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Doggie Dining - Making Sense of the Confusion

by Tara and Len  Kain

Dog-Friendly Restaurant Information

- Doggie Dining - Making sense of the confusion

- Want to Open an Indoor Dog-Friendly "Restaurant"? Here are some Ideas.

People who travel with their dogs and take them around town have probably dined at an outdoor restaurant, coffee shop or fast food restaurant with their pooch. While U.S. state health codes usually ban pet dogs from the inside seating areas of restaurants, there is often the question of whether or not dogs are allowed at outdoor dining areas. has investigated this situation, including Federal, state and local  laws, and whether or not it is legal to dine outside at a restaurant with a dog.

Restaurant health laws, whether administrative or statute, originate at the state level. There are no Federal laws that apply to the issue of dogs in restaurants with the exception of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that restaurants allow service and guide dogs at indoor and outdoor dining areas. The only other major Federal contribution to the restaurant health codes is a recommendation by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called the FDA Food Code. This code is updated every four years. It is very important to note that this code is not a law but a recommendation. It is similar to the Center of Disease Control's (CDC) recommendation, not a requirement, that the general public get annual flu shots. No food establishment can be fined or punished based on the FDA Food Code recommendation. No Federal law makes it illegal to bring a pet animal to the outdoor or indoor areas of a restaurant. The FDA Food Code is important to this  discussion because many states have included parts of the code into their health code laws. The state laws actually govern the operation of food establishments in a state. While many state codes include or incorporate the FDA Food Code, every state can and often does make its own modifications to the FDA Food Code to match its pre-existing statutes.

Each state may have different laws at the state level and different implementations of the inspection process. For example in the state of Florida, all local inspections are done by health inspectors employed by the state. 



- There are no Federal laws prohibiting dogs at restaurants. The FDA Food Code is a recommendation, not a law. Federal Law requires restaurants to allow service dogs for the handicapped  both inside and outside.

- State laws govern the restaurant health codes. Not the Federal Government. Many States incorporate parts of the FDA Food Code into their laws.

- If a state doesn't allow dogs at outdoor restaurants then cities or counties in most states may allow it locally by issuing a variance (exception) to the state code. Cities may implement these variances through an ordinance or simply through the health department. Variances can be allowed for all restaurants or individually.

- Even if allowed by law the final decision is up to the restaurant owner who may choose to allow or not allow dogs.

Best States for Outdoor Dog-Friendly Restaurants:
1. California
2. Florida

Best Cities in Other States for Outdoor Dog-Friendly Restaurants because of local ordinances or variances:
1. Austin, TX
2. Alexandria, VA

In most other states, health inspectors are employed at the local level, by the city or county. Some states, such as California, require that the local governments use the state food establishment laws as written by the state. Other states may allow local governments to strengthen the laws. Most states allow for a local government or health department to issue a variance. A variance is usually requested by a restaurant to their local health department, and can be used to exempt a restaurant from any part of the health code. For example, if a health code does not allow customers to enter into a restaurant kitchen, a variance could be issued to a restaurant that has customer bathrooms accessible only by a customer walking through the kitchen. Similarly, a variance can be used to allow dogs in outdoor (or even indoor)  restaurant seating areas. In order to get a variance approved, it typically  requires that some additional steps be taken by the restaurant to  prevent whatever harm the code is designed to prevent. For example, to allow dogs in outdoor seating areas, a local health department may require that servers wash their hands after serving a table with a dog if they touched or patted the dog. In addition to variances issued to individual restaurants, a sort of global or standardized variance can be issued by a city or county. This has been done to allow dogs in outdoor restaurants in Alexandria, VA in 2004. This can also be accomplished by passing a local ordinance as was done by Austin, TX in 2006. Most states have a general variance process that is allowed. Therefore, most cities or counties could allow dogs in outdoor dining areas by issuing a variance or passing a city ordinance - regardless of the state dog policy and without legislation at the state level.

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Want to Open an Indoor Dog-Friendly "Restaurant"? Here are some Ideas.

Hey, wait a minute. We know that in Europe dogs can go inside restaurants but this is not allowed in North America. So what's the deal? True, you can't have an indoor dog-friendly restaurant in the U.S. or Canada, but, depending on where you are located there might be some options that can be considered. Please check with your local health department before trying  these ideas.

1. Get a Variance - You can apply for a variance (exception) through  your local health inspector to open an indoor restaurant that allows dogs. This will very likely not be granted unless you make significant design changes to a normal restaurant to separate the dogs from the food preparation and serving areas. Even so, many local health departments may not likely allow this. An example of an idea to make it plausible to the health department would be a separate eating area from the kitchen area (with only a window to pass food through, similar to a fast food drive-thru window). In this respect, it more like having two separate businesses, side by side - a club for dogs and a take-out restaurant next door.

2. Have a well-designed outdoor restaurant for year round comfort. If your city or state allows dogs at outdoor seating areas you may be able to set up a covered, and partially, to nearly fully enclosed patio with décor, heaters, cooling and whatever else you want in the way of comfort and ambiance. You will not be able to fully enclose the patio and it will need to have a fully closing door between it and the main restaurant or serving area in order to still be considered outdoors.

3. Open a Bar or Coffee and Drink Cafe. Bars that do not serve food except for pre-packaged snacks like pretzels and potato chips, in many cases, can allow dogs inside in many places. Depending on where you are located, this may be an option. But beware, sometimes it doesn't take much in the way of munchies to qualify as a restaurant.

4. Open a Dog Club. Many Health Codes do not apply to private clubs where people pay dues for a monthly or annual membership. If you only allow members, and not the public at large, you may be outside of the jurisdiction of the food establishment health codes of some areas. You may want to have another purpose for your club, such as a TV room with Satellite TV, music or dog training or play areas.

5. Bypass the Restaurant Health Codes Entirely with a Delivery Only Food Menu. You design a hall with seats and tables, ambiance and maybe entertainment like music or TVs. You do not have a kitchen but have the menus of a nearby restaurant or multiple restaurants. Your customers order food from the menu to be delivered from the nearby restaurant as to go food or bring the food themselves. You can probably serve drinks and may be able to serve packaged snacks yourself.



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Do you take your dog with you to outdoor restaurants?

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Before you visit an establishment or place, please contact them and verify that they are still dog-friendly and available, as policies and management change frequently. All places listed on require your dog to be leashed and under your direct control unless specified  otherwise by an establishments (including parks and beaches) management. Please be aware of local Breed-Specific Laws that may be in place where you are visiting. The information on this site is not a recommendation., Inc. makes no warranties or representations of any kind, express or implied, as to the operation of the site or the information, content, materials, or products included on this site. If you find an establishment that no longer allows dogs, please let us know so that we may remove them from our list. For full Rules and Regulations for Use of This Site, including the legal disclaimer and copyright notices,  click here before using the site

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