The FDA’s updated food code, issued late last year, says restaurants can have dogs outside if they get approval from a local regulatory agency.
Just in time for summer dining season, the US government has given its blessing to restaurants wanting to allow dogs in their outdoor areas.
But even though almost half of the states already allow dogs to eat outside, the problem is far from solved as many inns and restaurants are resisting the increasing presence of pooches.
For decades, restaurants have been required to allow service dogs. However, according to Michigan State University’s Animal Legal and Historical Center, some states — including Florida and Illinois — didn’t start passing laws allowing dogs in outdoor dining areas until the mid-2000s. There are now such laws or regulations in 23 states.
But the legal landscape is confusing. Michigan law, for example, doesn’t allow dogs in outdoor dining areas, but allows restaurants to apply for a special permit with their county health department.
In 2020, the Conference for Food Protection — a group of food industry and health experts that advises the government — called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue guidance for states. It cited a 2012 risk assessment in Australia and New Zealand that found the health risk from dogs to human guests was very low.
The FDA’s updated food code, issued late last year, says restaurants can have dogs outside if they get approval from a local regulatory agency. Restaurants should put up “Dogs Welcome” signs and develop plans for handling dogs and their waste. You should ensure dogs remain properly restrained and provide separate food bowls so dogs do not use plates or utensils intended for humans.
The new guidelines come at a time when pet ownership is on the rise in the United States. According to the American Pet Products Association, nearly 87 million US households now own a pet, up from 85 million in 2019.
And experts say more and more people are looking for places to eat that cater to their dogs. Yelp searches for businesses using the “Dogs Allowed” filter increased 58% between the year ended May 1, 2021 and the year ended May 1, 2023. A total of 47,415 businesses on Yelp, the company, now describe themselves as “dog-friendly.” says.
“Younger pet owners, Millennials and Generation Z, have incredibly strong bonds with their pets and are ready to respond,” said Steven Feldman, president of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute. “They are more likely to seek out and express a preference for animal-friendly businesses.”
Monty Hobbs, the executive director of a digital marketing agency in Washington, can often be found on the patios of local restaurants with Mattox, his five-year-old terrier and miniature schnauzer mix. Some waiters even bring Mattox bacon bits.
Hobbs stresses that he doesn’t take Mattox everywhere. “He’s my dog. He’s not my kid,” he said.
But Mattox is a good guy, he said, so it’s nice to know they could stop by a neighborhood bar on a walk.
At Zazie, a San Francisco bistro, Monday diners get $10 off a bottle of wine if they bring their dogs, who get treats donated by the pet store across the street.
“It’s great for business. “People really enjoy taking their dog with them,” said Megan Cornelius, co-owner of Zazie.
But other restaurants say no to Fido.
The Salty Dog Café in Hilton Head, South Carolina, allowed dogs on its patio when it opened in 1987. But two years later they were banned. Too many dogs barked during meals, fought, lay on sidewalks and stole hot dogs from children’s plates, says Tim Stearns, CEO of Salty Dog.
If guests object, the Salty Dog directs them to a separate dog-friendly patio where they can eat takeout from the restaurant. But most guests seem to appreciate the arrangement.
“At Salty Dog, we’re all dog lovers, but we remain a people-centric restaurant,” Stearns said.
The Blond Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory in Key West, Fla., has banned dogs because it didn’t want to be held responsible if a dog ate iguana feces — which can make it seriously ill — or a child or elderly guest trips. In at least one instance, a released dog killed a neighborhood cat in the restaurant.
Julie Denzin, who has worked as a restaurant waitress in Milwaukee for more than a decade, has observed dogs drooling, fighting, growling and defecating on restaurant patios. Dogs bit and knocked her over, spilling boiling hot coffee. She has also met guests who are allergic to or afraid of dogs.
Denzin doesn’t think dogs should be banned, but says restaurants should consider designating dog-friendly areas or setting specific times when dogs are allowed.
“It’s not about liking or disliking dogs,” she said. “The point is, no matter what the owner may say, no matter how perfect and obedient they insist their dog is, there is no way to ensure the safety and comfort of other guests.”
Maddie Speirs, dog trainer at Pawsitive Futures Dog Training in St. Petersburg, Fla., said many people hire her with the goal of teaching their dogs to eat at restaurants. Not every dog is cut out, she said; They must be comfortable with noise and unsolicited interactions, and be able to sit near food for extended periods of time.
She urges owners to think about who benefits from dining out: they or their dogs.
“If you think it’s for your dog, what exactly is in it for him?” she said. “Dogs aren’t as fun to socialize as we are.”