I come to you with a touchy situation. This evening, my graduate school seminar elected to have the second half of our four hour (ugh, I know) class at a local restaurant and bar. Normally, class runs from 4-8 p.m., and we take a half hour break around 6 so that everyone can get dinner. One of my classmates, an observant Muslim, tends to pick up a vegetarian Subway sandwich and bring it back to the classroom. She has told me that at Subway, she can ask the person preparing her sandwich to change his or her gloves, thereby ensuring her food doesn't touch anything non-halal. (I don't believe Subway itself carries halal meat products, but this is Michigan (huge Arab-American population) so this one might.)
Anyway, this evening, we didn't have our usual break, so my friend grabbed a sandwich and then met the rest of us (16 people, including a professor) at the local restaurant. By the time she'd arrived, most of us has ordered food up at the counter (there is no table service). All together, we probably purchased a good $200-$250 worth of food and drink. A manager came over and very aggressively told my friend that she needed to put away her sandwich, as the restaurant had a no outside food policy. She replied that there was no food on their menu that fit her dietary needs, and asked that she be able to eat her sandwich with her class. The manager stood his ground, and was quite unapologetic about it. (Okay, he was downright rude.) Ultimately, my friend decided to leave, and we were all quite upset about it, but certainly understood.
A few of us, including my professor, approached the manager to express our disappointment, and he kept saying he couldn't discriminate (ha!) and that the policy was the policy. (We were near no other customers, so I doubt her Subway sandwich would have started much of a trend.) My sense is that if my friend had come in with an allergy rather than a headscarf the manager probably would have been more accommodating. I also feel that given the large amount of money we'd dropped (relatively, I mean; this isn't an expensive place) and the fact that my friend was clearly with a class (and this place regularly gets business from university groups), the manager should have been more accommodating. Certainly, he could have told my friend that he would look the other way this time but to respect the rules in the future.
That said, what are the rules on this? I understand that it's generally considered bad etiquette to bring a meal from a different restaurant into a place, but does that apply to quick service restaurants without servers? Is it reasonable for people with religious concerns to bring their own food to the table so that they are not left out of the group?
I understand there may be health issues, too, but the manager never brought those up. I also respect the right of restaurants to ask that customers not bring in outside food, but it seems to be that some exceptions should be made.
Your feedback is much appreciated!