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:  2017 Primary Citation:  Animal Legal & Historical Center 0 Country of Origin:  United States

This FAQ explores what states have laws concerning dogs in outdoor dining area of restaurants. About seven states have laws 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, in February 2017, Michigan legislators introduced a bill (S.B. 122/H.B. 4187) that would allow food service establishments to allow dogs in outdoor dining areas. Michigan is not alone in this type of law; in fact, there are about 8 states that have some sort of law addressing this issue:

  • California
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee

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. Administrative regulations dealing with public health may also affect the legality of bringing a dog to a restaurant.

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.

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 . . . "

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 the newest 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.

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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