Restaurant owners face ethical quandaries on a regular basis. Whether it's questions over how purchases are made, how staffing is determined or what happens to unused food at the end of the night, it's important to make sure your restaurant operates in an ethical manner. To do otherwise risks not only lower profits, but it also can place your business in legal jeopardy.


Say you own an Italian restaurant, and you arrive at work Sunday morning to hear about what occurred during the Saturday night shift. Your manager reports that the cook, whose cousin is one of his suppliers, created a special involving ingredients his relative had been having a hard time selling. Those ingredients included foie gras and produce shipped in from overseas.

Conflict of Interest

Many restaurants have a code of ethics prohibiting the use of suppliers that have a personal relationship with an employee. This avoids situations in which the employee with the power to determine suppliers steers business in a certain direction for reasons other than quality and cost. Monitor whether anyone on staff is accepting gifts from suppliers, as this can be a "quid pro quo," with return business expected. Offering contracts without soliciting competitive bids can increase your risks that unethical situations may result.

Food Choices

As customers focus more on the origins of the food they order, menu choices have taken on more ethical importance. The sale of foie gras, for example, has been banned in several areas for being unethical, but some restaurants have tried to get around the prohibition by offering it for "free" when a customer buys an expensive wine. On a more basic level, many customers are concerned about sustainable living and may demand ingredients be sourced locally. Others may prefer lowered prices that can come from casting a wider geographical net in purchasing menu items, and may see the more ethical choice as providing more affordable meals to those who otherwise might have a hard time dining out.

Employee Hours

Handling employee shifts can be a situation with lots of ethical minefields. Servers often covet the same shifts because of the potential for increased traffic and more tips. Other shifts are less popular but must be staffed, anyway. A system of assigning shifts can lead to complaints if it's based on the whims of the manager, who can reward or punish at his pleasure. As a restaurant owner, you have to create an ethical system for assigning shifts, whether based on performance, seniority or skills. This is critical to avoid resentment among staffers and charges of being unethical. Discrimination based on race, religion, gender, sexual preference or any other reason is unacceptable, from both an ethical and a legal standpoint.