If you’ve ever seen a restaurant around town with dogs on the patio, you might wonder – is that legal? It turns out that in many states, it is. Knowing which states allow dogs in Restaurants is important as a restaurant owner. You might begin getting requests from customers to add an outdoor patio for pups.
Ahead, learn all about the legal rules and regulations surrounding dogs on restaurant property to determine what the next steps are for your establishment.
These States Allow Dogs in Restaurants to Enjoy Outdoor Dining
California has miles-long stretches of beaches, warm weather almost all year long, and gorgeous parks and forests. It’s no wonder it’s such a tourist trap, which means restaurants in the Golden State are usually big business.
According to a writeup from pet resource Citizen Canine about California’s doggy dining laws, if a restaurant has outdoor patio dining, then customers can bring their dogs.
However, the entrance to the patio must be separate from the standard entrance. Dogs cannot use chairs or tables, and they are never allowed in the restaurant unless they’re service animals. Then, nationwide ADA laws say dogs can go in the establishment.
Another equally warm state with relaxed rules about dogs on restaurant property is Florida. According to West Florida’s Statues Annotated, Part I, Section 3, customers can bring their dogs to restaurants, but only in “designated areas” such as patios and outdoor seating.
Section (3)(b) of this law is for restaurant owners like you. It states that you need a permit through your local government if you plan to allow dogs outside your establishment. Without the permit, you can’t legally use your patio for canine companionship.
If your mind is made up and you’re actively pursuing a permit, keep in mind that Section (3)(c) requires you to follow these regulations:
- You can’t let dogs into the restaurant, only outside (service dogs notwithstanding).
- You must have signs about dog etiquette and rules at the restaurant available outside and in your establishment.
- You can’t let dog waste linger on the premises, so you need a team and a cleanup area.
- All tables and chairs a customer with a dog used require sanitation after they leave.
- Dogs must stay on the ground/floor and can’t sit in a chair or be on the table.
- Customers can’t let their dogs near any restaurant items, including utensils, paper products, serving dishes, tableware, and linens.
- Dogs must stay on their leashes the entire time the customer is at the restaurant.
- You must provide waterless hand sanitizer at all outdoor tables.
- You must require customers with dogs to wash their hands before dining.
- Your staff can’t touch the dog and then handle tableware, food, or beverages. They have to wash their hands first.
The laws surrounding dogs dining outside of restaurants in Illinois have been in place since 2008. That law, called West’s Smith-Hurd Illinois Compiled Statutes Annotated, is still in effect as of 2024.
Under Chapter 65, Article 11, §11-20-14, a state municipality with at least one million residents can permit dogs in restaurant outdoor areas. However, your establishment has to follow any local ordinances, plus the rules of the Sanitary Food Preparation Act, the Food Handling Regulation Enforcement Act, and the Illinois Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
According to state laws, dogs must stay outside and cannot enter the restaurant unless they’re service animals. You and your staff can turn down a customer if their dog is risking someone’s health in the restaurant (yours, your staff, or your customers) or if the pet can’t behave.
Outdoor doggy dining on patios is becoming popular in East Coast states like Maryland. According to its state law, West’s Annotated Code of Maryland, Subtitle 3, customers can bring dogs to a restaurant’s outdoor dining area during the hours you allow.
However, before you open your restaurant gates wide to pups everywhere, contact your nearby health department, sending them a letter within 30 days of opening the outdoor patio to dogs.
Moreso, you must post a sign on your property in a place where people can see it within eight feet.
The sign might include this kind of information:
- Dogs can’t go in the restaurant unless they’re designated service animals.
- Customers are responsible for leashing their dogs while on the premises.
- Dogs can’t be left unattended, and children shouldn’t watch the dog, as the customer has to be able to control their animal.
- If the dog destroys the restaurant or hurts someone, be it another customer or staff, the dog owner will be liable for those damages.
If you own a restaurant in Minnesota, you can legally open your patio to dogs according to the Minnesota Statutes Annotated, Chapter 157. Subdivision 2 states that your restaurant can’t allow “dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs” outside.
As for the four-legged friends you want on your restaurant property, state law says that you need a permit first. You also have to post signage letting your customers and staff know these required rules:
- Your staff can’t touch or handle a customer’s canine.
- Dogs cannot be near paper products, serving products, linens, tableware, and utensils.
- Customers must keep their dogs leashed and off chairs and tables.
- Your staff is in charge of cleaning up dog waste when it happens. They have to sanitize the surrounding area after disposing of the waste.
