FAQ – Q19

Q19: Isn’t it illegal to go barefoot into some places, like restaurants?

Not at all . . . except for some very rare exceptions as explained below.

BF - Man shopping in storeWoman-sitting-with-children-in-a-restaurantsharpbrightMany believe that health department codes or other laws make going barefoot illegal in businesses–especially those serving food.  The comfortable fellow at left and family at right know better.  In fact, such assumptions are based on myth.  Health department codes do not regulate customer clothing–including footwear.  Click here for proof and documentation.

That myth may have started when some businesses began posting signs requiring shoes beginning back in the early 1970s (see Q21), some of which made references to the “health department,” such as “by order of the health department,” or even including such phrases as “by law,” which has been seen on a few signs.  But these are lies.

BF Crab ShackNeither state or county health department regulations, nor any federal or state laws exist which require customers to wear shoes in a business or other public place.  Anyone who claims that such rules exist should be able to cite the specific code, statute or ordinance number for any such law.   They will find that difficult to do– since they generally don’t exist.

The rare exceptions: in the state of Massachusetts there are six small towns that have some ordinances on the books that require shoes in certain businesses within their town limits. Additionally, there are a few municipalities – about eight that we currently know of – in some other states that have ordinances requiring shoes only in certain specific city owned locations, such as boardwalks or dog parks.

But these are rare exceptions.  So, for all practical purposes, going barefoot is perfectly legal in businesses or other places in the United States.

Rights of refusal: It should be noted that, in general, any private business does have a right to set up its own dress code requirements, but that has nothing to do with any requirements of any law (see Q20).  For more information about what specific rights of refusal of service private businesses actually have, this Shake article and this Bloomberg View article offer some excellent insight into the legal aspects of such policies.