Can You Work in a Restaurant with a Service Dog?

According to pet resource Pawsome Advice, as of 2019, up to 500,000 service dogs abound throughout the United States. You may use a service dog as well due to your disability. Does having a service dog preclude you from working in a restaurant?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA, service dogs can technically follow a disabled person wherever the public is allowed. The ADA even has rules about service dogs in foodservice, and those rules supersede local and/or state health codes. 

Ahead, we’ll delve a lot deeper into the ADA’s verbiage and what that means for you working in a restaurant with a service dog. Make sure you keep reading, as we have a lot of interesting information to share!

Service Dogs – A Clear Definition

These days, emotional support animals are more prevalent than ever. However, an emotional support animal, dog or otherwise, is not technically a service dog. 

By being clear on what constitutes a service dog, you’ll have a better idea about whether you can work in a restaurant with your dog.

The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA defines service animals thusly. 

“Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, 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.”

The ADA adds that: “Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability.”

You can see then, after reading that definition, how an emotional support animal does not qualify. Household pets cannot become service dogs either, as a service dog has to undergo rigorous and highly specific training to ensure they can excel in their role.

What Does the ADA Say About Working with Service Dogs?

Now that you’re clear on what the ADA defines as a service dog, let’s take a closer look at the ADA’s language on where service animals are allowed.

Here’s the ADA’s statement on where a disabled person can bring a service dog. “Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is allowed to go.”

The ADA uses a hospital as an example. Per the ADA rules, a service dog would likely not be allowed to go into a burn unit or an operating room. These areas require sterility, and the presence of a service dog would disrupt that. 

However, in examination rooms, cafeterias, clinics, and patient rooms, per the ADA rules, the service animal would be allowed.

Would a Restaurant Allow You to Work There If You Have a Service Dog?

Knowing everything we do now about service dogs and the ADA’s verbiage, we have a better idea of whether a restaurant would allow an employee to bring a service dog to work.

First of all, on the note of an employee with a disability being hired at a restaurant in the first place, that’s precisely what the ADA was founded for. Established in 1990, the ADA is a law that prohibits disabled people from being discriminated against for their disability. 

Thus, if an employer were to choose another job candidate over a disabled candidate solely because the second candidate is disabled, they’d be breaking the ADA law. 

Disabled people have as much right to a restaurant job as a non-disabled person does. But what about service dogs, you’re asking?

The ADA rule states that service animals are only allowed in areas of a building that are open to the public. This would mean technically that a service dog could sit in the restaurant lobby and even among the customers, but not go in the kitchen.

Since restaurant staff often work exclusively in the kitchen or go back and forth between the kitchen and the main floor, this would prohibit a service dog from being able to enter the restaurant, right?

Not exactly! The ADA has certain exceptions to its own rules, and one of those rules pertains to foodservice. 

Here’s the exception: “Establishments that sell or prepare food must generally allow service animals in public areas even if the state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.”

This is certainly interesting information, as it allows a restaurant worker with a service animal a lot of leeway. Although health code rules would usually prohibit animals from entering the kitchen, per the ADA, this would still be allowed if the animal is a service animal.

What to Know About Working in a Restaurant with a Service Animal

The ADA permits restaurant employees with a service dog to work, but under certain guidelines. Here are further ADA rules to keep in mind as you proceed to work in a restaurant with your service dog in tow. 

You Don’t Have to Prove That Your Dog Is a Service Dog

Some disabled people choose to certify their service dogs, but this isn’t mandatory. There is no rule that says your service dog must be registered, nor does the dog have to wear a vest or any sort of identifier that marks him or her as a service dog.

When you tell your employer that the dog you’re bringing to your restaurant job is a service dog, they are supposed to take your word for it.

Restaurant Staff Can’t Ask Many Questions About the Service Dog

Of course, unless it’s animal café, then usually, dogs and foodservice don’t mix. Since your boss or manager will have to make many accommodations for your dog during your working hours, they may have further questions about the service dog.

Please pay attention to the questions your boss or manager asks during this conversation. Depending on how far they push and what kinds of questions they ask, they could very well be in violation of ADA rules. 

Your boss or manager is allowed to ask if your dog is a service animal because you have a disability. They can also ask what kind of training the dog has and what they can do per their training.

However, your boss or manager cannot ask these questions without it being potential discrimination:

  • Can you work without the dog?
  • Do you need to bring the dog in here (“here” referring to any part of the restaurant)?
  • Do you have documentation to prove your dog is a service animal?
  • Can you show me what kind of training your dog has?
  • What is your disability?

If your boss or manager asks these questions, then you should go to human resources and file a complaint. Request that the HR manager read up on ADA rules if the HR manager is not already familiar. 

Proving discrimination in the workplace can be difficult to do, especially without witnesses who can corroborate your story. That said, if you experienced workplace discrimination because of your disability, you should still pursue it as far as you can.

Your Service Dog Can Be Kicked Out

Please don’t think that being allowed to bring a service dog to your restaurant job is a free pass for the dog to do whatever they want. The ADA does state that those who handle a service dog must always be in control of the animal.

In other words, your dog must always wear a tether, leash, or harness “unless the individual’s disability prevents using these devices or these devices interfere with the service animal’s safe, effective performance of tasks.”

Even then, you must still control your dog. The ADA says you should use signals, voice commands, “or other effective controls.”

Should your dog become out of control, then the ADA states that your boss or manager can ask the dog to leave. That’s the only time this can happen though. 

So what constitutes a dog that’s out of control? Here’s what the ADA says: “A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken.”

You Must Take Care of the Service Dog

Your service dog is your responsibility at all times when you’re working. The ADA mentions that “staff are not required to provide care for or supervision of a service animal.”


The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA allows restaurant workers to bring a service dog to the building, including in areas outside of those welcome to the public. 

Service dogs are trained animals that provide specific tasks for those with trauma, mental illness, and or physical impairments such as blindness and/or deafness.

Whether you’re someone with a disability looking for a job in the restaurant industry or you’re hiring employees, we hope the information in this article helps you be clearer on what the ADA rules are about service animals in foodservice!

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