At times, restaurant owners may feel uncertain about how to handle situations in which a disabled individual with a service animal wishes to enter the premises. It is essential for every business owner to understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to allowing animals into their establishment.
What is a Service Dog?
Service animals are defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as any dog that has been trained to perform specific tasks to mitigate the challenges of an individual’s disability. Therapy dogs, emotional support dogs, and companion dogs are not protected under the ADA and have no public access rights.
If someone is accompanied by a service animal into your restaurant, it is important to remember that this animal is not a pet; it is a medically essential part of the individual’s daily life and should be treated as such. Service dogs are permitted access to all public spaces.
The only exceptions would be sterile environments like a surgery room or places where their health could be affected like an x-ray room. Service dogs should not be taken to certain zoos exhibits, where their presence could stress out the animals.
Am I Required to Allow a Service Animal into My Restaurant?
Under the ADA, restaurant owners must legally allow service animals into their establishments. This means that you cannot refuse entry to a person with a service dog based on your own personal beliefs or your concerns for health and food safety rules.
Additionally, denying access or charging extra fees for customers with service animals can result in legal penalties. You cannot segregate the person and their service dog to a specific place in the restaurant. They should be treated like any other customer when entering your establishment.
Restaurant owners do not have to change the normal function and flow of their restaurant for a person with a service dog. A recipient of a service dog is not allowed to ask the restaurant to accommodate them.
Can I Ask for Identification or Certification for the Service Dog?
By federal law, there is no required certification or identification for a service dog. They don’t have to wear service dog harnesses, bandanas, or anything to indicate they are a service dog. However, at Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, we require our service dog teams always have their vest on in public. This is done to avoid confrontation or any other issues when venturing out into public, but it is not legally required.
As a restaurant owner, it is important to remember that you are not allowed to ask for details about the individual’s disability or require proof of certification for their animal. Remember that not all disabilities are visible.
You can legally ask these two questions:
- Is this a service dog?
- What tasks does this dog perform for you?
When Can a Restaurant Owner Deny Access to a Service Dog?
If the animal’s behavior is disruptive or poses a risk to your customers or staff, you have the right to deny access. If the dog is trying to steal food, jumping at wait staff or guests, barking, growling, soiling, etc. and the handler can’t calm the dog, then it is appropriate for the restaurant owner to ask the person to remove the service dog from the business. They cannot be removed because someone may be afraid of dogs, they don’t like dogs or have allergies to dogs.
In some cases, business owners may feel uncomfortable with the presence of an animal in their restaurant. This is a valid concern; however, it is important to remember that allowing access to individuals with service animals not only ensures compliance with the law but also promotes inclusion and respect for all customers and employees.
Being informed about your rights as a restaurant owner regarding service dogs is the key to creating a safe, welcoming atmosphere for all. If you are ever in doubt about how to handle a situation involving someone accompanied by a service animal, it is best to consult an attorney who specializes in disability law.
Tips for Recipients When Entering a Restaurant
As mentioned above, recipients should keep in mind that they cannot be denied entry to a restaurant. You also need to remember that you can’t request special accommodations from the business.
Be sure your service dog is wearing their vest and that they lay down under the table or out of the way for foot traffic for other guests and wait staff. Your service dog should never be allowed up on a chair or in the booth. They should remain lying down under the table or close to you to ensure they do not cause a disruption. You should never be feeding them from the table or allowing them to sniff at the table or anyone else’s table.
Finally, remember that if your service dog becomes disruptive in any way, you should take the necessary steps immediately to ensure there will be no further issues. It is important to remember that your service dog should be with you at all times. Guardian Angels has a one-foot rule, meaning your service dog should never be more than a foot away from you. This ensures that he/she isn’t bothering any other patrons, sniffing the floor looking for crumbs, and that he is remaining attentive to you.
If your service dog, for some reason, becomes disruptive, the business owner can legally ask you to exit the restaurant, which should be done without confrontation. It is essential that you always keep your service dog under control.
Have Questions About Service Dogs? We Can Help!
Restaurant owners and recipients should understand their rights and responsibilities regarding access to businesses. It is important for everyone involved to be informed about what is expected when entering a public venue, as well as how to handle any issues that may arise.
By keeping these key points in mind, restaurant owners can ensure they comply with the law while creating a warm and inviting atmosphere for everyone. This helps create inclusive spaces where all people feel comfortable and welcomed.
If you have questions about your rights as a business owner or a recipient, contact Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs today!