Full Title Name:  FAQ: Dogs in Restaurants

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Rebecca F. Wisch Place of Publication:  Michigan State University College of Law Publish Year:  2021 Primary Citation:  Animal Legal & Historical Center 0 Country of Origin:  United States
Summary: This FAQ explores what states have laws concerning dogs in outdoor dining area of restaurants. As of 2020, 17 states have laws or administrative regulations that allow patrons to bring pet dogs to outdoor dining spaces in restaurants. Some laws require that the local unit of government first enact an ordinance allowing the activity.

Dear Animal Legal & Historical Center,

I am hoping you can help me with this issue. I am wondering whether dogs are allowed in the outdoor dining area of restaurants in my state. Sometimes, when I'm out walking my dog, I want to stop for a quick bite to eat, but don't know if I can bring my dog. Can you help?


Dining with Fido


Dear Dining with Fido,

Thank you for writing. You ask an interesting and popular question. In fact, as of 2020, there are about 17 states total that allow dogs in outdoor patios areas of restaurants by state law or through administrative regulation. This breaks down to 12 states that have a law allowing dogs (or other animals) in outdoor dining areas and 6 states that do the same through state regulations (which have the force of law). Note that Virginia appears twice on this list. Here is the breakdown of states (and also see our Map of Dogs in Outdoor Dining):

  • California (law)
  • Florida (law)
  • Georgia (regulation)
  • Illinois (law)
  • Kentucky (regulation)
  • Maryland (law)
  • Minnesota (law)
  • New Mexico (law)
  • New York (law)
  • North Carolina (regulation)
  • Oklahoma (regulation)
  • Ohio (law)
  • Rhode Island (law)
  • South Carolina (regulation)
  • Tennessee (law)
  • Texas (law)
  • Virginia (law and regulation)

Before going into state laws, keep in mind that there may be other laws in addition to state law. Local units of government like cities and counties can enact ordinances/laws that deal with dogs in outdoor restaurants. The only exception would be where state law prohibits this entirely (see New Hampshire for instance). Oftentimes, state legislatures feel that local government is better-equipped to deal with such issues because those electors understand the unique character and attitudes of their cities/counties.

The other thing to consider is that these laws DO NOT apply to service animals. Service animals, defined by federal law as dogs (and sometimes miniature horses) who do work or perform tasks for individuals with disabilities, are allowed in places of public accommodation. This essentially means a government building or public place like a business, museum, hotel, or restaurant. Unless service animals are disrupting the business/restaurant or other exceptions to the federal law apply (like food storage or preparation areas), they would be allowed into any dining area.

Let's look at these laws in chronological order from when they were enacted and examine some of their provisions.

States that allow pets in outdoor dining areas by law

Florida may have been the first state to enact a law on dogs in restaurants in 2006. The law allows a local unit of government to adopt an ordinance that acts as an exemption to the state's Food and Drug Administration Food Code. Once the local exemption is passed, a restaurant can apply for a permit to allow dogs in the outdoor dining spaces. Certain things must be included in the ordinance such as:

  • a requirement that employees wash their hands after touching pet dogs and prohibitions from touching dogs while preparing or serving food
  • a reminder to patrons to wash their hands after touching dogs (waterless hand sanitizer must be provided at all tables in the designated outdoor area)
  • rules that patrons shall keep their dogs on leashes at all times and under reasonable control
  • a prohibition against dogs on chairs, tables, or other furnishings
  • signs that inform patrons and employees of the rules
  • provisions to clean up and sanitize areas that contact pet waste. The law also states that "[a] kit with the appropriate materials for this purpose shall be kept near the designated outdoor area."
  • rules against dogs traveling through indoor areas of the restaurant even when entering or exiting the restaurant

There are also reporting requirements by the local governments to the State of Florida under the law. The city or county must also have a system in place to document and respond to complaints.

Illinois' law (2008) requires that a locality first establishes an ordinance allowing dogs in outdoor dining areas. Municipalities with populations of 1,000,000 or more may enact ordinances that allow dogs in outdoor dining areas of restaurants. The ordinances must provide that: "(i) no companion dog shall be present in the interior of any restaurant or in any area where food is prepared; and (ii) the restaurant shall have the right to refuse to serve the owner of a companion dog if the owner fails to exercise reasonable control over the companion dog or the companion dog is otherwise behaving in a manner that compromises or threatens to compromise the health or safety of any person present in the restaurant . . . "

Minnesota's law (2008) is similar to Illinois. It allows a statutory or home rule charter city to adopt an ordinance permitting food and beverage service establishments to allow dogs to accompany persons patronizing designated outdoor areas. The law describes the permitting process that establishments must first undergo. At a minimum, the ordinance must include the following five requirements, which must be posted conspicuously on a sign at the premises: (1) employees must be prohibited from touching, petting, or otherwise handling dogs; (2) employees and patrons must not allow dogs to come into contact with serving dishes, utensils, tableware, linens, paper products, or any other items involved in food service operations; (3) patrons must keep their dogs on a leash at all times and must keep their dogs under reasonable control; (4) dogs must not be allowed on chairs, tables, or other furnishings; and (5) dog waste must be cleaned immediately and the area sanitized.

