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What to do with service dogs – Episode 16

A dog sleeping on the bar floor

This dog is providing a foot warming service.

What to do with service dogs? this seems to be one of the most contentious issues in our industry. I actually don’t have a guest this week because everyone I talked to about this immediately got heated about the issue. I understand there are a lot of feelings around the issue. There are a lot of misunderstandings, fears about discrimination, fears about the health department, confusion about the laws, customer’s not knowing the rules, people lying about their dog’s status, entitlement. This all leads to bad service interactions and unhappy staff and customers.

This is one of those issues, however,  that has a very simple solution. When someone comes into your bar with a dog, you have to have the right intention of good service. The dog may indeed be a service animal that is necessary for a medical condition, or the customer simply may not know or understand the laws. It’s our job to explain and clarify things in the same welcoming manner that we explain our wine list or today’s happy hour specials. Listen to this episode in the player or wherever podcasts are found to hear what I do when someone comes into my bar with a dog, and read on after the break for more information about the laws involved.

We are not allowed to have live animals in our bars and restaurants for health and safety reasons. In California, the Health and Safety Code lays out the various rules and exceptions around having animals in a food facility. Most other states and countries have their own sets of rules, but they are generally the same: Animals are not allowed in food facilities unless they are trained service dogs. The Americans With Disabilities Act protects people who have service dogs for medical reasons, and dictates what we bartenders are allowed to say and do when a customer brings a service dog into our bars.

When someone comes into your bar with a dog, a conversation has to happen to determine whether or not the dog is legally allowed in your bar. This does not have to be complicated, you can have the same simple discussion every time this happens, and you won’t have an awkward or bad interaction. The helpful flow chart below walks you through how the conversation should be:

If the customer tells you it’s a trained service animal, you have to let them have the dog in your bar. However, the dog must be leashed and under control, and with the customer at all times. Dogs are typically not allowed on the furniture, and if the dog becomes a legitimate nuisance and is bothering other guests, we are within our rights to ask the customer to take the dog elsewhere. Generally, real trained service dogs won’t be an issue and the people who have real trained service dogs know these rules as well.

If the customer does not have a trained service dog, you can politely and courteously ask them to take the dog elsewhere. This includes “emotional support animals.” There’s a lot of confusion around emotional support dogs because they are legally allowed in certain places like office buildings and transportation, but they are not allowed in food facilities in most places. Again, you don’t need to bring any anger or negativity into this situation, it’s not worth having a bad interaction and there’s no reason this has to go badly if you follow these steps.

I hope that clarifies things. This is the conversation I have every time someone comes in my bar with a dog, and it always goes well. Be sure to visit our home page for much, much more and don’t forget to hit subscribe and share us with your friends in the industry. We have new conversations every week, I’ll see you next time.


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