Service Animals in Your Restaurant June 21,2017

Every day restaurants are confronted with the familiar issue of people bringing their pets with them into a restaurant. In Colorado, the food code prohibits restaurants from allowing animals into areas where food is being served unless it is a service animal. Because of that, it becomes the responsibility of the restaurant to determine if it is a service animal.

How can you do this?

Easy, the animal must be a dog, or in rare cases a miniature horse. No other animal qualifies as a service animal under the American’s with Disabilities Act.

If it is not easy to identify that the animal is a service animal, the business is allowed to ask only two questions per the ADA:

  1. Is the animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

If the customer responds in a way that even seems appropriate, the restaurant must and should allow the individual in with their service dog. The customer must maintain control of the animal at all times, and must not allow it to contaminate any surfaces where food is served.

If the animal is running around the establishment, going to the bathroom on the floor, begging for food from other customers, or sitting on the table and the owner is not controlling it, the business has the right to ask the individual to leave. And, according to the health department, if they witness an animal acting like this in a restaurant and the business doesn’t control the situation or ask the customer to leave, that would be a violation of the health code, even if it was a service animal.

We’ve worked with some partner attorneys to develop these Tips for Success

  • Number one! DO NOT ask about the customer's disability! Doing so could put your business in trouble. And any inquiry regarding a service animal should be done by a supervisor or a manager. This is a situation that should be handled delicately.
  • If there is even a small chance that the animal is a service animal, act as if it is. If a business gets it wrong and doesn’t allow someone to enter with a service animal, the business will be in violation of the ADA.
  • Psychiatric Service Animals ARE service animals. Emotional support or therapy animals ARE NOT.    
  • Service animals DO NOT need to wear a vest or have “paperwork” to verify their authenticity.
  • Service animals DO NOT need to be on a leash if the use of a leash will interfere with an individual’s disability. But remember, the individual must maintain control of the animal.


*This information is meant to be educational and not legal advice. If you have specific questions or need legal advice on this topic, please call 303-830-2972 and we will help get you the support you need.

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