Issue at Woodlands Salata Raises Question: Should You Bring Outside Food to Restaurants?

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On Friday, the Chronicle's Syd Kearney reported on a brouhaha going down on Facebook.

Apparently two mothers and their kids had gone to Salata, a fast casual salad restaurant with locations all over Houston, and encountered an issue when they sat down to eat their meals. Employees of the Market Street Salata in the Woodlands informed the mothers that they couldn't bring outside food into the restaurant, and if they wanted to eat the Chipotle burritos they had brought for the kids, they'd need to leave.

The mothers, incensed that they had to take three children and meals and eat outside in the "95 degree heat" (Note: The high on Friday was 91), took to social media to complain about Salata.

The mother who accompanied Heather Leigh also posted about the incident on Salata's Facebook page, but we were unable to locate the post. The Chronicle has a screenshot.

Oddly, there was another post shortly after Heather Leigh's by yet another woman who ate at the same Salata with her husband and children and had the exact same thing happen to her! Crazy! We're not saying it didn't happen. We're just saying...what a coincidence...

As far as we know, the only places in Houston that allow outside food to be brought in are bars, like Liberty Station, which doesn't serve food of its own, but encourages diners to hit up the food truck out front or bring food from other restaurants. Cottonwood has a kitchen, but the bar/restaurant also frequently hosts food truck gatherings, so diners are allowed to bring in food from the participating trucks. In the Chronicle article, Kearney notes that Winetopia not only serves food but invites guests to order delivery from a number of nearby restaurants. Recently, while reviewing Pugon de Manila, I saw a family bring in food from nearby Jersey Mike's Subs for a child, and none of the employees said anything, though I wouldn't encourage other diners to follow suit.

It's true that most restaurants don't explicitly prohibit food from outside businesses with signage posted before you enter (though, according to people who frequent this particular Salata location, this place does), but it was my belief that this was sort of an unspoken rule. Would you bring your own food into Oxheart? No. Why does having children at a more casual restaurant make it any more acceptable?

Some restaurants allow parents to being food from home for children. I recently witnessed a couple with a small child at Paulie's feeding the kid crackers and fruit from a bag they'd brought with them. Many parents do this due to their children's dietary restrictions or picky eating habits, but if you feel this is acceptable, you have to wonder where to draw the line. Is bringing food from home OK, but bringing food from another restaurant unacceptable?

After Heather Leigh posted on numerous outlets, Salata responded with the following statement:

Heather, We really regret you had a bad experience. It is Salata's policy not to allow outside food for a number of reasons -- of primary concern is a safe environment for all of our guests. We've taken significant steps to certify our restaurants gluten-free and train our staff in food safety as it relates to food allergens and cross contamination. We do want you to try Salata and see it in the best possible light.

Heather went on to ask if the pita chips at Salata are gluten free and to note that she called many other restaurants to ask about bringing in outside food. She also noted, "I've taken so many organic packed lunches into restaurants for my kids and never once has anyone ever told me to leave." In other news, Chipotle tacos are apparently now organic.

The responses to Heather Leigh's post on the Salata Facebook page were mixed. Some people seemed to agree with her, but most called her "entitled" and noted that there are cross-contamination issues when you bring outside food into a restaurant. The article on the Chronicle's site has garnered ore than 290 comments, so clearly Houstonians feel strongly about the issue of whether or not outside food should be brought into restaurants.

Houston Press readers, we want to know what you think. Who was in the right here? And is it ever OK to bring outside food into a restaurant? Why or why not?

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