Can a Restaurant Refuse a Service Dog?

Service DogNo, restaurants cannot refuse to admit anyone using a service dog, and must allow the service dog to accompany them. This law, however, assumes that, as a service dog, the service animal will be on its best behavior.

If at any time the dog’s presence becomes a hygiene concern for the restaurant, or becomes a behavioral problem, the patron and their service canine may be asked to leave the restaurant. In this case, the disruption is handled no differently than any other customer that creates a scene or causes a problem within the restaurant that could detract from business.

The law also only protects disabled persons with legitimate service animals. This does not include companion dogs, those who perform emotional services, and the like. The dog must perform a specific physical service for a person with a medical condition or physical disability that limits them in some way.

What are health regulations regarding dogs in restaurants?

The FDA Food Code, which is a set of recommended guidelines and not a federal law, states that animals cannot be allowed inside the premises at any location that prepares, serves, or sells food.

Health laws, as they relate to animals in eateries, actually originate at the state level, and vary significantly from state to state. While some states do include the FDA’s requirements in their food-related public health policies, others have created exclusions to make food-related business establishments more pet friendly.

Many have now begun allowing pets to accompany owners at outdoor cafes, and others have allowed them into the main dining area. However, laws consistently prevent the animals from passing through any area where the food is prepared or stored.

What laws protect the customer’s right to use a service dog in a restaurant?

The American with Disabilities Act, more commonly known as the ADA, guarantees disabled Americans using a service dog admittance into any restaurant. The law is designed to protect those with disabilities from having limited access to public venues.

Denying a disabled individual using a service dog entrance is a violation of their civil rights, and can result in fines, lawsuits, and more. For example, in Florida, denying a disabled person and their service dog entrance into any area of public use is considered a second-degree misdemeanor, and can carry a sentence of up to 60 days in jail, and a $500 fine. Punishment then escalates each time a person, or business, is found to be a repeat offender.

The person with the disability should be seated just as if the service animal were not with them. They cannot be segregated from other customers. Restaurants cannot charge a mandatory service charge, a damage deposit, or any other fees related to the service animal’s presence.

The restaurant is in no way liable for anything that the dog does while in the restaurant. The owner assumes full responsibility for the actions of the dog, including any damages caused by the dog. For example, if a service dog should bite another guest, the liability would fall on the dog owner, not the restaurant.

How can restaurant owners identify legal service dogs?

A restaurant owner cannot require a guest to prove that their dog is a service dog, rather than a pet. In fact, in most states the number and type of questions that a restaurant owner can ask are limited. Most commonly, the dog owner can be asked if the service dog provides service related to a disability, and what tasks the dog performs for the owner.

Most dogs will be identified by their service dog vest, but there are other ways to tell if a dog is truly a service animal or just a pet. This will make it easier to decide which customers are validly asking for a restaurant to break its “No Pet” policy, without making a disabled guest uncomfortable.

First, try to assess the guest. If they are clearly disabled, there is little reason to doubt that the dog is actually an important service provider. For example, you can quickly assess whether or not a consumer is deaf or blind, and in need of a service animal.

The individual’s need will not always be obvious, however. For example, it has become common for those suffering from severe epilepsy to use service dogs to warn them when a seizure is about to occur. Specially trained service animals can sense the oncoming seizure and help the person get into a safe position before it begins.

The owner should be able to tell you what the dog is trained to do for them. To be a service dog, they cannot simply provide companionship. They must complete a specific task.

Finally, a real service dog will not come with any kind of identification. People who are truly disabled and regularly travel with a service animal know that there is no reason to carry such identification, as they are not required by the law and a business owner cannot ask to see one. If a person presents you with an I.D., then look it over closely, because chances are very good that it is a fake.

  1. Dan

    What about service dogs that are “in training”? A restaurant near my house permits a patron with a dog whose sign reads “Service dog in training”. First, is the restaurant required to allow the dog to enter, and second, how is it possible to know that this dog isn’t simply a pet with a homemade sign?

  2. Speedqueen

    You have one piece of information WRONG. You said, “Finally, a real service dog will not come with any kind of identification. People who are truly disabled and regularly travel with a service animal know that there is no reason to carry such identification, as they are not required by the law and a business owner cannot ask to see one. If a person presents you with an I.D., then look it over closely, because chances are very good that it is a fake.” This information is WRONG. I have an uncle who has a service dog and this dog does indeed have I.D., paperwork, and a vest proving that his animal is a service animal. My uncle is required to make sure that Woody, the dog, has this with him AT ALL TIMES!

  3. Allergies

    What about the rights of people that are allergic to dogs? Are their rights not as important as the people using service dogs?

  4. Baylee


    Coming from a person who has severe panic attacks that happen with little to no warning, severe social anxiety, and PTSD, I carry an ID for my dog incase I am having an episode and people know not to separate us. Even with my service dog’s gear, (vest, ‘working’ leash, two leash wraps that clearly state that he is working and he’s not to be disturbed) I still get bombarded by people left and right. For my conditions, this sets me back in progress, I put some blame on posts like this saying that just because my service dog has an ID, he is not real.

    And to answer the question about the allergies, the ADA states that fears and allergies are no reason that a service dog cannot enter any place, how ever, you can ask to move to the other side of the establishment, or bring it up to staff and they should be able to CALMLY ask the person with the service dog to move. For me, it’s no big deal. I move if the person was there first.

  5. Kathryn

    My issue isn’t the dog, but the owner. My guest lets the dog sit on its own chair and she feeds it from the table. Is there anything wrong with asking the owner not to feed the dog in the restaurant?

  6. Alan Pickard

    I ve noticed many customers now bring dogs to shop with them , like the Home Depot , if a dogs behavior were to cause an accident or injury who would be liable ? Is this identical to the restaurant scenario earlier where dog owner (s) would be responsible ? In the Home Depot example the business permits pets and it is not mandated for special needs or disability..
    Thanks for your answer

  7. Sara

    So basically you are saying anybody can come and saying this is service dog and enter the businesses and you can’t ask anything from them and let them eat. That is ridiculous. Animals carry so many parasites and viruses to inflict people with cancers. What about them? what if customers don’t want dine with dogs and leaves that’s restaurant. The restaurant loses the business. So many people saying this the service dog lately and coming to eat to restaurants. This is getting out of hand. If the blind deaf and people in the wheel chair we understand them they really need it. But perfectly healthy looking people comes saying this service dog. We need to think about not losing business here. In my restaurant so many people doesn’t like to eat next to the dog.

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  10. Restaurant Owner

    This is ridiculous ! We as business owners have no right to ask for ID ? So what are our rights as restaurant owners we have non?

    • tina flores

      I work in a restaurant in Texas, and today someone came in with a service dog. The dog had no vest. She was told no dogs allowed in the resataurant, she rudely replied that it was service. She said it was a “support dog”. However she was’nt holding the dog(it was a small dog). There was another woman with her holding it. How are we supposed to know these things without obvious identification?

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