Should restaurants allow pets? The question is clearly yes in many places, though the matter is addressed by a patchwork of state and local laws, and there are many restrictions that apply. First, we’ll discuss the restaurant pet laws currently on the books. Then we’ll look at the points for and against this pet-friendly trend.
States That Allow Restaurant Pets
Should restaurants allow pets? There are a number of states where voters clearly said yes.
Florida was the first law to allow dogs in outdoor dining spaces. Restaurants in Florida must apply for a permit to be allowed to permit dogs on the property. They must follow certain public health rules such as having employees wash their hands after petting a dog.
Tennessee permits dogs on restaurant patios. They require dogs to be kept on a leash for the safety of other guests. Furthermore, facilities must have an approved cleaning kit for cleaning up any pet messes. This is one of those rules regarding restaurant pets put in place for the sake of public health.
Maryland allows restaurants to request permission to host restaurant pets. They must give the local health department thirty days’ notice. Restaurant owners can restrict the types of dogs allowed on the premises. They could ban pitbulls or dogs over 30 pounds in the name of public safety, though they let any peaceful small dog sit with the owner on the patio.
Rhode Island’s 2016 law is a near mirror image of Maryland’s restaurant pet law. The only difference is that Rhode Island law allows owners to forcibly remove a pet owner and/or pet whenever they want. If your dog is too noisy or aggressive, the owner can kick you both out. Rhode Island is also unusual for letting restaurants set dog-friendly hours. In summary, restaurant pets may be limited to sitting on the patio for a pet-friendly afternoon.
Illinois has an interesting state law regarding restaurant pets. Municipalities with at least a million people can pass an ordinance permitting restaurant pets. Once the city passes such an ordinance, restaurants can apply for the pet permit. The only city large enough to qualify is Chicago. This means smaller cities can’t have pet-friendly restaurants. Furthermore, it means not all restaurants can accept pets. You have to apply and pay for the permit and meet whatever rules Chicago says you must meet to have pets on the property. If you can’t or won’t control the animal, you can be banned from the building.
Minnesota state law says cities can adopt laws permitting dogs in outdoor seating areas. There are a number of rules related to public health. Employees cannot pet the dogs. Furthermore, the dogs are not allowed on the furniture.
New Mexico’s law regarding restaurant pets is relatively broad. The 2011 state law gives permission to restaurants to permit pets. The business must post a sign that designates the outdoor dining area for use by patrons with pet dogs. On the other hand, the state allows restaurants to prohibit pets either on public health or public safety grounds. That isn’t due to liability concerns, because New Mexico law clearly says the pet owner is legally liable for any damage their pet causes including dog bites.
California state law says dogs are allowed in outdoor dining areas. There needs to be an outdoor entrance to the patio so that the dog doesn’t pass through the dining room. Pet waste must be cleaned up promptly and with approved chemicals. The state goes farther than most by spelling out how the dogs must be treated. For example, the dogs can be given food or water but it must be in sing-use disposable containers. Sorry, but you’re not allowed to let your dog lick your plate at the restaurant the way he does at home. Furthermore, the dog-friendly patio must have an outdoor entrance.
New York’s law mirrors that of California. Restaurants across the state can choose to permit or deny pets. All dog food and drink must be in disposable containers.
Georgia regulations allow for pet dogs in outdoor dining areas. Dogs must be on leash and under control. Pets are not to be touched or fed by employees. They cannot pass through the interior of the restaurant. The restaurant must have clear rules for cleaning up pet messes.
Kentucky lets you bring a dog into an outdoor dining area if it is not fully enclosed and can be accessed without walking through the restaurant. The dog can’t come into contact with anything that touches food. Sanitizing kits are mandatory. Kentucky gives business owners the explicit right to refuse service to a patron whose dog is not well-behaved or off-leash.
Oklahoma is unusual for explicitly allowing cats as well as dogs in outdoor dining areas. The same rules such as not having the animal in the indoor dining area and not touching food or food implements are in effect in that state. They require businesses to have a process to clean up pet messes. Food and water can be given to the pet if it is in a single-use, disposable container.
Ohio passed a restaurant pet law in 2018. Restaurants and retail establishments that serve food can get a permit to allow dogs on the property. The restaurant must have a policy in place requiring the patron to control the dog, and this is true whether or not a leash is involved. The dog cannot pass through the main dining hall. And the restaurant must comply with all sanitation standards. They go one step farther in requiring all dogs on the property to be properly vaccinated.
In 2019, Texas decided to allow restaurant pets. The restaurant must keep dogs out of the interior of the restaurant. The restaurant must mandate that dogs be on the leash and stay off the furniture. No food can be prepared on the patio. These are the minimum requirements spelled out at the state level. Cities and counties can set stricter rules, whether it is mandating vaccination of pets or limiting the size or breed of animal.
