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The last word on Saladgate

Written By Scott Joseph On July 5, 2021

Guavate salad

Here’s the last word on Saladgate, mine anyway.

To recap, Saladgate is what I tongue-in-cheekily called an incident that occurred last month at Hillstone restaurant in Winter Park. Allegedly, a dine-in customer ended up being told to leave and received a trespass warning citation from Winter Park police after management told him he could not order a salad to go.

Some among the hundreds of people who commented here and on Facebook said that there had to be more to the story than that. I agree. But Hillstone management took the position that it would not comment, so we were left with the accounting of the incident from the customer, Bruce Woodburn, in a video he posted on Facebook along with selfies taken with the responding police officers, whose smiles seemed to communicate what they thought of the ordeal.

I think all parties are accountable: Hillstone management for its unrelenting policy; the customer for persisting after being told the policy and apparently accelerating the situation; and the officers for what manager Cindy Wathen was quoted in the report as describing “how the call was handled.”

Southeast LG 2 24

I’ve had my own run-in with Hillstone management – about 10 years ago I was admonished by a manager not to take any photos inside the restaurant. But Hillstone gets to set its own policies, regardless of how inane they might seem to us. Yes, it seems petty to deny a guest’s request to get a salad to go at the end of a meal. For one thing, I imagine the food costs on a salad are probably pretty low compared to what a restaurant charges. Turning down even a small sale doesn’t strike me as good business policy.

But once the policy was communicated to the customer, that should have been it. Instead, according to other witnesses at the restaurant, he argued with first the server and then a manager. Then he tried to change the order from to-go to have there in the restaurant, which the manager likely assumed would result in a request for a box for the leftovers.

By the way, a couple of commenters mentioned that most restaurants have a sign at the door or note on a menu stating, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” My thought whenever I see this is that you can’t reserve a right you do not have. A restaurant cannot refuse service to people because of the color of their skin or to parties of same-sex couples because they suspect they might be gay, though I’m not naive enough to believe such discrimination doesn’t still happen.

But a restaurant can refuse service to patrons who are not properly dressed – no shirt, no shoes, no service, sure, but also hats, cut-offs, or any other attire that might negatively impact the experience for other diners, as long as the policy is uniformly enforced.

And they can refuse service to someone “causing a disruption,” which is how Hillstone management described the incident to the responding police officers.

And regardless of how silly those officers may have found the whole situation when they arrived, they owed the complainant more respect than to take smiling selfies with the customer. “No thank you, sir,” should have been their reply when asked. The officer who wrote the report, Kyle Noyes, noted Wathen’s displeasure and told her she could contact his supervisor. I hope she did.

Disclosure: Following a previous article on this matter, Woodburn made a donation to this site using the Contribute link at the bottome of the page.

Saladgate certainly caused a distraction and a source of entertainment for many, including several who offered their own complaints and experiences with Hillstone. Schadenfreude is a very strong emotion. But I don’t think we’re ever going to know all of the facts. So as far as I’m concerned, the case is closed.

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