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King Richard's No Faire!

How King Richard's Faire discriminates
against observant Jews
and others with special dietary needs

On September 25, 2005, my family visited King Richard's Faire, in Carver, Massachusetts, for the first time. As any parent of young children knows, food is an important part of any outing with children, so, as we always do, we took time in advance of the outing to figure out the food.

The Faire has a plethora of vendors selling food and drink of all sorts. However, since we keep kosher, we are unable to eat the food sold at the Faire or at most other similar events. We're used to dealing with this, so without any hesitation we packed a picnic lunch and snacks for the kids to bring with us on our outing.

When we arrived at the front gate with our food, we found “No outside food or drink” posted prominently at the gate. Oddly, this policy is not mentioned on the Faire's extensive Web site.

I approached one of the gate-tenders, explained that we were unable to eat any of the food sold inside the Faire because we keep kosher, and asked him to allow us to bring our food into the Faire. He said he'd have to get his boss to talk to me, left, and returned quickly with the Assistant Box Office Manager. She refused to allow us to bring our food into the Faire, and said we would have to eat it in our car or in the open area in front of the entrance.

[Added 9/17/2009] A number of people have asked in comments why we didn't simply leave the Faire when it was time for lunch, eat outside, and then come back. I agree that this would have been a perfectly reasonable solution, and indeed we asked the gate staff if we could do this. Unfortunately, in addition to all of the other predatory, greedy policies that King Richard's Faire imposes upon its patrons and staff, as noted below, they have a no re-entry policy, they don't allow people to leave and come back on the same day without paying again. In my experience, prohibiting re-entry is virtually unheard of in venues of this sort.

I went off to consult with my family about what we should do. My wife suggested that I ask if there was anyone else I could speak to about this policy. This I did, and shortly afterward, I was introduced to the Box Office Manager. He, too, refused to allow us to bring in our food.

When I pressed for an explanation of this policy, he informed me, “If something happened to you while eating your food on our propery, we'd be liable.” This explanation is, to borrow a renaissance term, bullocks. The Faire allows visitors to bear swords and daggers without a second glance. The Faire has booths where visitors can buy real weapons, shoot a crossbow, shoot a bow and arrow, or throw knives. In short, there are dangerous implements of destruction everywhere you look, frequently in the hands of amateurs. But the Faire can't take the chance that I might choke on my corned beef? Oh, please.

[Added 10/6/2005] While I was talking to the box office staff, the producer and owner of the faire, Bonnie Shapiro, sidled up to my wife and started discussing the situation with her. She was dressed casually and did not identify herself as the owner; my wife thought she was speaking with a parking lot attendant. Ms. Shapiro told my wife that the issue of allowing in kosher food had not been raised before and that she would bring it to the attention of the appropriate people. Who the appropriate people would be, if not the owner of the Faire, is unclear. In any case, I'm mentioning this only because Ms. Shapiro claimed in a letter that she had introduced herself to my wife, a claim which my wife disputes.

It has been suggested to me that the no-outside-food policy is intended to prevent visitors from bringing their own booze and getting plastered at the Faire. We're supposed to believe that the management of King Richard's Faire, a controlled environment with only one entrance and exit and numerous hulky staff members and police on duty throughout the day, can't figure out how to keep booze out while allowing other food in, or how to control inebriated people? This, despite the fact that the city of Boston manages to do it every year on July 4 at the Esplanade, where hundreds of thousands of people are packed in so tightly that they can't sit down, and despite the fact that alcoholic beverages are sold at the Faire? No, this is not a credible explanation.

Let's be honest.... There is one and only one real reason for the no-outside-food policy: greed. The Faire charges a whopping $24 for adults and $12 for children. That's less than other attractions like Six Flags or Disney World, but the difference is that once you've paid at those attractions, the rides are free. At King Richard's Faire, virtually everything costs money. Every ride costs more. Every entertainer guilts the audience into tipping at the end of the show. Even the “oracle of the wood”, a woman dressed up like a birch tree who walks slowly around the grounds all day, demands a tip before she'll share her wisdom with you. Furthermore, despite the high entrance fees, only cash is accepted at the gate, another policy which is not mentioned on the Faire's Web site. Merchants who charge this much and refuse to accept credit cards do it for only one reason: because convenience for their visitors is less important to them than hanging on to the few perentage points they'd have to pay in card processing fees.

