Are Service Animals Such as Guide Dogs Allowed in Restaurants?

Posted on 26 Apr 2015 02:59

Health and safety codes usually exclude pets from food-service locations, such as restaurants or grocery stores. You are not allowed to bring your pet dog or cat into a restaurant, and this is not just because of the restaurant owner's whim, it is a health code violation. Do these same codes apply to service animals like guide dogs for the visually impaired, or alert dogs for the deaf, or pulling a wheelchair?

The answer is no. According to the Title III of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), businesses that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany a person with disabilities into any area of the business where the public is allowed. This means, as well, that an exception is made for service animals in restaurants, grocery stores, cafeterias, and other food-service locations. This laws supersedes any local codes.

What is a Service Animal?

Service animals are defined by the law as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Notice the word dog. There was a time when state or local codes would provide their own exception for guide dogs, yet the ADA required that any service animal be allowed inside. However, as of March 15, 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA.

Examples of such work or tasks include the aforementioned guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf and pulling a wheelchair. Other tasks include alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. These animals are not pets, but are considered working animals.


The work or task that the service animal has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person's disability. It may be tempting to broaden the definition of a service animal to many functions, some of which could be deemed unreasonable, so the law provides these specific definitions. For example, you cannot claim that your pet is a service animal because they help keep you calm or provide emotional support.

According to the ADA, this definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.

It may be possible that your state or local laws define service animals more broadly than the national law does. In these cases, the local laws will supersede the national law, as long as they do not exclude any definitions provided by the ADA. Your state's attorney general's office should be able to provide more information.

What Is Required of the Restaurant?

A disabled person with a service animal must be allowed in a restaurant. The person with the service animal must be disabled as defined by the ADA. However, there is no type of certification or special license required and the restaurant cannot require you to provide a special permit or identification. The restaurant also cannot ask the person about their disability. The restaurant can, however, ask whether the animal is a pet or a service animal, and if it is a service animal, they may inquire what services it performs. They may not require that the animal demonstrates its ability to perform these tasks.

The restaurant cannot place a customer with a service animal in a special section, or isolate them from other customers. Instead, disabled person with a service animal must be treated exactly like any other customer. They absolutely cannot be charged more because of the presence of the animal. Some restaurants may allow pets, but charge some type of service fee. This fee must be waived for service animals. The restaurant can, of course, restrict the disabled customer and service animal from any areas that customers are generally restricted from entering.

The restaurant is not required to provide any special accommodations for the animal, and they are not required to provide the animal with food.

What is Required of the Disabled Person with a Service Animal

Service animals are often seen with special collars are harnesses. Under the ADA, they must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered unless such devices would either interfere with the work of the animal, or the person's disability prevents them from being able to use such a device. If these devices cannot be used for whatever reason than the person must be kept the animal in control through voice, signal, or any other effective controls. Basically, the animal must remain under control of the person at all times.

The service animal must be kept under the control of the disabled person at all times. If the animal cannot be controlled by the person, interferes with other customers, or poses a threat to them, the restaurant can ask that the animal be removed. As well, if a service dog tries to eat the food of other customers, the restaurant can ask that it be removed. The restaurant may then offer to provide services to the disabled person without the animal. For more, see

1. "Service Animals." Revised ADA Requirements:. U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, 12 July 2011. Web. 26 Apr. 2015
2. Williams, Elizabeth M., and Stephanie J. Carter. The A-Z Encyclopedia of Food Controversies and the Law. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood/ABC-CLIO, 2011.
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