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Girl and her french bulldog at a pet friendly restaurant.

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Finding Pet-Friendly Restaurants

The first time I saw a dog inside a restaurant, I was in a bistro in Normandy, France, where I struck up a conversation with a United States Army veterinarian at the next table. She mentioned that she brought her dog with her everywhere, including restaurants. Sure enough, a Golden Retriever was lying under the table, quiet as a mouse. If only we could do that everywhere in the United States! The good news: As American society adopts an increasingly progressive view of pets as emotional companions and family members, more public eateries are becoming pet friendly.

Here are 4 important things you need to know about pet-friendly dining stateside:

#1: What “Pet-Friendly” Really Means

Typically, a pet-friendly restaurant allows you to eat with your dog in a designated area, typically outside. That doesn’t mean you’ll be welcomed with open arms if you want to dine with your pet boa constrictor—unless he’s a registered service snake, in which case he’s not considered a pet. Health codes usually prohibit rodents, birds, and vermin, so don’t plan on bringing your pet chinchilla, parakeet, or tarantula. I’ve yet to meet a cat fancier who takes her leashed feline out to dinner (let alone a cat who would want to go out to dinner in the first place), but if anyone’s successfully tried it, let me know!

Interestingly, there is no federal law banning animals from restaurants. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Code advises restaurants to prohibit animals, but this is only a recommendation, not legislation. Individual state laws oversee restaurant health codes, not the federal government, and many states have chosen to incorporate parts of the FDA Food Code into their laws.

#2: Why Pets Aren’t Always Allowed

Health Reasons

The most obvious answer is the health code. Restaurants adhere to strict cleanliness and sanitation guidelines, and restaurant owners fear that a pet could compromise their health status. Let’s face it, even the best-trained dogs run the risk of an accidental elimination. In the event of an accident, employees would have to fulfill extensive hygiene requirements before they can resume serving customers. Dander and shedding can also be an issue, especially if customers are allergic. I once stayed in a bed-and-breakfast with seven resident cats. It was no big deal--until I found cat hair in my eggs Benedict.

Potential Disruptions

But health isn’t the only reason restaurant owners may want to keep our furry friends out. Believe it or not, not everyone is an animal lover. Some people simply don’t want to dine near an animal, especially a disruptive one. A misbehaving dog can be just as much of an annoyance in a restaurant as a misbehaving toddler, so be sure that if you do find a pet-friendly restaurant, your dog is on his best behavior

#3: Where to Find Pet-Friendly Restaurants

Many restaurant owners don’t want to exclude pets. If state laws don’t allow pets even at outdoor dining areas, individual cities and counties can make an exception for local establishments by a issuing a “state code variance.” Additionally, an entire city or county can issue a standardized variance that applies to all restaurants within its limits.

The Internet is the most accessible, comprehensive source of pet-friendly eateries. Websites like BringFido.comTripsWithPets.com, and DogFriendly.com have worldwide directories of pet-friendly restaurants located everywhere from Boston to Burundi. If your travel plans target a specific area, you can pick up a book geared toward that region, such as Doin’ Arizona With Your Pooch ! or Dog-Friendly New England: A Traveler's Companion . The American Automobile Association (AAA) also publishes a guide called Traveling With Your Pet: The AAA Pet Book .

#4: How to Follow Proper Pet Etiquette

If we want our dogs to have a warm welcome at restaurants, we should ensure that they’re good ambassadors for pet-friendly dining. Remember to practice basic etiquette:

  • Make sure your dog is well behaved around other people.
  • Keep him on a leash tied to your chair—not the table—to avoid spills.
  • Keep your distance from other diners, unless they invite him over.
  • Keep him close to your table and make sure he’s out of the servers’ way.
  • Always call ahead to confirm the establishment’s pet-friendly policy.
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    “Bone” appétit!

    Cynthia P. Gallagher is a member of the Dog Writers Association of America and is the author of seven dog breed books, including the Animal Planet Dogs 101 series.


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