Three Things to Know About Service Dogs in Restaurants

By Alex Henry

For some people, service dogs are essential part of their lives. Service dogs are carefully selected to do specific tasks based on their breed and temperament, and are trained to help people with disabilities. Whether the people are blind, hard of hearing or with another type of disability, service dogs make doing everyday things such as crossing a street, accompanying people on errands and staying at hotels possible.

Unfortunately, a lot of restaurant owners and staff have no clue and very little training for receiving guests who require a service dog, and quite often make mistakes which can even be against the law. Here are three important things you must remember when having a person with a service dog enter your bar or restaurant.

1. You cannot question a person’s disability.

If a disabled person with a service dog walks into your hotel, you may not always recognize them as such. Some disabilities are less visible than others, but they are by no means less serious.

If a person enters your restaurant and claims that they are disabled and that their dog is a service dog, you cannot question them, ask for any documental or physical proof of disability.

The only two questions hotel staff are permitted to ask is: “Is your dog a service dog?” and, if the disability is not immediately visible, staff may ask “What service does it provide?” However, if the disability is apparent, staff cannot ask these questions and once the answer is given, staff must not question it. Although this may raise the question of whether people don’t simply feign disability in order to bring their beloved pet into your venue, this problem isn’t large enough to warrant checking each disabled person for proof of their disability. Indeed, most people visiting a restaurant don’t imagine going to the inconvenience of varying identification papers with them.

It also should be mentioned that you cannot pet, otherwise touch or feed these dogs, and you must not interfere with its work.

2. People with service dogs must follow certain rules.

Although you cannot ask a person for proof of their service dogs credibility, there are still a couple rules that must be followed. Service dogs must be kept under control at all times -- whether they are on a leash, under voice command or the command of hand gestures. Service dogs are not permitted to become wayward and uncontrollable. If a service dog is responsible for any damage caused at your restaurant, the owner must cover the costs of repair.

Owners cannot ask you to care for the dog; they must feed, clean and walk the dog themselves. However, they’re not permitted to leave the dog unattended within your restaurant.

If the service dog growls at, bites or barks at, or similarly aggressively threatens a member of staff or fellow guest, you have the permission to exclude the service dog from your venue.  

3. You cannot refuse them entry.

Service dogs are not pets and they must not be treated as such. Additionally, you cannot charge extra for access to public areas, nor can you restrict access to these areas on the basis of the accompanying service dog.

Although people may occasionally try to smuggle an unqualified or untrained dog into your restaurant, mostly they act out of turn and aggressively in a way that permits their exclusion, so this is no cause for concern. As long as you understand these three points and your restaurant staff is well informed, service dogs should not be a problem at your location!