Bone Appetit: New York May Let Dogs Into Restaurants

Most state health laws prohibit dogs from restaurants, but New York may soon allow restaurant owners to admit canines into outdoor areas to be with their humans. And the possibility is making some people barking mad, sparking a canine cuisine vs. dog-free dining fight.

In summer, restaurants everywhere cram tiny tables onto sunny patios, creating in-demand outdoor spaces often separated from the sidewalk only by wobbly popup fences. And onto those fences American diners tie their dogs—inches away, on the sidewalk side, because that is officially not on the restaurant’s property. Those few inches can seem pretty arbitrary (except of course for the waiters who are navigating around the tiny tables trying not to spill drinks).

New York’s state legislature is currently considering passing a bill similar to one that California passed last year, giving restaurants the power to decide whether dogs may accompany humans dining al fresco. Europeans have been taking their dogs to lunch for decades (but only because the dogs never pick up the check, ha, ha) so, as with many other food regulations, some Americans wonder why we are so behind Europe on this one.

People get a little crazy about dogs, projecting their own human feelings onto a tail wag or a bark like a canine Rorschach test. (I’m not saying that dogs don’t get happy or angry, just that this Onion article sums it up nicely.) And people get a little crazy about food, finding childhood comfort and love in a box of processed macaroni and cheese. Combine dogs and food, and get ready for a good dose of emotion.

Pets are generally not allowed in restaurants for health and safety reasons including contamination of food, linens, and equipment (service dogs, such as those to help people with disabilities or police dogs, are notable exceptions). The American Food and Drug Administration recommends against live animals in restaurants (except seafood for sale), and most states have heeded its warning by passing laws prohibiting pets. Sorry to bring this up, but the thousands of unwelcome animals we dine with every day need exterminators to remind them of the law.

But in cities and other communities where people walk a lot, allowing dogs in restaurants could be a boon for these notoriously low-profit-margin businesses. Sitting down to a meal in the middle of running errands is currently not an option for those who travel with Fido. If the legislation passes, expect new gourmet menus for high-end New York canines, lthough those owners might simply order off of the human menu for their furry friends.

Proponents of the legislation in New York state claim that the health risks are minimal and that many restaurant owners are already allowing dogs to inch onto restaurants’ outdoor patio spaces. The legislation would simply make it easier to regulate and make rules for what is already happening.

The New York City Health Department opposes the legislation, in spite of the state’s recent health modifications to the legislation. Restaurants allowing dogs would need to, among other provisions, provide a separate dog entrance, ensure that dogs are leashed, use single-serve disposable dishes for dogs, post signs that dogs may be present for patrons who may prefer not to dine around animals, and clean up after dogs. (Did they really need to make a rule about that last one?)

Then there are the cat owners, who are as grumpy as that YouTube cat that dogs may get special privileges. Eater questioned whether it is discrimination and The Times Union (Albany) asks in an op-ed “Can a state truly be free when you can’t take your cat to a restaurant?” Hey it’s not the Federalist Papers, but they have a point. (Psst: Washington, D.C. is about to open a cat cafe called Crumbs and Whiskers, where you can play with one of the 24 felines in residence.)

The New York state Senate unanimously passed the doggie dining legislation last month and the state assembly is now considering it. So don’t be surprised if that Wagyu steak you had your eye on was just sold to the dog at the table in the corner.