What do you do when a patron walks into your restaurant with a 150 pound dog in tow? Do you automatically point to the sign in your window that says “NO DOGS ALLOWED” and politely escort them and their furry friend out the door? The short answer is no, you should not have a blanket policy that prohibits all animals in your restaurant regardless of circumstances. Federal regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) require all public accommodations (including restaurants) to modify their policies to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability. Restaurants must permit individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals in all areas of the restaurant where other patrons are allowed to go.*
Here are some practical tips you can follow to comply with federal regulations while balancing the interests of maintaining a clean, safe, and controlled restaurant:
- You can prohibit barking or aggressive behavior.
- Train your staff to properly deal with patrons with service animals.
- You can require individuals using service animals to use a harness or leash on the service animal, unless the handler is unable because of a disability to use a harness or leash, or if use of a harness or leash would interfere with the service animal's safe, effective performance.
- You should not ask about the nature or extent of a person's disability or demand documentation that the animal is qualified as a service animal, but you may ask if the animal is required because of a disability and what task the animal has been trained to perform (unless it is readily apparent that an animal is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability).
- You should not ask or require an individual with a disability to pay a surcharge, even if people accompanied by pets are required to pay fees, or to comply with other requirements generally not applicable to people without pets. You may, however, charge an individual with a disability for damage caused by his or her service animal if you normally charge other patrons for the damage they cause to the premises.