Restaurant customers love sitting outdoors to enjoy some fresh air, sunshine, and beautiful views as they dine. Some customers also see it as an opportunity to share a meal with a furry companion. More and more communities are now allowing restaurants to welcome their patrons’ dogs in outdoor seating areas. While most local health codes do not allow dogs inside restaurants, no federal laws prohibit dogs from being on restaurant grounds. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does require restaurants to allow service and guide dogs in both indoor and outdoor dining areas.
For many restaurant employees and customers, having a dog nearby is a benign or even enjoyable experience. However, if a patron or employee suffers an injury from a dog bite or has an allergic reaction, your restaurant could be held liable. If your restaurant is considering allowing dogs on your outdoor patio or eating area, here are some actions to take to help reduce your exposure:
- Check with your state, city, or town’s ordinances on dogs in open-air outdoor seating in restaurants as well as those ordinances related to sidewalks, public nuisance, and sanitation.
- Check with the local and state health department for additional regulations.
- Require that owners keep their dogs on a leash. Post a sign with clear wording that the dog must be on a leash and under the owner’s control at all times.
- Designate a specific area for dogs in case customers or employees are allergic.
- Maintain a separate entrance to the outdoor dining area so that pets do not enter through the restaurant. Do not allow food preparation in the outdoor dining area, including the dispensing/mixing of drinks and ice.
- Establish timely and effective cleaning protocols to address pet “accidents.”
Additionally, train your employees to:
- Never touch or pet dogs.
- Not allow dogs to sit on chairs or tables.
- Not permit dogs to eat from restaurant dishes, tableware, or glasses unless they are disposable.
- Require that dogs are tied to chairs and not tables to avoid spilled food and drinks that may cause slipping hazards.
- Require that dogs do not block the paths of servers or customers.
If you decide to allow dogs on your restaurant premises, be sure to establish and follow clear protocols and rules so everyone can have a safe and enjoyable dining experience.