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Restaurant checking your belongings

I went with my family to the Joe Crabs restaurant and the maitre told us that he would have to exam our belongings in order to let us in. Then he checked everything, probably looking for explosives or weapons. We are not Americans, but tourists. Is that a common practice in the US? We felt abused. If I could go back in time, I would not let them do it and I would have chosen another restaurant to go. What do you think about this kind of "procedure"? Is this "normal"? Or they only do it when they feel the customers are from overseas?

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  1. I have NEVER heard of such a thing in a restaurant!

    1 Reply
    1. re: gblcsw

      It happened at Joe's Crab in Miami Beach (Washington Avenue). We were wearing small backpacks. It was the first time in my life I've seen something like that too.

    2. I would notify the local news outlets. This is highly irregular.

      1. Marc, though I have not eaten at this restaurant, I can tell you it is NOT common. I would inform the management. They have a webpage, so I think an email or phone call would be in order if you're out of the area...or a return visit in-person if it's not too off-putting.

        Did the maƮtre'd say anything to you beyond "he had to examine" your belongings?

        1 Reply
        1. re: pinehurst

          He was very polite, and said that he was very sorry but that he would have to look inside our backpacks in order to let us in. The fact that he was polite and looked embarrassed when examining our belongings made us think that it was some sort of common practice in the US. Just like in Israel, where they have thousands of anti-terrorist procedures that look strange to outsiders but are very normal to the locals. But the thing is: we stayed there in the US for 10 days more and something similar had never happened again. And we were always wearing our backpacks. Actually, I believe not even Joe's Crab does that very often. They probably felt some sort of prejudice towards us, what is crazy when considering that most of the people inside the restaurant were foreign tourists just like us.

        2. I've never heard of any restaurant doing such a thing. I wonder if they have a sign on the door alerting customers to their procedure?

          1. While this is bizarre behavior on the part of the restaurant, I think it's also pretty unusual for diners in cities to show up to eat with loaded backpacks. We are living in the shadow of Boston, where backpacks were central to the carnage. I don't that you were necessarily the target of bigotry.

            1 Reply
            1. re: pikawicca

              Not really "loaded backpacks", just cameras, documents and coats inside 2 small backpacks. We were 4.

            2. Bizarre. I've been to that restaurant and didn't see them searching my or anyone else's bags.

              2 Replies
                1. re: MarcLowes

                  No, I just carry a small purse and my husband doesn't carry anything.

              1. Can we, 'Hounds of America, offer you an apology!?
                Please enjoy your visit and forgive us when we appear rude and intolerant to tourists.

                Further questions-> were all the other diners you saw "evaluated" to see if they had big(er) bags that had to be checked?
                Could you have NOT been speaking English when you first entered the restaurant?
                Did you get the names of the manager on duty and relevant staff?

                Bag Check is standard procedure at many tourist places in DC, but I've never seen it at a place that is "just" a restaurant.

                15 Replies
                1. re: Kris in Beijing

                  Ok, thanks for the apology. But notice that were very well treated during all the trip. That incident was the only strange thing that had happened.

                  I didn't notice other diners being evaluated, because it was late for lunch and there weren't many people coming in.

                  And I was the first person of my family to enter the restaurant. A rude maitre (elderly man) directed us to a young polite maitre, the one who examined our backpacks. We all speak fluent English, and yes, I was probably speaking with my parents in Portuguese while talking to the maitres.

                  1. re: MarcLowes

                    I travel outside the US on a regular basis. Can't say that I've ever been searched and that's a bit off. But Joe's caters to an upscale cloud and maybe these days they feel the need to have a look here and there. I don't have anything to hide so I don't care who looks at what.

                    And if the crab s were good, that's all that I'd really care about.

                    Ft. Pierce, FL

                    1. re: MarcLowes

                      Not only are backpacks checked,but luggage of those heading to the airport are not allowed to be next to tables of customers,nor are strollers allowed inside the restaurant.Those strollers are left near maitre d' stand.As the most famous restaurant in miami beach (and the oldest at 100 years old)joes can be a potential symbolic target due to its fame.Unfortunately these security measures are a sign of the times,as anyone in Boston can attest to.As a waiter there for 31 years i can assure you that it is the family's safety policy and that you were not profiled.The fact that other restaurants in miami do not institute these safety measures can attest to our unique position as the most famous restaurant who has its own set of safety measures to ensure the safety of its customers.We also pay for an off duty miami beach police officer to be on duty there every shift the restaurant is opened.Paranoia?You be the judge.

                      1. re: travlnmike

                        I will relieve some of the burden of such high levels of fame by avoiding this uniquely special place from now on.

                        1. re: Mat Josher

                          That sounds like cutting of your nose to spite your face. Those crabs are good!

