Dear Salty: There’s a restaurant in my town that I’ve visited before and enjoy quite a bit. It’s in the downtown area, so I typically go there after I’ve run some errands.
Here’s the situation though: This past weekend, I tried to get a table on the sidewalk patio with my dog, who is small (15 pounds) and well-behaved. The server told me and my friend we couldn’t be seated because the restaurant doesn’t allow dogs on its patio. They have a small row of planters that separates the seating area from the rest of the sidewalk, though, and I said my dog could be on her leash and lay down outside the boundary of the patio, so it wouldn’t be a problem. The restaurant still wouldn’t seat us!
My dog is very obedient and would have stayed outside the boundary, probably sleeping most of the time, but the staff wouldn’t hear it. Is this normal? Is it even legal to refuse to seat us? It soured my relationship with this restaurant completely.
Mom of Suki The Mutt
Dear Suki’s Mom,
It really seems like all businesses these days—airports, restaurants, bars, clothing shops—are going to the dogs. I love a cute pooch as much as the next gal, but I don’t really need them running around a nail salon shedding while I’m trying to get a hard-earned pedicure. You probably already think I’m “anti-dog,” right?
I’m not anti-dog, and honey, neither is the restaurant you went to.
I hope the server there explained to you why they couldn’t seat you. I’d bet the $10 in my pocket it was because of health codes. Lots of cities don’t allow dogs in businesses like restaurants and grocery stores where food is being made or served (there may be exceptions for service animals and such). Some health inspectors are especially strict about this, and are just waiting for an excuse to write up a restaurant for having a dog on its patio.
So even if Suki did stay outside the boundary—and that’s going to take some serious obedience once the food’s on the table—it might be too close for the restaurant’s comfort. If an inspector was to just drop by at the wrong moment and see your dog set one paw inside that patio boundary, it could mean a hefty fine for the restaurant. I can’t blame them for saying they’d rather not risk it.
It also might encourage other customers passing by to think the patio is dog-friendly. They could see you eating there with your friend and Suki and not understand why their dogs aren’t allowed to be on the patio, too. Then suddenly people demand to be seated with their slobbering dogs on the patio, swearing they’ll keep them just outside the boundary. But I’d bet not everyone’s Fido is as well-behaved as your Suki.
Lastly, and this is blasphemous I know, so brace yourself—some diners just might not want to eat next to a bunch of dogs. Maybe this restaurant has heard complaints from people that loud or intrusive dogs were overrunning the patio in the past, and decided to just go no-dogs-period. Whatever the restaurant’s reasoning, it’s entirely legal and not unheard of. If it bothers you that much, perhaps next time you can meet your friend for a picnic lunch at a Suki-friendly park.
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