In recent weeks, we've witnessed two high-profile collisions between the food service industry and an unwelcome potential patron. In the first, Cracker Barrel - the Tennessee-based chain best known for its simpler-times decor and crowd-pleasing portions - came out with a forceful statement barring Grayson Fritts, the sheriff's detective-cum-Baptist preacher who advocated the arrest and execution of LGBTQ people, from holding an event at one of its restaurants in Cleveland, Tennessee.
In the second instance, a server at Aviary, an upscale Chicago cocktail bar, was briefly detained by the Secret Service after allegedly spitting in the face of Eric Trump while the president's son was visiting the city on business.
Happily, there was more widespread support for Cracker Barrel than for the spitting server. A hatemonger with murderous intent doesn't deserve anyone's hospitality. But no one in the industry condones the physical assault of a patron.
Yet, in whatever way we regard these events, the fact remains that restaurants are now part of the soundstage for our ongoing national spectacle. Whether the bar or restaurant serves merely as the backdrop, as in the cases last year of Kirstjen Nielsen, Stephen Miller and Mitch McConnell, or takes an active role in the drama, as was the case with Cracker Barrel, Aviary or my own restaurant last June, the business involved inevitably comes under attack. A portion of the public will scold owners and managers about "staying in their lane" and express chagrin at the loss of a perceived "politics-free zone."
The comments tend to fall into one of two camps: either that it's illegal to discriminate against a person for his or her political stance or that it violates some imaginary unwritten universal service-for-all hospitality industry code.
Neither is quite right. Eateries have...