                          I understand, accept and appreciate Mike's explanation. A little additional security at the expense of a minor indignity seems like a fair trade off to me for the safety of my family. I guess whether a bag search is only a "minor" indignity is open for debate; but I can live with it personally.

                          1. re: BigBonesBradley

                            How does this make your family safe? Do they have a secure perimeter? What are they searching for and do they have the proper training and equipment to search for it? What would they do if they found whatever it is they are looking for?

                            The security premise is false. So is the delusion that they are the center of the Miami culinary universe.

                            What they did was single out some foreign travelers.

                            1. re: Mat Josher

                              Do you think their motivation was pure harassment? I believe that at worst, it was a misguided attempt at security.

                              They are clearly not at the center of the Miami culinary universe. That is not Mike's point. Joe's is a cultural and tourist attraction in Miami. It is the oldest restaurant in Miami Beach (I believe). It wouldn't be a target because of its culinary status. It might be a target because of it historical and cultural significance.

                              I agree that they likely singled out some foreign travelers. I don't think they were trying to harass them for the sake of harassing some foreign travelers. I believe they thought they were acting in the name of safety and I don't have a problem with that.

                              1. re: Mat Josher

                                @Mat Josher

                                Well, if they really had singled us out, then they are doing a poor job because I don't think that my elderly parents and my small wife and myself would have been profiled as "potential terrorists" anywhere else in the world. In fact, we have never been. Furthermore, I like the questions you raise: how can all this bag searching be effective? In other words, how can the civilian maitre detect an explosive, i.e.: distinguish between an IED and a IED disguised as a book? Does he have the proper training to actually find guns/bombs hidden inside backpacks? Shouldn't he use scanners and a detection dog too? And what if a terrorist conceals his gun or bomb under his clothes, how would the maitre's bag search prevent anything bad from happening in that case, given that he does not frisk customers? And what if the maitre indeed finds a gun or a bomb? Would he then say something like: "Ahem, excuse me dear sir, but you are not allowed to enter our premises to explode our restaurant." Would the terrorist obey the maitre? It almost sounds as a Monty Phyton sketch, doesn't it? Restaurants in general do not search the customers' belongings not because they are not concerned with the customers' safety, but because it would be ineffective and not prevent ANY terrorist attempt. At this point, I believe that the bag searching does more harm than good to the restaurant.

                          2. re: travlnmike

                            "Paranoia?You be the judge"

                            Okay. That's paranoid.

                            It's also being drawn into question because there are lots of us here who don't look like or sound like foreigners who've never had a bag searched.

                            1. re: travlnmike

                              Er, if the idea behind leaving luggage and strollers at the host stand is that they might contain explosives, I can assure you it makes no difference. It's not as though being 30 feet from explosives makes you safe. And think of the host! Anyway, I ask to leave my large luggage at the host stand so that people don't trip over it. That's all.

                              I'm rather skeptical that terrorists think that bombing a restaurant would be "better" than bombing a school or government building. Joe's is fine but certainly not general knowledge to most Americans.

                              1. re: travlnmike

                                Travinmike, thanks for your reply, but shouldn't you guys be a little bit more sensitive and put some sort of disclaimer at the door saying: "ALL YOUR BACKPACKS MUST BE SEARCHED BEFORE ENTERING OUR RESTAURANT". I'm pretty sure that we wouldn't have felt so bad if we knew that everyone else's bags had been examined too, and not only ours.

                                And I like the idea of having an off duty cop making sure that things run smooth inside and outside the restaurant, that's clever. Not so much for an untrained civilian maitre searching bags without frisking the customers/using scanners/detection dogs.

                                1. re: MarcLowes

                                  The reason strollers are not allowed in is because if heaven forbid,there is a fire or natural calamity like when lightening struck the building and shorted out the lights,they could possibly obstruct people's prompt exit from the building if they were allowed to block the aisles.Believe it or not we get very few people coming in with backpacks to eat in our tuxedoed staff environment.Summertime season the staff is spared the tuxedoes worn during the seven month stonecrab season due to the humidity,even though the restaurant is air conditioned.My sister lives in Israel and i have had my backpack checked not only at a bar( mike's place in tel aviv which was coincidentally bombed by left luggage) but also even entering shopping malls.Who is to say the most popular restaurant in miami that is owned by a jewish family could not face actions by terrorists like what happened jo goldenberg's in paris?One must weigh security measures versus prople's feelings possibly being hurt.Trust me when i say we piss off ten times more people when we disallow their strollers than when we deny suitcases entry,or inspect the occassional backpack.i want to say that i am not authorized to speak for the restaurant,but that i just wanted the person with the backpack to know it wasn't because he was a foreigner.

                                  1. re: travlnmike

                                    then install a metal detector and hire a trained security inspector and post that all bags are subject to search.

