Saturday, July 1, 2017

Are dogs allowed in restaurants?

Are dogs allowed in restaurants?

Most people would agree that more and more people are bringing their dogs to public places. In recent years, it has become commonplace to see dogs in line at a coffee shop or a bank, riding in a grocery cart at a super market, sitting in a seat on an airplane or, of course, in restaurant dining rooms nationwide.

Most restaurants have some sort of dog or pet policy already in place. For example, many restaurants will only allow pets in outdoor areas while others may require that dogs show documentation of their “service canine” status.

The actual laws governing dogs in restaurants are extremely complex.

Are you certain that your pet policy is legal?

The American’s with Disabilities Act or ADA was signing into law in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. The law includes many things to protect and enhance the quality of life of people with disabilities. Requirements that public restrooms accommodate a wheel chair, busses include wheelchair lifts, sidewalks have curb ramps, etc. are all part of the ADA. The ADA also included provisions to protect the rights of people needing service animals to bring the animals into public places.

A service dog, like a medical device, must be prescribed by a doctor, but the ADA does not specifically define what a disability is. Someone who feels anxious, depressed or perhaps experiences other psychological conditions could be considered ‘disabled’ under the ADA. If a service dog can help with these problems, then a doctor can prescribe the service dog as part of, or as, the entire treatment. Unsurprisingly, as capitalism would suggest, prescribing service dogs online would soon become a new, effective, profitable and sustainable business. Today, there are many online services which allow people to write a brief description of their disability, have their issue reviewed by a doctor who, then, prescribes a service or therapy dog as treatment. The difference between a service and therapy dog is important but more on that later.

Once prescribed a dog as treatment, many people find that their own household pet can be an ideal service dog (and fulfill the treatment prescribed from their new, online doctor).  

The ADA defines a service animal as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”

Now, most household pets are not trained to treat depression, anxiety or any other disability. There is no legal certification for a service dog.  There are many online services which will ask a few questions about an animal allowing the user to state whether the animal has specific training or not. The service will then provide “a certificate” stating that the animal is a service animal. These online services are somewhat informal and may be providing a product which is not really needed.

Once a person is prescribed a service animal by a doctor, then the animal they choose to use for this service is, by definition, “a service dog.” The individual may be, in the strictest sense, breaking the law if the animal is not trained as a service dog. However, there is no documentation or licensing requirement which would make this clear.

A “therapy dog” is a dog which has been prescribed as a treatment by a doctor but which the patient agrees is not trained as a service dog. Therapy dogs are not covered by the ADA and can be prohibited from entering public places. In some cases, like traveling on an airplane, a doctor may write a note stating that the patient must travel with the therapy dog. With a doctors’ note, a therapy dog can accompany the patient on airplanes and are allowed into housing which may not allow pets. Therapy dogs are not automaticly allowed into a restaurant or food service establishment.

Restaurant health codes are set by each individual state. In some states, local governments have some ability to modify these health codes.

Of the three largest states California (2014) and New York (2015) recently passed legislation allowing dogs in outdoor areas of restaurants, like patios and sidewalks. Texas, however, does not allow dogs in restaurants at all. Regardless of state law the ADA, which is federal law, requires all restaurants to allow service dogs anywhere in the facility.

So, what do you do if someone arrives at your restaurant with a dog? 

In general, if the dog is not wearing a harness or vest signifying its status, we suggest asking the guest, “Is this a service dog?”  If the guest replies that it is a therapy dog, you can explain that therapy dogs are not allowed in the restaurant. Of course, the distinction between a service dog and a therapy dog can be subtle. They most important thing to understand is if the person with the dog has been prescribed a dog by a doctor. It is problematic and inadvisable, both from a service and legal perspective, to ask a guest about their health. So, we advise that you simply ask if the dog is a service dog.  

You may also benefit from posting notices at the doors and on the menu stating that, per law, only service dogs are allowed.  Once the guest has declared that the dog is indeed a service dog this is pretty much all the verification which one can ask for or expect.

In summation, the most important things to consider are that the dog be clean, well behaved and non-threatening to your staff or guests. Should a health inspector ask about a dog in your restaurant, and you have a clear policy with posted notices, the inspector should recognize this as compliance.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- (and this blog) was created BY restaurateurs FOR restaurateurs. For more restaurant blogs or for more information on how ChefSheet can help you save time and money, visit or contact us at Cheers!