State loosens restrictions around dogs on restaurant patios

Goldie the dog lounges on the Vine patio in Coralville, March 2021. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

Restaurants no longer need a special waiver from the state to allow patrons to bring their dogs into outdoor dining areas. The Iowa Department of Appeals and Inspections (DIA), which oversees issues of sanitation and food safety at restaurants, eliminated the waiver requirement last week.

“Food establishments still have to follow the same rules as they have in past years,” Larry Johnson, Jr., the department’s director, said in a statement. “But this new process will be less cumbersome for them.”

In its April 22 statement about the change, DIA listed the following requirements dog owners must follow when in a restaurant’s outdoor dining area.

• Pet dogs shall be leashed at all times;

• Pet dogs shall not enter any interior area of the food establishment at any time;

• Pet dogs must be controlled at all times by the dog’s owner or designee;

• Pet dogs are not permitted on chairs, tables, benches or seats; and

• Pet dog owners must immediately notify the food establishment’s staff in the event that excrement or bodily fluids (urine, saliva, vomit, or the like) are deposited.

There is a further set of requirements for restaurants that choose to allow dogs in outside areas, including what the patio looks like (“outdoor area cannot be fully enclose” and must be “maintained and clean”), how dogs get there (“via a separate entrance,” not through opening into the indoor dining area) and who is allowed to pet them (“employees of the establishment are not allowed to have contact with pet dogs”).

Of course, it is still up to a restaurant whether it permits dogs at all, so people who enjoy dining while being watched by hungry canine eyes will want to check before getting out the leash.

“These rules do not pertain to service dogs,” DIA noted in its statement. “Service dogs, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), are already allowed in places where pet dogs (including emotional support dogs) are not.”

But even in the case of service animals, employees are prohibited from petting them during working hours.