Pets at restaurants? Michigan considers allowing dogs at outdoor dining locations
Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com
But what if man's best friend wants to tag along?
“Animals can be very polarizing,” Washtenaw County environmental health supervisor Kristen Schweighoefer said. “There are a lot of people that feel very strongly about the topic on both sides of the situation.”
Michigan’s food code is in line with the federal food code, which does not allow pets — aside from service animals — to be present in locations where food is served. However, a bill working its way through the Michigan House of Representatives could change that.
“It’s currently not allowed, and there’s typically good reason behind that,” Schweighoefer said.
“That being said, if you’re already in an outdoor environment there are a number of other possible contaminations that you’re not going to be able to control very well.”
The legislation, House Bill No. 4335, was introduced by Representative Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage) in February and is co-sponsored by four other Republican members of the state house. O’Brien has said she introduced the bill to help increase restaurant and other tourism related revenue in Michigan.
Restaurant owners and managers in downtown Ann Arbor said they don’t foresee the new law drastically affecting business. Mac Herbert, a manager at Pacific Rim, and Bill Fall, a manager at Vinology, both said they don't envision their clientele bringing dogs to eat with them very often.
However, if the law does change, many restaurants seemed open to the idea of allowing dogs on their patios.
Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com
“Our main concerns are food safety and guest satisfaction, so if it would enhance a guest’s experience to bring their dog and the other guests don’t mind then we’d be happy to try to accommodate.”
The legislation received some criticism during initial testimony in front of the house tourism committee and is now undergoing revisions to address some of the issues raised.
“There were some concerns when the bill was first introduced from organizations like the Michigan Restaurant Association and the Department of Agriculture,” Stephanie Bogema, O’Brien’s legislative director, said.
“We are working with some of those groups now to change the language a bit to make it more acceptable for them.”
Bogema said Rep. O’Brien is working with the organizations and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to develop a rules framework to accompany the new law.
“We need to make sure that it is clear what the restaurant, the local municipality, and the customers’ responsibilities are in terms of watching the pet and the pet’s actions,” she said.
Having a live animal in the presence of food service is a “priority foundation item” that requires immediate correction or correction upon a follow-up if it is noticed by a food safety inspector.
Patrons also can call the county to report violations, but Schweighoefer said pet-related complaints are few and far between.
“We get maybe two or three complaints in a year about pets on patios,” she said. “ I can’t remember a time that we’ve ever had to address this particular violation through our enforcement procedures.”
At some cafes and coffee shops, such as Starbucks on Main Street or Sweetwaters on Washington Street, it is legal for the pets to be outdoors because all food service occurs inside. Code violations occur when pets join their owners on patios offering full-service dining.
Despite the risk for restaurants, dogs can often be seen eating and drinking alongside their owners on a number of Ann Arbor sidewalks. When an animal is sighted at a restaurant, Schweighoefer said it is important to remember any pet could be a service animal.
“Not all service animals are identified by a collar, and you can’t necessarily tell just by looking at them,” she said.
“It’s not just golden retrievers with the little jackets, they come in a variety of shapes, sizes and breeds.”
The bill is unlikely to change anything for restaurants this summer as the house already is out of session, but Bogema said it likely will be taken up again by the tourism committee in the fall.
If the bill passes the house and the senate, it would be an “opt-in” legislation, meaning restaurants would not be required to allow pets on their patios, but would be allowed to if they saw fit. Local municipalities also could pass ordinances to make the bill’s language more restrictive.
Ben Freed covers business for AnnArbor.com. You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Get in touch with Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2