The serene state of New Mexico expanded its laws on canines in restaurants in 2011 through the Food Service Sanitation Act.
The rules under this act echo much of which other states require, like how you must have signage if you will allow dogs to enjoy the fresh air with their humans on your restaurant patio.
Pets can’t go inside the restaurant (service dogs can), they must be on leashes, and you can’t let them on any chairs, tables, or furnishings.
You will have to designate staff members who will clean up waste. They should always sanitize where the accident happened. Your staff can touch and handle dogs but must clean their hands afterward.
As one of the restaurant capitals of the nation, it should come as no surprise that the Empire State of New York permits dogs at some establishments.
According to this fact sheet, these are the rules:
- You must put up signage mentioning that companion animals can dine outside but that service animals are always allowed inside as needed.
- Your staff must prepare food and utensils inside the establishment, even when serving customers outside.
- You need barriers around the dining area or patio. The barriers will delineate where your property is versus where the sidewalk is and prevent passersby from getting too close.
House Bill 263 passed into law in 2018, permitting Ohio restaurant owners to allow dogs outdoors. The state law covers most of the same bases as the others, requiring the owner to control their dog the entire time they’re on restaurant property.
Also, pets can’t enter the restaurant, but service animals can. Ohio’s state law also has this interesting caveat. Customers must vaccinate their dogs before they can dine outside.
Restaurant owners in Rhode Island are permitted to let dogs dine outside according to West’s General Laws of Rhode Island, Chapter 27. That rule determines that restaurant owners must post a sign letting all customers know about the outdoor dining policy.
The typeface you use should be large enough that passersby can read the sign. You must also prioritize sign placement, putting it in a visible area.
State rules mention that dogs must stay on leashes when enjoying outdoor restaurant ambiance, and that only service animals are allowed inside the building (no pets). Further, the customer must watch their dog or be with someone else who can, as if the dog causes any trouble, the customer pays the damages.
States that permit dogs outside of restaurants are increasing in the south, and Tennessee is one of the bigger ones.
The Tennessee Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires restaurant owners follow these rules when allowing dogs on the premises:
- Dogs must stay outside unless they’re service animals, and they can’t be near any food preparation areas.
- You can remove a customer from the restaurant whose dog is out of control if they can’t calm their dog down.
- Your staff should limit petting and touching the dogs, as they have to wash their hands after. They cannot touch the dog when handling tableware, beverages, and food.
- Dogs must stay away from tableware, utensils, paper products, serving dishes, and linens.
- Customers must have their dogs on a leash during their outdoor dining experience.
- Pets must stay off chairs and tables.
- Your staff must clean up outdoor doggy accidents, then sanitize the area using a kit available on the patio.
- You need signage that lists the above rules and is posted on restaurant property.
Per Vernon’s Texas Statutes and Codes Annotated, Title 6, Subtitle A, Chapter 437, §437.025, dogs can dine outside. As the owner, you need to post a sign letting people know that, putting it in “a conspicuous location.”
Pet dogs must stay outside, and they can’t be near the kitchen or elsewhere where staff is preparing food. Customers should keep their dogs on leashes.
The 12th state that permits dogs on restaurant property in 2024 is Virginia, according to West’s Annotated Code of Virginia. In Title 3.2, Chapter 51, Article 2, §3.2-5115, the law states that animals can dine outside but not “in any area used for the manufacture or storage of food products.”
That doesn’t apply to guide and guard animals if they won’t contaminate the nearby area, including food surface prep spaces and the food itself.
Interestingly, dogs can dine in restaurants in Virginia if the space does not produce food or alcohol.
Adding to the list of southern states that welcome dogs onto restaurant property is Alabama, a latecomer. It passed its law in 2021.
Under the law, your restaurant must have its own entrance for outdoor dining with dogs, customers must agree to keep their pets in a carrier or on a leash, you must post signs about the change to your policy, and you must sign a waiver.
The waiver agrees to the above rules. After you sign it, file it with the State Health Department, then you can begin letting dogs on the premises.
Like Alabama, Washington introduced an amendment in 2021 that now includes dogs in outdoor and indoor restaurant dining. The law went into effect in 2022.
Here are the rules for restaurant owners and their staff to follow:
- You must first have regulatory agency permission if you let dogs inside your restaurant.
- You have to post a sign letting customers know dogs can dine in or out of the restaurant.
- Your food options must be in their “original packaging” and be “ready-to-eat,” while your beverages need to come from a food processing plant.
