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Managing restaurant customers with service dogs

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In a recent issue, Elan Akin, the owner of a New York-style deli in San Diego, lamented about how some customers with dogs are abusing federal laws pertaining to service/companion dogs in restaurants.

“I love the idea of a service dog. However, since there is no requirement to show any paperwork or identification, it seems that many people are using these laws to bring their non-service dogs where they don’t belong,” he wrote. The lack of guidelines from the ADA is frustrating, he added. “Some of my customers have even asked for their meals to be comped because they were forced to eat near a dog.”

What follows are excerpts from readers who answered Akin’s plea for advice.

While we all know you cannot ask the individual what their ADA condition might be, you can ask what type of service the animal provides. Our best story of the recent summer was that one dog was labeled a service dog to help its owner identify strangers. Why this customer would come to a restaurant filled with strangers was beyond us. Another customer explained that the service dog’s role was to keep the owner calm. Again, why come to a busy restaurant?

Our solution: We have designated one table away from others and treat this as our dog friendly table, which one may be reserve. Yet, when a service dog customer walks in without a reservation, we occasionally have to seat them elsewhere  when the designated table is occupied.

Earl Nightingale
President / C.E.O.
H2R2 Solutions
Ela’s Grill
Hilton Head, SC

The ADA has been silent on this issue. The problem could be fixed with a simple card that the owner can carry. The people who have a medical condition dictating the need for a service animal would have no problem with an ID card. The people who think their pet has the right to go any place their owners go will have a problem. Your drivers license has an organ donor space. Why not a service animal space?  

Bob McGovern
Packards Restaurant
Northampton, MA

We have plenty of customers bringing their non-service pets while they enjoy outdoor dining on our patio. In accordance to local laws and health regulations, we allow them to keep their dog outside the fence that runs along the perimeter of the seating area. On the other hand, we have had some disgruntled customers with service dogs because we require some type of documentation before they can bring their dogs within any area where food is being served. Some people do not carry the documentation with them every time.

If it’s obvious, seeing-eye dog for example, we rarely make a fuss, but most customers don’t enjoy eating near an animal. So we have to make a decision on what is best for the overall flow and performance of the restaurant. I would recommend Akin post some type of disclaimer stating that there must be proper documentation for service dogs to be allowed in the restaurant.

Anthony Fuller
Poole’s Tavern
Northfield, MI

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