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.

Comments
  1. Dan

    Wendy,
    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?
    Thanks,
    Dan

  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?

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