Service dogs are invaluable to those who own them as they often allow people with disabilities to regain independence in their lives. However, service dogs can only be of use if they are allowed to accompany their handlers into businesses, including restaurants.
Whether you’re a restaurant owner or a person with a service dog, it is important to know the rights afforded to service animals by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As a service dog owner, you may, unfortunately, need to stand up for your and your dog’s rights.
As a restaurant operator, understanding service dog rights will prevent you from discriminating against persons with disabilities, which violates the ADA (and will also not look very good on Yelp – or possibly worse, a viral video). Restaurant owners must obey the law and avoid unjustly treating those with service dogs.
This article will answer all of the questions one might have regarding service dogs in restaurants.
What Is a Service Dog?
First of all, it is important to know what a service dog is so that you can understand just how vital they are to their handler’s well-being. When most people think of service dogs, they think of guide dogs for the blind, but service dogs can be trained to help with a plethora of different disabilities.
For example, medical alert dogs can warn someone up to 45 minutes before they will experience a seizure. Medical alert dogs can also be trained to identify dangerous drops in blood sugar or blood pressure.
Service dogs can also help people with mobility issues by providing extra stability and retrieving objects. For those with hearing impairments, service dogs can alert them to certain sounds. Some people with life-threatening allergies have service dogs that use their noses to identify these dangerous allergens and alert their handlers.
Service dogs aren’t just for physical disabilities, either. Psychiatric service dogs can be used by people with mental disorders such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and more. These dogs help their handlers by interrupting self-harm behaviors, providing grounding, making extra space or barriers between the handler and the public, offering deep pressure therapy, and much more.
As you can see, service dogs are vital to their handlers’ well-being. The official definition of a service dog, as provided by the ADA, is “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.”
Are Emotional Support Animals Service Dogs?
There can sometimes be confusion about the differences between emotional support animals (ESAs) and service dogs. Both fit under the umbrella of support or assistance animals, but their roles are very different.
Service dogs are highly trained and perform specific tasks that aid individuals with disabilities. Emotional support animals do not have to be trained and do not even have to be dogs. They do not perform any tasks but instead provide comfort through their presence to those suffering from mental health disorders.
Emotional support animals are not the same as psychiatric service dogs; in fact, ESAs are not service animals at all. As such, restaurants are not required to provide entry to ESAs.
Do Service Dogs Need Identification?
Restaurant owners may wonder how to identify a service dog, whereas service dog owners may wonder if they need to bring some sort of identification or certification with them before entering a restaurant.
Service dogs are not required by federal law to have any official certification or documentation; as such, service dog owners do not have to bring any paperwork when visiting a restaurant. For the same reason, restaurant owners cannot ask for documentation that a dog is a service dog.
Restaurant operators are allowed to ask only two questions:
- Is the animal a service animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
It is not permissible for the restaurant owner to ask any other questions, including questions regarding the nature of the individual’s disability. Business owners also may not require a service dog to perform tasks.
Do Service Dogs Need to Wear Vests?
Some service dogs will wear vests denoting that they are service animals. This can help others identify the dog’s purpose so they know it is a working dog and to leave it alone.
The ADA does not require service dogs to be wearing vests, collars, leashes, or any other physical type of identification. However, some states have laws that do require service dogs to be wearing such identification, so you will want to look up your own state’s laws.
If an animal enters a restaurant with or without any such identification, it is permissible for the owner or staff to ask the questions listed above.
Do Service Dogs Need to Be on a Leash?
Just as service dogs do not need to wear vests, they also do not need to be on a leash. This is because some service dogs may perform tasks that are hindered by leashes.
Service dogs that are not leashed should be able to be controlled by their handlers via vocal or physical cues (or other relevant training). Restaurant operators cannot ask for service dogs to be leashed unless the dog is acting out in some way, such as by ignoring their handler and disturbing other guests.
Are Service Dogs Allowed in Restaurants?
Yes, service dogs are allowed in restaurants. Restaurants are required by the ADA to allow entrance to people with disabilities and their service dogs. Refusing to do so is discriminatory and a violation of the ADA.
