As a restaurant owner, one of the unique situations that you might come across in day-to-day restaurant operations is catering to those who have service animals. A service animal is defined as an animal that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.
Under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), state and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in places of public accommodation. Additionally, the ADA states that service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the serviceanimal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices.
It’s important to understand that restaurant operators cannot prevent someone with a service animal from entering a restaurant and cannot ask a person with a service animal what their disability is. Service animals should not beg for food and should be house-broken.
The law applies only to dogs and miniature horses that are specifically trained to respond to the needs of a person with a disability.
Upon entering the restaurant, there are only two questions that may be asked of the service animal’s owner. The first is “Is the animal a service animal required because of a disability?” and the second question is “What tasks is the animal trained to perform?”. No further questions are permitted under federal or state law. Once you’ve learned the answer to these questions it is important to evaluate the restaurant and ensure guests who sit near the animals are not allergic.
While service dogs more common, restaurants must also keep in mind that some patrons may have a trained miniature horse for assistance. Miniature horses generally range in height from 24 inches to 34 inches measured to the shoulders and generally weigh between 70 and 100 pounds.
Food service operators must reasonably modify their policies to accommodate use of a miniature horse as a service animal.
The Texas Restaurant Association aims to educate restaurants about these important laws and help provide both restaurant owners and customers with the best information possible. Additional information about service animals can be found here or you can contact Kenneth Besserman, TRA General Counsel via e-mail or 800.395.2875