North Carolina also allows both dogs and cats in outdoor dining areas. The pets must be physically restrained and cannot come in contact with the food or food preparation areas. Staffers are not allowed to come into contact with the animal.
South Carolina is the only state on this list to permit ferrets, though they allow dogs and cats in restaurant patios. The rest of their rules are fairly standard. This means they’re the only state that allows three species of restaurant pets.
Virginia is an interesting exception the trend of allowing restaurant pets. They allow dogs in breweries and winery tasting rooms but not in restaurants. The argument in favor of allowing dogs in these areas is that alcohol actually kills germs, and it is filtered to the microbe level at the final stages of production. In this way, having dogs in these spaces doesn’t present a contamination risk. Yet breweries and wine tasting rooms might serve food. And Virginia prohibits dogs in spaces where food is prepared or served. You could say they ban restaurant pets but let you have a pint with Fido.
Note that the list of states permitting restaurant pets has been growing rapidly. Many of the states on this list only decided to allow restaurant pets in the past five years. This suggests a slow trend toward allowing pets on restaurant patios.
How the Law Treats Restaurant Pets in the Rest of the Country
Where it isn’t permitted, it is prohibited. Restaurant owners will not want a dog or other pet on the premises if the government in their area doesn’t allow it. Why? Because they’ll be cited for violations of the health code if they let you bring a dog into restaurant. That could put them out of business. However, there are exceptions to the laws that say you cannot bring a dog into the restaurant. Let’s look at these exceptions in greater detail.
If you have a legitimate service animal, you’re generally allowed to bring the service animal with you into a retail establishment. For example, a blind or deaf person is allowed to bring the guide-dog or guide horse into the restaurant as long as it is not disrupting the business. This is actually legally required under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The service animal in this case must be allowed to come with you to the eating area. However, federal law bans the service animal from food preparation and food storage areas. There are gray areas such as whether the dog can walk with you up to the salad bar, though there is no problem if someone brings the plate of food to you.
Note that your emotional support animal is generally not included under the same regulations for restaurant pets.
Reasons Why Restaurant Pets Are the Exception, Not the Rule
There are many reasons why restaurants may refuse to allow pets. They don’t want to worry about other patrons being attacked by dogs. They may not want to hear dogs barking at traffic from the patio. They may not want to have to deal with the potential messes dogs may make, and if the pet vomits on the floor, it could cost them patrons even as their overworked staff are busy cleaning up the mess. The general rule is that dogs must be restricted to an outdoor patio; if your restaurant doesn’t have an outdoor patio, then you don’t have the option of letting patrons bring their pets.
Even places that permit pets in restaurants prohibit pets from:
• Food preparation surfaces or near any commercial kitchen equipment
• Food preparation areas
• Food storage areas
• Indoor dining areas
Banning pets from food preparation areas like the kitchen and food perpetration areas like wet bars to minimize the risk of germ and parasitic infection transmission. Banning pets from food storage areas is done for the same reason. Banning pets from dining areas and preventing them from coming through the front door protects people with allergies. Rules spelling out how pet messes are cleaned up and what chemicals are used are clearly in the name of public health. Rules requiring pets to be leashed, controlled and well-behaved are public safety issues. You can see from the legislative review that restaurants can refuse to permit pets on their property because they don’t want the obligation to clean up after animals. Furthermore, local and regional authorities can prevent a restaurant from permitting pets if they think there are public health and/or safety reasons to prohibit it. After all, it is unfair to order a business owner to accept restaurant pets they’re allergic to or afraid of.
Why Do Restaurants Want to Permit Pets?
Many pet owners are devoted to their pets. If they can bring the dog to sit out on the patio and enjoy a burger, they’re more likely to frequent that restaurant over another. And this is a fairly large demographic that will otherwise eat at home. If you can permit restaurant pets, you’ll be marketing to a devoted customer demographic that finds it hard to get service.
If they don’t have to rush home to let the dog out, they may stay longer. This typically translates into a larger food order via appetizers and desserts. Depending on where the restaurant is located, it may present the opportunity to sell edible dog treats in addition to food for human owners. Or you’ll attract dog walkers who want to sit down and relax with a beer and appetizer while their dog stares at the pedestrian traffic.
Allowing people to bring their pets may attract otherwise lonely individuals who don’t see a need to go out. These individuals are bringing their dog, because they don’t have a date or group of friends to go out with.
Restaurant pets are generally banned and heavily regulated where permitted out of concerns about public health and public safety. Where restaurant pets are allowed, both pet owners and business owners must follow a number of rules to be allowed to have pets on the property. Violating these rules is a violation of the health code, and that will get a restaurant shut down as soon as it is found out.