Are Service Dogs Allowed in Restaurants With No Pet Policies?
Even if a restaurant has signs posted stating that pets are not allowed within the establishment, these rules do not apply to service dogs. This is because service dogs are not pets. Instead, they are working animals whose skills may even be life-saving to the person they are assisting.
Are Banned Breeds Allowed in Restaurants?
Some states or counties may have bans on certain breeds, meaning that citizens living in those areas are not allowed to own those breeds. However, these laws do not apply to service dogs.
The ADA does not have any restrictions on what breeds can become service dogs, so even commonly banned breeds can work as service dogs. Furthermore, the ADA protects the rights of all service dogs, including banned breeds. Therefore, even locally banned breeds are allowed in restaurants if they are service dogs.
Can a Service Dog Be Removed From a Restaurant?
If a service dog poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others within the restaurant, then it may be removed. Examples include growling or attempting to bite other guests and urinating or defecating inside the restaurant.
If the service dog must be made to leave, the restaurant should still offer to serve the owner without the dog present. If the person with the disability is unable to be without their service dog, restaurants can offer to provide takeout instead.
Remember that banned breeds are allowed in restaurants if they are service dogs. Stereotypes are not a valid reason for removing a service dog from the premises. The dog must actually act in a vicious manner before it can be removed.
Where Can Service Dogs Go Within a Restaurant?
Service dogs are permitted in any area of a restaurant where the general public can go. This typically includes waiting areas, dining areas, and restrooms. Service dogs are not permitted to go into the kitchens or any other employee-only areas.
What if Local Healthcare Laws Prohibit Animals in Restaurants?
Some local healthcare laws may prohibit animals in restaurants out of concern for hygiene. However, these laws do not apply to service dogs.
What if Other Guests Are Allergic to Dogs?
If there is a customer who expresses that they are allergic to dogs, this customer should be offered a seat as far away from the service dog as possible. This is not a cause for removing the dog from the premises. If the service dog’s owner has not yet been served their food, you may also ask them if they are willing to be moved to a seat further away from the person with allergies.
Now that you know the ins and outs of service dogs in restaurants, you may have some lingering questions.
What Do Restaurants Need to Provide to Service Dogs?
Restaurants are not required to provide service dogs with anything. The staff may offer to bring the dog a bowl of water if they wish, but the service dog’s owner is the only one responsible for the dog’s needs.
Though restaurants are not required to provide service dogs with food and water, it is worthwhile to seat the handler in an area where the service dog has ample room to lay under or next to the table without blocking walkways. Some service dogs, especially those that guide the blind or offer mobility assistance, are large and may need a little extra space.
Can Restaurant Staff or Customers Pet Service Dogs?
Staff and customers should refrain from interacting with service dogs unless expressly given permission to do so. Service dogs are working animals, so petting them can distract them from their duties.
Can Service Dog Owners Be Charged Any Fees?
No, service dog owners cannot be charged any fees for bringing their dogs onto the premises, even if there is a no-pets policy. The only instance in which a fee could be charged would be if the dog somehow damages the property.
Should this occur, the service dog owner can only be charged a fee if the same fee would be applied to any other customer who damages property (that is to say, the fee cannot discriminate against the service dog handler).
State Law vs. the Americans With Disabilities Act
You may find that laws in your state differ from those detailed by the Americans With Disabilities Act. Wherever possible, one should follow both state law and the ADA. However, the ADA is a federal law that takes precedence over state law.
Service Dogs Are Allowed in Restaurants
As you can see, service dog owners are allowed to enjoy a meal at a restaurant with their dogs in tow. This is their right, and it is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
They are allowed in any area of the restaurant where the general public can go and don’t require any identification unless indicated by local laws. The only instance in which a service dog can be removed from a restaurant is when it poses a threat to the safety of others.
Knowing these rights is important for service dog owners so that they might stand up for themselves in any instance of injustice or discrimination. Additionally, restaurant owners should know these rights to ensure they treat all patrons fairly.