                                    A civilian maitre d' does not have the right to inspect my bag just because he decides to. Period. Doubly if it's not posted visibly.

                                    The way you've got it set makes it very, very subjective, and that makes it very, very vulnerable to lawsuits.

                                    Miami is not Tel Aviv.

                                    Does management know you're making these posts?

                                    1. re: travlnmike

                                      I will quote this extract:

                                      "My sister lives in Israel and i have had my backpack checked not only at a bar(mike's place in tel aviv which was coincidentally bombed by left luggage) but also even entering shopping malls. Who is to say the most popular restaurant in miami that is owned by a jewish family could not face actions by terrorists like what happened jo goldenberg's in paris?One must weigh security measures versus prople's feelings possibly being hurt."

                                      I definitely agree that "one must weigh security measures versus people's feelings possibly being hurt", but do the Israeli restaurants and shopping malls you had been at have adopted exactly the same security measures as Joe's Stone Crab has? I mean, what is the chance that a people like the Israelis would assign an untrained civilian to inspect people's belongings? Does the maitre even knows how an IED is supposed to look like? You know he doesn't.

                                      The security measures adopted at Joe's Stone Crab might give the staff and owners some comforting - yet false - sense of security, but I really doubt that someone working in security forces, be it private or public, would agree by any stretch of the imagination that said restaurant is being effective to handle terrorist threats.

                                      If Joe's Stone Crab is indeed a target, and wants to get serious about its clients' safety, it should:

                                      1: Put the off duty cop inspecting the belongings, not the maitre.

                                      2: Install a metal detector/X-Ray OUTSIDE the restaurant and inspect the clients there, because if something goes bad, the customers inside the restaurant would be safe. Obviously, a secure perimeter around the restaurant controlling access to the area will have to be established.

                                      3: Put a dog sniffing the belongings, the eye can't catch all.

                                      4: Hire more security personnel, ONE off duty cop wouldn't be able to do much if something goes bad.

                                      Now, to search backpacks in the way you guy are doing is only good for one thing: to annoy your customers.

                                      Anyway, don't get me wrong, I have really appreciated that someone who actually works there has spent his time explaining the restaurant's point of view, and now returning there next time I visit Miami is definitely not impossible anymore.

                                      Thank you!!!

                                      1. re: travlnmike

                                        Strollers are not allowed in aisles because it is against fire code. The Fire Marshall will fine you or shut down your restaurant.

                              2. I live in a major US city (Chicago) where many tourists visit and NEVER in my life have I heard of a restaurant customer's belongings being searched. I would suggest that you 1) notify the local newspaper---surely they will be fascinated. 2) Notify the top management of this restaurant. Joe Crabs is a chain---look online for their headquarters office and register a complaint.

                                When we have Americans in Texas purposefully entering restaurants displaying assault weapons and shotguns, to make a political point, and under the law they cannot be stopped, I question the legality of of our international guests being searched. I wonder whether this was done at the whim of one individual working in that restaurant. It was outrageously rude, and, as one of your many hosts when you visited my country, I apologize.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Querencia

                                  Are they searching the baggage of only international guests? I got the impression it was everyone who had bags of a certain size/shape.

                                2. To Marc Lowes: I just looked up the information. Joe Crabs is a chain owned by Ignite Restaurant Group, founded in Houston, Texas, and the CEO is Raymond Blanchette. He has won a number of awards so probably has an interest in how his customers are received. In your place, I would send him a letter.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Querencia

                                    The OP was referring to Joe's STONE Crab, on Washington Avenue, on Miami Beach (as evidenced by several of his comments) and not Joe's Crab Shack, the national chain owned by the Ignite Restaurant Group. While you were looking up the ownership of Joe's Crab Shack, you might have noticed they don't have a restaurant on Washington Avenue in Miami Beach.

                                  2. Ive never seen that in any restaurant in Florida, including at Joe's on multiple visits.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                      So...which place are we talking about here? Joe's Stone Crabs? Or Joe's Crab Shack? I didn't know there was a Joe's Crab Shack on Miami Beach....and still don't! (lol).

                                      Ft. Pierce, FL....

                                      1. re: LargeLife

                                        the OP mentioned several times that it's on Washington Avenue on Miami Beach, which means it's Joe's STONE Crab.

                                        (not that it affects my statement, to which you replied, even an iota)

                                    2. Ben Franklin said it best: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

                                      1. whether it is "normal" would not be the question i would be asking myself.

                                        i WOULD be asking myself:
                                        1) am i likely to be safer if people's backpacks are checked for weapons or any other dangerous item? (to be fair, this question would not have occurred to me if the George Zimmerman situation hadn't occurred in FL. up until that incident, i saw it mostly as the retirement community in which my parents had ended up.)
                                        now i see the place totally differently with "stand your ground" laws that are foreign/strange to me.

