A sign forbidding the dogs to enter a restaurant.

Why Emotional Support Animals Are Not Allowed in Restaurants

4 min read

Going to a restaurant can be rather overwhelming if you suffer from anxiety or other disorders triggered by crowds or public places and those owning an emotional support animal might want to take it with them to make the experience more comfortable. Unfortunately, many public places, including restaurants, don’t allow ESAs in and it looks like they have their reasons. We tried to look closer at the issue and find out what’s wrong with bringing your ESA dog or bird as a dinner company.

What Are Emotional Support Animals?

A woman is holding a pet in her hands.
Emotional support animals help people overcome various mental and health disorders.

The first thing to understand here is what exactly are emotional support animals and how they differ from regular pets or from service animals. Even though the emotional support animal is still a pet, it has some additional tasks to do besides entertaining the owner and making him clean after them. ESA's task is to help people with mental conditions or illnesses as having such an animal around makes those people feel more comfortable and less anxious. Getting an emotional support animal is often recommended to people with:

  • anxiety disorder;
  • depression;
  • bipolar disorder;
  • social phobia;
  • PTSD etc.

To qualify your pet as an ESA, you need to get a consultation from a licensed mental health practitioner. But if emotional support animals help people with medical conditions and are recommended by doctors — they are service animals, aren’t they? In fact, they are not. The main difference between ESAs and service animals is that ESAs are not obliged to receive any kind of special training. All they need to do is to provide love and comfort to their human regardless of how well-mannered they are and how good they are at following commands.

Why Can’t I Take My ESA to a Restaurant?

A dog is looking into a restaurant through the window.
Some restaurants have strict rules while others allow pet owners to have meals with their little friends.

Now when we know the significant difference between service animals and emotional support animals, it’s easier to understand why the former is allowed everywhere including schools and restaurants and the latter are not always welcome in public places and especially in those where people eat. To do their job right, service animals have to spend hours in training programs which leads to perfect discipline and obedience. This is, unfortunately, not always the case with emotional support animals that are often not trained enough or not trained at all. So, there are two main reasons for ESAs to not be allowed in restaurants: 

  • Behavior. When not trained properly, animals, and especially dogs, can get super-excited or scared when they enter a restaurant. With so many unfamiliar people, unusual noises, and luring smells, it’s very easy for an animal to lose control and start jumping around, bothering other visitors. 

  • Hygiene. We are sure you care well about your emotional support animal but a restaurant administration can’t check every four-pawed visitor for meeting the cleanness standards. And it’s a rule: where there is food, everything should be super-clean. For this reason, some restaurants allow dogs and other ESAs in their outdoor patios where they are far enough from kitchen and bathrooms.

It’s understandable that some ESA owners might be upset and disappointed by the fact they need to leave their fluffy friends at home, the rule is a rule and for now, there are no legal decisions that would make the owners of the restaurants let ESAs inside.

How Can I Increase My Chances of Entering a Restaurant with an ESA?

A woman is holding a dog and drinking coffee in a restaurant.
You can have a walk around the district to find ESA-friendly restaurants.

Like there are no laws that would make restaurants let you in with your emotional support animal, there are also no laws that would prohibit them from doing so. That is why this decision is always left to the discretion of the administration. Sometimes, the rules are strict and there is no way to get around them but sometimes, you can convince a restaurant that letting you in with an ESA is not the worst idea. To do it, we’d recommend two things.

First of all, make sure your ESA is well-mannered and properly trained. It’s much easier to get anywhere you want with a calm and polite dog that always stays around your knee than with a funny but uncontrollable beast that is constantly jumping around and barking. Invest some time and effort in teaching your animal at least some basic commands or hire a professional dog trainer to increase your chances to succeed.

Secondly, make sure you have all the necessary documents to prove that your animal is an ESA. Even though such documents are not a universal pass to any place you want, they might add you some points while carrying negotiations with a restaurant’s administration.

If this didn’t work — don’t get upset. The laws might change sooner or later but your current mental state is much more important than a night out.

by GetESA

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ESA 101: Educational