The food prices at the Faire are outrageous, but they're not that much higher from the food prices at other attractions. What's different is that those other attractions don't force visitors to buy their food or treat people who don't as second-class citizens. The Faire does, because the Faire wants to milk its visitors for all they're worth.

My family has gone on many outings, some of which were to facilities which had similar no-outside-food policies. Before the Faire, we'd never been refused entry with our own food after explaining why we needed it.

[Updated 9/28/2005] The Faire's no-outside-food policy does not just discriminate against observant Jews. It also discriminates against people with disabilities. Celiacs, diabetics, people with serious allergies, people on doctor-prescribed diets... These people are apparently not fully welcome at King Richard's Faire. I've heard on-line from people with medical dietary restrictions who said that King Richard's Faire wouldn't let them bring in their own food. However, I've also heard from people who said that they contacted the Faire and were told that people with medical dietary restrictions would be able to bring in their own food, although these people didn't actually try it. I don't know who's right.

[Updated 9/28/2005] Refusing to allow people who keep kosher to bring their own food into the Faire may be discriminatory, but contrary to assertions I made in an earlier version of this text, it probably isn't illegal. However, if the people with medical dietary restrictions are right that they weren't allowed to bring their own food into the Faire, that is clearly illegal under the ADA. This ruling describes how the U.S. Department of Justice filed charges against Clear Channel Communications for refusing to allow diabetics to bring their own food into concert venues, and Clear Channel entered into a consent decree stipulating that they would change their policies; it seems unlikely that they would have agreed to this if they felt they would prevail at trial.

When we were refused entry with our food, I would have preferred to turn around and leave. However, we had driven over an hour to get there, and while I was negotiating with the gate staff, my family had already purchased our tickets and gone in with the kids, who were immediately overjoyed by all the sights and sounds. Since it would have been simply too disappointing to tell them at this point that we had to leave, I reluctantly agreed for us to stay and eat our lunch outside the entrance.

While most visitors ate their lunch seated at comfortable, shaded tables while enjoying entertainment, we ate ours on the ground in the burning sun, with arriving visitors staring at us as they walked by. It was quite an unpleasant taste of what it feels like to be singled out and treated differently because of my religion.

I do not respond well to this kind of treatment; it spoiled my entire visit to the Faire, and to some extent that of my family, both because of how we were forced to eat our lunch and because they had to drag around a grumpy guy (i.e., me) all day.

I am posting this to warn others who might be impacted by this discrimination to think twice before patronizing King Richard's Faire. Furthermore, for those readers who would be perfectly happy to visit the Faire and buy food there.... Do you really wish to patronize a venue whose management believes this is an appropriate way to treat people?

[Added 9/29/2005; updated 10/6/2005] As an alternative, consider the Connecticut Renaissance Faire. It's about as far from Boston as King Richard's Faire; its ticket prices are less ($15 instead of $24 for adults and $6 instead of $12 for kids); it accepts credit cards; it has a host of free games and activities; it allows visitors to leave the Faire and return on the same day (King Richard's Faire has a no readmittance policy); and it allows visitors to bring in their own food.

[Added 10/6/2005] I wrote this letter about our experience at the Faire to The Jewish Advocate and sent a copy to Bonnie Shapiro. She sent this response, and I sent this rebuttal on October 6.

If you would like to let King Richard's Faire know that you share my concerns, you can reach them in Carver at (508) 866-5391 or P.O. Box 419, Carver, MA  02330. Their corporate headquarters can be reached at (952) 238-9915 or 140 Gideons Point Rd., Tonka Bay, MN  55331.

[Added 10/10/2005] I've taken quite a beating for making a fuss about this. Polite people have asked why I'm bothering. Impolite people have called me all sorts of nasty names. The name-calling I don't really care about, but why I'm bothering is an interesting question, which I address here.

[Added 12/06/2010] To comment on this article or read others' comments, please visit this page. The comment page has actually been available since October 10, 2005, and there has been for a long time a small link to it at the top and bottom this page, but someone just pointed out to me that they're rather difficult to spot, so I'm posting the link here as well.

[Added 12/06/2010] As noted in a comment from several years ago, the summer after I had my run-in with KRF, they updated their Web site to mention their no-outside-food policy. Alas, they've revamped their Web site again, and neither the no-outside-food policy nor their no-readmittance policy is mentioned anywhere on it.

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