- You must keep areas that allow dogs free from waste, designating a cleanup crew and equipment.
- Outdoor dining spaces can’t be used for storing utensils or preparing food.
- Employees handling food can’t touch or pet dogs.
- You must have water and food containers for dogs but can’t clean them inside the restaurant.
- Customers must agree to control and leash their dogs.
- You must have a permit.
SC has a regulation on pet dining, and it doesn’t only include dogs but also domesticated ferrets and cats. These pets are only allowed outside (unless they’re service animals), and your establishment needs sanitizer and cleaning supplies in the outdoor dining area. The area also requires its own entrance.
Post a sign laying out the rules, which prohibit pets on food contact surfaces and furniture and require pets to always stay on a leash.
After updating its Food Code, North Carolina added a regulation permitting cats and dogs on restaurant property, but only outdoors. You can’t bring the pets inside, and they must stay away from utensils, serving dishes, tableware, serving food, and related items.
Customers must keep pets on leashes or otherwise restrained. Your staff can’t touch the animals and then prepare food.
According to the Oklahoma Administrative Code, Title 310, Chapter 257, Subchapter 11, Subsection (d), cats and dogs can come with their humans for a fun outdoor dining experience in the great state of Oklahoma.
However, staff must provide single-use water and food receptacles for pets, and you must have employees available to clean up animal waste immediately. Your customers must control their pets, as the employees can’t touch or handle the animals.
The Kentucky Department for Public Health introduced Kentucky Administrative Regulations. According to Title 902, Chapter 45, dogs can dine outside on restaurant property. This is usually prohibited due to the airtight Kentucky food code, so it’s a good thing the regulation exists.
However, a few caveats. Your patio or outdoor dining area needs its own entrance and cannot be entirely enclosed.
Customers are responsible for leashing their pets and keeping them off the tables and seats. Your staff can’t serve the animal from any water or food receptacle your other customers use. Additionally, employees must wash their hands if they touch a dog.
The animal should also be kept away from linens, food, utensils, food service items, and dishes. Outline all this information on a sign and stick it up on your restaurant’s entrances around the patio.
An amendment to the Iowa Administrative Code in 2020 delivered good news. The additional Subsection 31.1(14) includes pet dogs in its verbiage, allowing them on restaurant patios and outdoor dining areas.
That said, the code also mentions specific requirements for customers and the restaurant staff to meet, such as:
- Dogs cannot enter the restaurant unless they’re service animals.
- If the dog has an accident on or around the premises, customers should let restaurant staff know immediately.
- No animals are allowed on furniture.
- Customers must leash up their four-legged friends.
- The outdoor patio area cannot be entirely enclosed.
- If a pet has an accident, staff must clean it up right away.
- Dogs and employees cannot have any contact or interaction.
- If the restaurant provides any water or food to the dog, it must be in disposable, single-use containers.
- Reusable utensils and food prep cannot happen in the outdoor dining area.
- The outdoor patio must have its own entrance.
- You must post signs around the entrance letting your customers know of the policy change.
Regulatory changes in Georgia courtesy of West’s Georgia Administrative Code, Title 511, Chapter 511-6 permit dogs to come to a restaurant with their humans instead of sit at home. They’re never allowed inside as pets, however.
Further rules state that you have to train your employees on the correct dog protocols, which involve not petting or handling the animal. Your staff should also learn how to clean up pet waste and properly dispose of it.
The customer needs to maintain control of their dog, which is helped in part by leashing them (another requirement). They’re expected to keep the dog from hopping on furniture or getting near utensils, tableware, and serving dishes.
Join the club, Delaware! West’s Delaware Code, under Title 16, Subsection (3)(u)(1) has a new amendment (added in 2020) that lets beer garden and restaurant owners permit leashed dogs on a patio or in a beer garden.
Colorado also updated its laws in 2020. According to West’s Colorado Revised Statutes, Title 25, Article 4, Part 16, dogs can sit beside their human companions while dining outside if:
- The dog avoids using any fixtures or furniture.
- The dog remains in a pet carrier or on a leash.
- The outdoor dining area has its own entrance for people and dogs.
What States allow Dogs in Restaurants: wrapping Up
There you have it, 15+ states that allow dogs to dine outdoors on restaurant patios. The rules may be strict, but that’s for the safety and enjoyment of all customers, not only those with pooches.
Hopefully, this list of states will continue to grow for the benefit of dog lovers everywhere.