Tennessee's law (adopted in 2009) is a bit more rigid in its restrictions. The law only applies to certain counties and municipalities (those with higher populations). That locality must then adopt a law (an ordinance) that establishes a permitting process for restaurant owners to allow dogs in outdoor dining spaces. There are certain things that must be contained in the ordinance:

  • dogs cannot be present in the interior of the restaurant or where food is prepared
  • employees must wash their hands after touching pet dogs and may not touch the dogs while handling or serving food
  • there must be a sign informing restaurant employees and patrons of the rules
  • patrons must keep their dogs leashed and under reasonable control at all times
  • the dogs are not allowed on chairs or other furnishings
  • accidents from pet dogs must be cleaned and sanitized, and "a kit with the appropriate materials for this purpose shall be kept near the designated outdoor area"

Maryland adopted a law in 2011 that gives restaurant owners discretion to allow dogs to accompany patrons in outdoor dining areas of restaurants. Essentially, it is up to the restaurant owner. Before establishing this policy, the restaurant owner must give the local health department at least 30 days’ notice. The owner must also display visible notice to patrons that dogs are allowed in the outdoor dining area. The size and type of dog permitted may be established by the owner.

New Mexico's law was also enacted in 2011 and is very similar. A restaurant or other food service establishment may allow pet dogs in designated outdoor dining areas if:

  • no pet dog goes to any area where food is prepared;
  • patrons keep their pet dogs on a leash at all times and under reasonable control;
  • pet dogs stay off the chairs, tables, or other furnishings; and
  • a sign that conforms to the law's specifications is posted to place the public on notice that the designated outdoor dining area is available for the use of patrons with pet dogs.

In addition, the law states that a restaurant may prohibit dogs in outdoor dining spaces. The restaurant also has the "right to refuse to serve the owner of a pet dog if the owner fails to exercise reasonable control over the pet dog or the pet dog is otherwise behaving in a manner that compromises or threatens to compromise the health or safety of any person present in the restaurant."

Patrons may not bring the dog through the indoor dining space to enter or exit the restaurant. The dog must also be leashed and supervised at all times. Notably, the patron bringing the dog is liable for any damages caused by the dog to the restaurant or any other patron of the restaurant.

In 2014, California added amendments to its law on "Live Animals" in the Retail Food Code related to pet dogs in outdoor dining areas. If a food establishment owner allows it, patrons may bring their pet dogs to an outdoor dining area if requirements are met. Like other states, there must be an outdoor entrance, employees must wash hands if they touch the dogs, dogs must be leashed and under control, pet waste must be properly dealt with, and "food and water provided to pet dogs shall only be in single-use disposable containers." This last provision is interesting because it considers the needs of the canine customers.

New York's law was adopted in 2015. This statute allows” companion dogs" in an outdoor dining area at a food service establishment if the owner allows it. The owner can also establish any other restrictions in addition to those provided in the law. While the law mimics other states, it does have some unique provisions. A separate outdoor entrance must be available for the companion dog to enter the dining area and, like California, "food and water provided to companion dogs shall only be in single-use disposable containers."

Rhode Island has a recent law. In July of 2016, a law enabling restaurant owners to allow a patron's dog to accompany the patron in the outdoor dining area during the hours designated by the owner of the restaurant became effective. The law is very similar to Maryland's by giving the restaurateur the ability to regulate the size and type of dog entering the area. The owner may also deny entry to the restaurant and can eject any patron accompanied by a dog at his or her own discretion. Signage explaining the policy and rules must be visibly posted.

Ohio enacted its law in 2018, which allows a retail food establishment or food service operation to allow patrons to bring dogs to outdoor dining area of the establishment or operation in accordance with this section. The establishment who allows dogs must do the following: (1) adopt a policy that requires patrons to control their dog, whether with a leash or otherwise, while the dog is in the outdoor dining area; (2) not allow the person to take the dog into the outdoor dining area through any of the establishment's or operation's indoor areas; and (3) comply with sanitation and other standards of Ohio codes. Dogs brought to outdoor dining areas must be properly vaccinated in accordance with state and local laws.

Virginia amended a law in 2018 that states that no animal shall be permitted in any area used for the manufacture or storage of food products. However, a dog may be allowed in designated areas of a distillery, winery, or brewery as defined in the law. In addition, the state has a regulation dealing with dogs in restaurants (see below).

Texas now stands as the newest state to enact a law in 2019. The new law allows food establishments to permit customers to have dogs in outdoor dining areas under certain conditions. Among other things, the restaurant must post a conspicuous sign informing patrons that dogs are permitted, create access so dogs do not enter the interior of the restaurant, require customers to keep dogs on leashes and off tables and chairs, and make sure there is no food preparation in the dog-friendly dining area. A municipality may not adopt or enforce an ordinance, rule, or similar measure that imposes a requirement on a food service establishment for a dog in an outdoor dining area that is more stringent than the requirements listed in the statute.

