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Are Emotional Support Animals Allowed in Restaurants?

Are Emotional Support Animals allowed
April 25, 2022

Emotional support animals are a great help to their owners; their job is to provide comfort to their owners and make living with a mental health condition easier. These pets are prescribed by a licensed mental health professional and, usually, have been added to an ESA registration list. Thanks to federal laws, people are not allowed to deny you housing or prevent you from flying with an ESA. But can you bring your pet with you to other public places, such as restaurants? Keep reading to learn more.

Are Emotional Support Animals Allowed in Restaurants?

The simple answer is that it depends. Unlike service dogs who are allowed to go anywhere with their owner, ESAs are only allowed to go into stores and restaurants that have pet-friendly policies. Service dogs have been trained to perform a specific task to help those with physical and mental disabilities. They are also protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), whereas emotional support animals are not.

But this doesn’t mean that you can’t bring your ESA with you when you go out to eat. Stores and restaurants set their own policies on whether or not to allow animals into their establishments. Do some research to find a pet-friendly restaurant before you go out. Call ahead and ask about their policy on emotional service animals. Additionally, some states have their own laws and regulations about bringing ESAs to public locations. Check your local laws to see if you are prohibited from bringing a support animal to a restaurant.

Being Considerate in Public Spaces

If you are allowed to bring your ESA into a restaurant, it’s crucial that you are both considerate of the restaurant owners and other guests. It is thoughtful to call in advance to ask about their policies, but also to let them know when you plan to go out to eat. This will let them make any necessary arrangements before you arrive, so both you and the other guests will be comfortable.

Additionally, you should train your pet to behave in public when they are around other people and exciting stimuli-like plates of food. Since ESAs aren’t required to undergo any special training, it’s up to you to teach your pet to be well-behaved. A trained pet has a better chance of being allowed in a restaurant over a badly behaved one. It also helps to visibly identify your dog as an ESA by putting a vest or collar on it and have the proper registration and documentation with you to validate your claim.

Getting the Right Documentation

Though they may not ask for proof outright, it is often helpful to carry your ESA’s documentation with you while in public. With this information, you can further validate your claim that your emotional support animal should be allowed to accompany you into the restaurant. Be sure to have an official letter from your licensed therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist, as well as any registration documents. This will make it easier to gain access to restaurants, stores, hotels, and other public places when you’re with your ESA.

To learn more about emotional support dog certification and how to bring your ESA with you in public, visit the National Service Animal Registry.

FAQs About Emotional Support Dogs & Other Animals in Restaurants

When Are Emotional Support Animals Allowed in Restaurants?

Compared to service dogs, Emotional Support Animals have very few legal rights when it comes to taking them out in public places. For example, a restaurant is not legally required to allow an emotional support animal if they have a ‘No Pets’ policy. But a service dog, on the other hand, is allowed everywhere. The only instance when an emotional support dog can be allowed in a restaurant is when you have an official letter from your therapist mentioning that the ESA is a part of your treatment for anxiety, depression, panic attack, or any other psychological or emotional disorder. 
Naturally, confrontations are commonplace in restaurants and other public places when your ESA accompanies you. The good news is you can avoid such situations by ordering an ESA letter and a registration kit from us. We provide these kits for your companion cat, dog, bird, miniature horse, rabbit, ferret, etc. These will serve as the necessary documentation that you can produce to the restaurant owner when they ask you about your four (or two)-legged companion.

Can a Restaurant Ask for Proof of Service Dog?

Yes. When you walk into a restaurant with your service dog, the owner can ask you the following two questions in accordance with ADA laws:

  1. Is the service dog trained to aid a disability?
  2. What tasks can the service dog perform?

According to the ADA, a restaurant has to make necessary modifications to allow a service dog in the establishment. Some restaurants abuse these laws and ask unnecessary questions which causes a lot of harassment for handlers. Keep in mind that a restaurant staff or owner cannot ask the following questions:

  • Are you disabled?
  • What is your disability?
  • What is your identification?
  • Where was your dog trained?

A restaurant owner also cannot ask you to make the dog demonstrate its tasks. If you feel that a restaurant is being discriminatory, you can report the incident to the ADA. This will result in a hefty fine for the owner.

However, the rules are different for an emotional support animal. It is not a compulsion for a restaurant to allow an ESA. They may ask to see a letter from your therapist exclusively stating that the ESA has been prescribed for the treatment of your disability.

Do Restaurants Still Have to Allow Service Animals If they Have a “No Pets” Policy?

A service animal is not a pet. According to the rules stipulated by the ADA, a service dog must be allowed to accompany the handler to all areas of the facility where all customers are allowed to go. A person with a service animal should be treated the same way as any other customer. This means that restaurants with a ‘No Pets’ policy will need to make an exception for service animals.

But are ESA dogs allowed in restaurants with a ‘No pet’ policy? Yes. But if you do not have the right documentation, the decision will be at the restaurant’s discretion.

Should Service Animals and Emotional Support Dogs be Allowed to Eat at Restaurant Tables?

While your service animal or ESA can be allowed to accompany you to a restaurant, they are not permitted to eat off the table. Restaurant seating, food, and drinks are usually for customers only. 

It’s important to realize that neither an ESA nor a service dog is a pet. They are employed to do a job that they have received training for, which is why we need to maintain stricter regulations with them than we would with a regular pet. That being said, eating from the table is unsafe for dogs because it can cause severe digestive problems since human food is not meant for them. It can also lead to negative behavioral problems.

What Can I Do If an ESA or a Service Animal Bothers Another Customer?

An ESA or a service dog is the sole responsibility of its handler. When it is exhibiting disruptive behavior in a restaurant like growling and barking at other customers or being aggressive to them, staff can ask the handler to bring the animal under control. If the animal continues to be disruptive, the handler can be asked to remove the animal from the facility. That being said, the handler should be given the option to continue enjoying their food without the animal or return to the restaurant without it.

The ESA or the service dog can return to the restaurant unless they are being disruptive again. However, extreme situations like biting or attacking staff or customers can warrant a permanent or temporary ban for the animal.

Can Restaurants Charge a Maintenance or Cleaning Fee for Service Animals?

No. As per the ADA rules, you cannot be charged a maintenance or cleaning fee or a surcharge for bringing your emotional support dog in a restaurant. However, a restaurant can charge a fee if the service animal or the ESA causes damage to the restaurant’s property. This will only be applicable if the same policy applies to other non-disabled customers. It is important to know your rights when you bring a service dog or an emotional support animal with you to any public place. This will prevent unnecessary hassles for you and your companion.

Know the Difference Between Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is neither a regular pet nor a service animal. A service dog not only provides companionship but can also perform necessary tasks like preventing panic attacks, bringing medicine and water, pulling a wheelchair, calming a person with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), etc. While a service dog, which is covered under the ADA, can be taken anywhere – in restaurants, stores, public transportation, etc., a regular pet cannot. This answers the common question of whether service dogs are allowed in restaurants.
But are ESAs allowed in restaurants? The case of an ESA falls somewhere between a service animal and a regular pet. An ESA is a legal designation and serves as a companion animal for their owner. While dogs are recognized as service animals primarily, an ESA can be a dog, a cat, a bird, or even a miniature horse. An animal can only be considered an Emotional Support Animal if it has been prescribed by a licensed therapist for a patient diagnosed with psychological or emotional disabilities like anxiety, depression, etc. This means an ESA can only be allowed in a restaurant when you have a prescription from your health professional denoting the animal is a part of your treatment.

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