“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign…” a popular lyric from  the  1971  FIVE MAN ELECTRICAL BAND but what do those signs that read “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” or “No shirt, no shoes – no service” really mean? Generally there are no laws that ban bare feet in public but a restaurant may refuse to serve you if you walk in with bare feet, because they have the right to make the rules about who they serve.

Store owners are exercising their right as a property owner to determine what does and does not happen on their premises so long as those refusal-of-service guidelines are equally enforced, reasonable, and appropriate for the business, and not violating the civil rights of patrons. Malls are also considered to be private property and they can exercise similar options in denying entrance to patrons dressed inappropriately as long as the rules are enforced consistently.  The “no-shirt no-shoes-no-sevice” sign advises the rules, of the premises owner to all those entering uniformly.

Establishments cannot refuse service to customers based on race, color, religion, or natural origin. Businesses cannot refuse to serve someone because they have a disability or because they are dressed in a religious manner that differs from the owner or management’s religious beliefs unless the provision is enforced among all patrons. As an example, an establishment cannot ban hajibs worn by Muslim women unless they ban all head scarves worn by all women including veils worn by nuns as well as babushkas worn by older ladies.

Business owners have the right to set the rules for what happens within their businesses; the general common sense rule for patrons is that they should not be doing anything that is not normal behavior for a customer of that type of business.