Hotels, restaurants, cafes and pubs

New guidance

The Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010. The information on this page reflects changes to the law.

Equality law applies to any business that provides goods, facilities or services to members of the public.

This includes a wide range of different businesses and services. These include:

  • hotels
  • bed and breakfast establishments
  • guest houses
  • self-catering holidays
  • hostels
  • restaurants
  • cafes
  • bars and nightclubs
  • public houses
  • takeaway food establishments.

It doesn't matter whether the service is free, for example, a takeaway food delivery service provided at no charge, or whether it must be paid for - it will still be covered by equality law.

Possible issues for your business

First, you should read our core guidance to make sure you know what equality law says businesses providing goods, facilities or services to the public must do.

Also look at:

  • Delivering services: staff, places, advertisements and marketing, written materials, websites, telephone services and call centres.
  • You may need to work out if an organisation is an association (which is what equality law calls some organisations that describe themselves as clubs) or a service provider.
  • Hospitality businesses need to avoid unlawful discrimination if they set conditions on who they serve and the terms and conditions on which they serve them.
  • Because this type of service is likely to be provided at a particular place, hospitality businesses need to consider reasonable adjustments to their premises or to the way they deliver your services.

Is the organisation an association or a service provider?

Even though they may describe themselves as a club (and many clubs are, in equality law, what are called associations which means slightly different rules apply to them), a business is really a service provider if they are offering a service to any member of the public, for example, by:

  • charging an entry fee to watch an activity, or
  • allowing anyone to join a dining club provided they pay for the service

even if the charge is described as a membership fee or if the service is free. If, for example, they allow a person to enter a nightclub for free, they are still providing them with a service.

If you are not sure whether an organisation is a service provider or an association, then ask yourself:

  • are there 25 or more members and is membership regulated by rules - for example, do all the members have to decide who becomes a new member?

If the answer to that is yes, then you should read the guide for members, associate members and guests of associations instead.

It is possible to be both an association and a service provider.

For example:

A private members club with rules regulating membership will be an association when it is dealing with its members and their guests, but a service provider if it opens its restaurant and function rooms to members of the public on certain days of the week.

If an organisation is both an association and a service provider, the question you need to think about is whether the services you are concerned with are being provided to you as a member of the public or with the special status of being a member, associate member or guest of the association.

If you are using the services as a member of the public, then this is the right guide for you to read.

If you have the special status of being a member, associate member or guest (or someone who wants to become a member or guest), you should read the guide on associations instead.


Can the business decide who to serve?

If a business decides who to serve and who not to serve based on a protected characteristic, they risk discriminating against their customers.

For example:

  •  A cafe owner must not ask a woman to leave their cafe because she is breastfeeding her baby.
  • Ladies nights where only women receive free drinks, two-for-one offers or free admission are almost certainly direct sex discrimination against men. The same would be true of any other offer which was restricted to people with a particular protected characteristic, except for disability. Services should not be offered on this basis.
  • A hotel or bed and breakfast cannot refuse to give a shared bedroom to a gay or lesbian couple if they give a shared bedroom to opposite sex partners. Nor could they insist on them having a twin room if they would offer a double room to opposite sex partners, and there are double rooms available.
  • A pub cannot refuse to serve a customer because they are a transsexual person or with a transsexual person. Nor should the transsexual person be given a worse standard of service, for example, by allowing other customers to make hostile remarks or refusing them access to the toilets appropriate to the sex in which they present.

A disabled person has epilepsy. The owner of a bar knows this and refuses to serve them because, he says, he is worried about other customers being disturbed if they have a seizure. This is likely to be direct disability discrimination and/or (less likely) discrimination arising from disability.

A disabled person with a learning disability wishes to book a hotel room. The hotel receptionist pretends that all rooms are taken in order to refuse their booking because of their impairment. This is likely to be unlawful disability discrimination.

Waiting staff in a restaurant place a person with a severe facial disfigurement at a table out of sight of other customers, despite other tables being free, because they think other customers will find it embarrassing to look at the person. This is likely to be unlawful disability discrimination.

A hospitality business can still tell customers what standards of behaviour they want from them.

However, sometimes how someone behaves may be linked to a protected characteristic.

If a business sets standards of behaviour for their customers or clients which have a worse impact on people who share a particular protected characteristic than on people who do share that characteristic, they need to make sure that they can objectively justify what they have done. Otherwise, it will be indirect discrimination.

If they do set standards of behaviour, they must make reasonable adjustments to the standards for disabled people and avoid discrimination arising from disability. You can read more about reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people.

Reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people

Hospitality businesses need to make sure their premises are accessible to disabled people by making reasonable adjustments. They cannot wait until a disabled person wants to use the services, but must think in advance about what people with a range of impairments might reasonably need, such as people who have a visual impairment, a hearing impairment, a mobility impairment or a learning disability.

Reasonable adjustments are not just about physical accessibility, although this is important for some disabled people, but can be about the way in which services are offered.

For example:

A hotels reservations system allocates rooms on a first-come, first-served basis as guests arrive and register. The effect is that on some occasions the specially refurbished rooms that it has for disabled customers are allocated to non-disabled guests, and late-arriving disabled guests cannot be accommodated in those rooms. The hotel decides to change its reservation policy so that the accessible rooms are either reserved for disabled guests in advance or are allocated last of all.

This is likely to be a reasonable adjustment for the hotel to have to make.

Adjustments only have to be made if they are reasonable, taking a range of factors into account, including the nature of the business.

  • A nightclub with low-level lighting is very unlikely to have to adjust the lighting to accommodate customers who are partially sighted if this would fundamentally change the atmosphere or ambience of the club. This is unlikely to be a reasonable adjustment.


More information

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