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    @JosephCorrectEnglishPronouns The marriage protected characteristic doesn't apply to providing services.
    – user35069
    Oct 30, 2022 at 6:31
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    @JosephCorrectEnglishPronouns See section 28 of the 2010 Act. Part 3 applies to all the protected characteristics apart from marriage and civil partnership and age, so far as relating to persons who have not attained the age of 18. The latter is discussed in this answer
    – user35069
    Oct 30, 2022 at 10:58
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Bob walked past a restaurant and saw 35% of their tables are empty, so they are reasonably busy, but have plenty of open tables.

He asks to be seated as a party of one, but is told in a most palpably disingenuous manner that they are fully booked, and, upon challenging this, that all of those open tables he sees are in fact "reserved."

That is correct. Bob doesn't know a damn thing about the restaurant business.

Occam's Razor says the likeliest reason is that that the restaurant has reservations for those tables, expected to arrive imminently.

By "imminently" I mean they are expected to arrive before the time Bob can be reasonably served, enjoy the meal without pressure to leave, and have the table be cleaned and reset. The restauranteur knows how long that is.

As such, the law is not going to micro-manage the restauranteur's choices there, absent some conclusive showing of discrimination of a protected category of people as defined by the government (race, religion, ethnic origin, that kind of thing).

The front of house guy shouts something back to the manager in Bengali, and the manager mutters back in English quite firmly that they have no open tables for a party of 1.

Clearly this implies that they have tables available, which they would be willing to seat a walk-in party of two at, they just don't wish to "waste" it on a party of one.

That cannot be reasonably inferred from the evidence at hand.

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  • This sounds more like the markedly less founded Hanlon's razor than Occam's razor. In fact Occam's razor would suggest that the restaurant doesn't want to give one of their open tables to the lone Bob when there might later walk in a party of two that could take it and order double the food. Also this is stack exchange law, not SE fact. That the restaurateur was telling a fib was given as a fact and premise in the question, it wasn't part of the question to dispute. Oct 30, 2022 at 0:24
  • The vitriolic put downs are further unwelcome. Oct 30, 2022 at 0:25

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