Pups on patios: 8 tips to safely cater to canine companions
Australian Shepherd "Zoe" and her mom, Marilyn Morein, enjoy lunch on the patio at a Ted's Bulletin restaurant in Gaithersburg, Md.
As the weather turns warmer, many guests are seeking outdoor dining, and some may wish to bring along canine companions. Before opening your patio to pooches, examine what’s legally permissible and establish related safety policies.
The question of whether dogs are legally permissible in an outdoor dining area comes down to state and local laws and regulations. More than 20 states and numerous local governments have laws or regulations permitting dogs.
A 2022 update to the FDA Food Code could open the door to additional governments allowing dogs in outdoor areas. When it comes to food safety, many local and state governments look to the FDA Food Code, which now, for the first time, provides guidance allowing dogs in outdoor dining spaces, if approved by the local regulatory authority. “Historically, the Food Code has not allowed any live animals, other than service animals, on the premises of a food establishment,” notes Patrick Guzzle, vice president of Food Science for the National Restaurant Association.
Doggie do’s and don’tsIf your state or local government allows pups on patios, be sure to follow its restrictions and requirements. Some best practices include:
- Check in with your local health regulatory agency. Some jurisdictions require official notification that a restaurant intends to allow dogs in its outdoor dining area; others require restaurants to apply for a permit.
- Offer outdoor access. Provide a patio entrance that won’t require dogs to traverse through the inside of the restaurant.
- Say “no” to dogs on chairs and tables. As the FDA Food Code notes, “Animals carry disease-causing organisms and can transmit pathogens to humans through direct and/or indirect contamination of food and food-contact surfaces.” To prevent contamination, dogs should not come into contact with chairs, tables, linens, tableware or other foodservice items. Guzzle advises that “if a dog is allowed, for any reason, to be ON a table, now the entire table and all utensils, condiment dispensers, napkin dispensers, menu cards, table tents, etc., must be cleaned and sanitized before other guests are seated at the same table.”
- No petting the pooches. Staff should refrain from touching, petting, or handling dogs. If an employee does pet a pooch, they should wash their hands thoroughly to avoid cross contamination.
- Keep a tight leash on the situation. Require guests to keep their dogs leashed and under control so that the dining experience is safe and enjoyable for everyone.
- Say it with a sign. Post a sign specifying that dogs are allowed in your outdoor dining area. This is helpful information for both dog-lovers as well as anyone who might be allergic or afraid of dogs. Some jurisdictions also require signage with your rules related to dogs, which, among other things, might reiterate that local dog laws must be followed, such as being up-to-date on vaccinations and wearing a collar and tags. Consider listing the rules on your website also.
- Be prepared for doggy accidents. Inform guests that it’s their responsibility to clean up after their pets; some restaurants even provide dog pickup bags. The FDA Food Code, in Annex 3, recommends providing a covered refuse container exclusively to store all pet waste generated. Even if guests help with the cleanup, you’ll want a procedure in place to sanitize as needed.
- Send them straight to the doghouse. If a canine and companion aren’t following your restaurant’s rules, you have the right to request that they leave. Develop a protocol for how to handle these situations. If a dog menaces, threatens or bites any person or other dog, report the incident to the appropriate health authority.
A few simple promotions can bring out the dogs . . . along with their human best friends! Some eateries offer complementary doggie biscuits and water to welcome Fido. Starbucks treats dogs to a free pup cup of whipped cream. Other restaurants sell doggie delights. The Park Bench Cafe in Huntington Beach, Calif., offers an entire “Canine Cuisine Menu” featuring the “Hot Diggity Dog” and “Rover Easy” scrambled eggs. At fast-casual Shake Shack, best known for its burgers and shakes, dogs can get their own special treats, including the “Pooch-ini,” vanilla custard with dog biscuits. When catering to canines, be careful not to use equipment or utensils used for human foodservice. Some states require that food and water provided to dogs be in single-use disposable containers.
To attract even more furry friends, host a “yappy hour” during an off-peak time. Team up with a local pet shop for giveaways and doggie treats. Consider donating a portion of the proceeds to a local animal rescue organization; make sure to yap about the event on social media!