                                        it would seem to me that the answer to this question would be yes

                                        2) am i likely to be safer if all the strollers from the stroller brigade were stashed somewhere OTHER than the aisles and the normal traffic lanes in the restaurant?
                                        again, the answer is YES.

                                        if i ever end up back in Fl. i will definitely go to this restaurant.

                                        9 Replies
                                        1. re: westsidegal

                                          Stand your ground. That leads to an interesting question. It's perfectly legal for a permitted person to carry a concealed firearm into a restaurant in Miami. Some carry in fanny packs, backpacks, etc. How would Joe's handle this and what does that say about their stance on the 2nd amendment?

                                          1. re: Mat Josher

                                            Joe's is a restaurant. It's a landmark restaurant. It's a PRIVATE ESTABLISHMENT that can provide or refuse service as they see fit. If they want to look in your backpack prior to entering their establishment - - - THEY CAN. It's their building, their business and they can do as they damned well please.

                                            You don't have to like it. You don't have to go there. And since I have nothing to hide, I don't have a worry. And yes, the crabs are the best.

                                            Ft. Pierce, FL

                                            1. re: LargeLife

                                              er, no. They don't have the RIGHT to look in my bags. They can ask, but I'm under no obligation to allow them. Proprietorship does not excuse one from the laws of the land.

                                              If they have posted outside that there are no concealed firearms allowed, then that's fine (but it doesn't exist)...but given the large number of people who have never had a bag packed, the lack of any signage indicating that bags are subject to search, the lack of a trained and uniformed guard to conduct the searches, and the arbitrary manner in which this seems to be enforced, this is a lawsuit just waiting to happen, and Miami is full of attorneys slavering over a client to bring it on.

                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                And South Florida is LOADED with scummy people looking to file and potentially profit from frivolous lawsuits - - - just like the one you've suggested here.

                                                Fine, put up the sign and then allow who you want inside your establishment. If any business owner feels like a person or persons are providing some kind of security risk - - - they should ask those individuals to leave the premises.

                                                And trust me the folks from Joe's have pretty deep pockets with some cuff link wearing attorneys that could wrap something like this up in court for YEARS! Good luck with that.

                                                Ft. Pierce, FL

                                                1. re: LargeLife

                                                  but even the cufflinks know that you can't conduct arbitrary random searches without posting the warnings and without having someone who's actually trained to be looking for whatever it is they're looking for. They'd settle out of court, because even the cufflinks (not the shirts, not the attorneys -- the cufflinks!) know that owning the property doesn't give you the right to flagrantly violate basic human rights and rules -- like, um, unreasonable search. If the cops can't do it, neither can a private business.

                                                2. re: sunshine842

                                                  "and the arbitrary manner in which this seems to be enforced, this is a lawsuit just waiting to happen"

                                                  Well, I can tell you that the feeling is not good. Specially because you don't know if the other clients' belongings had been examined too or if they are only suspicious about you and your family for a reason that you have actually no idea what it might be. Is it your nationality? Your clothes? What?

                                                  The only possible answer to the question we've asked so many times and still remains unanswered: "why don't they put a disclaimer outside the restaurant warning all clients that their belongings will be checked before entering the restaurant?" is that they, well, don't check everyone's belongings, that they actually single out people by some obscure criteria, but since someone from the staff has said more than once here that they make no distinction between people - what is great - then I have no idea why the hell they don't put a notice outside the restaurant TODAY and avoid making people feel miserable like me and my family had had on that day.

                                                  1. re: MarcLowes

                                                    I'm totally on your side, Marc, just in case there was a question.

                                                3. re: LargeLife

                                                  We get that it is a private restaurant. They can act and we will react, as we are doing here. And I won't return to Joe's. I already stated that.

                                                  I also have nothing to hide. Or maybe I do. It's none of their business. I won't be showing anything to Joe's. That's because they have no right to see anything of mine, even if they ask. No matter how important they claim to be, I don't have to show anything.

                                            2. Marc Lowes, I am truly sorry this happened to you. As an American of 'une certaine age', nothing like this has ever happened to me. I live in the Phoenix AZ area which is also a heavy tourist area and have never seen anyone asked to have their personal belongings searched. Never.

                                              I lived in Paris 1962-1063 during the Algerian uprising and searching was very common. That was a different time and a different place. We understood that with all the random bombings, it was a practical necessity.

                                              I have no idea what the rationale behind Joe's Stone Crabs was, nor do I care to speculate, but I find their behavior rude, condescending and discrimatory. Again, I apologize to you, your wife and your parents for this unfortunate incident which could not help but color your visit. It is not how the vast majority of us behave. Mea Culpa.

                                              1 Reply