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Items on your menu, especially if you try to capitalize on popular trends, can become a liability if you’re not careful. There are multiple ways that your menu can result in a lawsuit, such as copyright or trademark infringement, slander, and copying competitors. While whipping up fun new dishes or drinks for your menu, it’s important to do your research before giving your ideas a name to prevent any legal trouble. Learn more about what’s allowed and what isn’t below before making any significant changes to your restaurant’s menu.
Even if your recipe is not the same as the person who owns the trademark, you can still get in a lot of trouble. The name on the menu is what lands you in hot water. For example, the term “Derby Pie,” although a commonly used name for a pecan pie with a bourbon twist, is trademarked by Kern’s Kitchen in Louisville, Kentucky. Even if you decide to switch out pecans for a different kind of nut, or if you skip the alcohol altogether, Kern’s Kitchen is legally allowed to sue you if you call any dessert on your menu a Derby Pie. White Light Diner in Frankfort, Kentucky, decided to have a little fun with this after being sued. The owner, who has been sued twice by Kern’s Kitchen, called his version of this sweet treat a “'I Can't Call It Derby Pie, Pie.” Having general liability insurance can help you with legal costs in case this issue ever occurs at your restaurant.
While some restaurants are known for being rude to customers during their visit (on purpose), it’s important for them to be mindful of what they put on their menus to stay out of trouble. Dick’s Last Resort, a national chain serving Southwestern style comfort food, is known to make their guests wear paper hats with vulgar statements, in addition to throwing paper and spitballs. But, if you look at their menu, they keep any sort of slander out of their menu (both about their guests and their competitors). Having false statements that are damaging to someone’s reputation on your menu can get you sued quickly.
While it’s okay to gain inspiration from multiple different restaurants you go to, copying too much from one restaurant could land your business in serious trouble. Back in 2007, Rebecca Charles, owner of Pearl Oyster Bar in New York, sued Ed’s Lobster Bar, owned by her former sous-chef Ed McFarland, for copying elements from her establishment. Some of the examples she listed were items on her menu, the color paint used in the establishment, the chairs and barstools, and the white marble bar. While this lawsuit was settled outside of court, a lawsuit like this could cost restaurant owners thousands of dollars out of their pocket. That’s why it’s crucial to invest in a high quality insurance program to ensure you are protected during these sticky situations.
Do Your Research
When it comes to deciding upon items for your menu, it’s crucial to remember to do your research! Even if you think you are using a generic term for something, there’s no harm in double-checking. It could have saved White Light Diner’s owner thousands of dollars in lawsuits. It’s also important to make sure you aren’t copying another restaurant’s advertising ideas. Whether you know it or not, if someone has your idea first and stumbles upon your ad that looks exactly like theirs, they can legally sue your establishment.
With social media hyping up new and fun food trends now more than ever, it’s important to think before you act. For example, many restaurants are trying to jump on the cronut bandwagon (a croissant-doughnut), but Dominique Ansel Bakery, the original creators of the cronut, have a trademark on the name.
If you think someone is infringing on part of your menu that is trademarked or copyrighted, be sure to contact RPA today. Our team of experts will be happy to guide you and your business on the right path to success.