Restaurant Turns Away Customer In Wheelchair, Charges $245 To Cancel Reservation

Some people may disagree that it’s fair for a restaurant to charge a cancellation fee when someone misses their reservation. However, there’s pretty much no one who thinks that it’s fair to charge a cancellation fee because a customer uses a wheelchair and is literally unable to get in the door. 

It’s easy to reduce this story to “noble person with disability battles small-minded jerk restaurant owner,” but it’s more complex than that. The restaurant in question is Oxheart, a top and top-priced establishment in Houston with a small space in a very old building. The owner was under the mistaken belief that such buildings are “grandfathered in” and don’t need to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and told Houstonia magazine so.

Not so fast: all public businesses need to comply with the 1990 law in some way. However, there isn’t really any government entity that goes around checking for compliance, at least not in Houston. Someone turned away or inconvenienced can sue, but not everyone has the time and money to do that.

Just entering the building requires climbing some stairs. As it turns out, the restaurant has a portable ramp, but the article’s author (who happens to be a member of the dining party that included the wheelchair user) says that one wasn’t offered on the evening they were turned away. Would it have helped? Maybe not: not all portable ramps can accommodate all chairs or all people, and if a disabled customer needed to use the rest room, it isn’t accessible. The owner claims that staff did offer the customer one, but he said it wouldn’t work for his chair.

“I really want to serve every person I can,” the restaurant’s owner told Houstonia. We don’t doubt that: chefs want to serve food to people. The restaurant ultimately decided not to charge the party the $49 per person cancellation fee, and has also bought a sturdier portable ramp.

Standing Room Only [Houstonia]