States that allow pets into outdoor dining by regulation


This Georgia regulation has an exception for dogs in outdoor dining areas in the subsection of the regulation that prohibits animals in food service establishments. Subsection (5)(o)(vi) states that pet dogs may be allowed in outside dining areas of a food establishment provided patrons access the area from the outdoors and several other conditions are met. Pet dogs must not come into contact with any serving dishes, utensils, or tableware nor are they allowed on chairs, tables, or other furnishings. Employees and consumers must not provide food to pet dogs. The pet dogs must be kept on a leash and under control of the consumer at all times. At no time is the pet dog allowed to travel through the interior portion of the food service establishment. The establishment must also establish processes for training employees not to handle or pet the dogs and a procedure and equipment for the clean up of pet waste.


This Kentucky regulation provides an exception for dogs in outdoor dining areas to the Kentucky food code. A dog may be allowed in the outdoor dining area if that area is not fully enclosed and there is a separate entrance to the outdoor dining area. Employees must prevent the dog from coming into contact with any food, dishes, utensils, linens, and other food service items. If the employee comes into contact with the patron dog, that employee must wash hands before returning to work. A sanitizing kit for dog messes must be made available in the area. Signage must be posted at entrances to the outdoor dining area explaining that dogs may be allowed, but they must are not allowed on seats or tables or must not be served from human food or water receptacles. Also, dogs must be kept on a leash and under control of an adult at all times. The food establishment may refuse to serve the patron with a dog if he or she fails to exercise reasonable control over the dog or the dog is behaving in a manner that comprises the health and safety of others.


This Oklahoma regulation relates to animals in food establishments. Subsection (d) states that dogs and cats may be allowed in outdoor dining areas, provided the dog or cat is controlled by the owner or handler of the animal and nine conditions are met. Among the conditions include a requirement for a separate entrance to the outdoor dining area, a prohibition on direct contact with the animals by employees, a process to keep the area clean from animal excrement, and a requirement that food and water receptacles for the animals be single-use, disposable containers.

North Carolina

This North Carolina regulation makes amendments to the Food Code related to dogs and cats in outdoor dining areas. Dogs and cats are allowed in outdoor dining areas provided the dogs or cats are physically restrained and do not pass through the indoor area of the food establishment. All live animals, including pet cats and dogs, are not permitted to come into physical contact with any serving food, serving dishes, tableware, linens, utensils, or other food service items. Employees of a food establishment who prepare or handle food must not physically contact any live animals.

South Carolina

This South Carolina regulation concerns outdoor dining with pets. The regulation first defines pets as domesticated cats, dogs, and ferrets. A retail food service establishment may allow customers to be accompanied by pets in an outdoor dining area provided the retail food service establishment complies with the requirements of this section and all other applicable sections of this regulation. Among other requirements include availability of cleaning supplies and sanitizers in the outdoor pet dining area, signage indicating that the area is "pet dining friendly," a separate outdoor entrance to the dining area, a requirement that owners keep pets restrained at all times, and a prohibition on pets on the table, countertop, or other food contact surface.


This Virginia regulation states that dogs may be allowed in outdoor dining areas if: (1) the outdoor dining area is not enclosed with floor-to-ceiling walls; (2) there is a separate entrance; (3) there is a sign at the main entrance stating that dogs are allowed in the outdoor dining area that is easily observable by the public; (3) food and water provided to dogs is served using equipment not used for human food service or is put in single-use receptacles; (4) dogs are not allowed to sit on chairs, benches, seats, or tables; (5) dogs are kept on a leash or within a pet carrier and under the control of adults at all times; (6) the establishment provides a means for picking up dog messes; and (7) there is a sign outlining some of these requirements observable to the public.

Prohibitions on bringing a dog to dinner

Finally, New Hampshire takes a completely opposite approach from the above laws. Section 466:44 states that, " . . . no person shall bring any animal into any restaurant or any store that sells food; and no person shall allow any animal to enter in any store that sells food, except for service animals as provided in RSA 167-D. Whoever violates the provisions of this paragraph shall be guilty of a violation."

Interestingly, a New Hampshire restaurant owner may allow his or her "properly disciplined companion dog" inside his or her food establishment, as long as it does not go in food preparation areas. However, a restaurant owner allowing his or her companion dog must “prominently display a sign at all public entrances” letting patrons know that his or her dog is allowed on the premises and that the dog will be removed from parts of the establishment where members of the public are present if a patron with a service animal is present.

As people do more socializing with their pets, states have begun to recognize this through changes to certain laws. The country is certainly changing with how companion animals are viewed, even at mealtime.

Thanks again for your question,
Rebecca Wisch
Associate Editor
Animal Legal & Historical Center

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