Dogs in Food Establishments

Virginia Food Laws prohibit live animals at food establishments with a few exceptions. Service animals are always allowed inside an establishment. Dogs may also be allowed in outdoor dining areas if the establishment follows certain guidelines and gets approval from the health department. 

Dogs in Outdoor Dining Areas

Virginia law allows dogs in outdoor dining areas if an establishment meets certain criteria. Please note that this only applies to dogs; other animals are not permitted. Service animals or patrol dogs are always allowed and are exempt from these requirements.

Dog in an outdoor dining area

Establishments that would like to allow dogs, must submit an application(PDF, 174KB) to the Public Health Division agreeing to comply with these criteria. Once Public Health approves your application, you will receive a new license, which specifies Dog Dining as a condition.

Criteria for Dog Dining:

  1. The outdoor dining area is not fully enclosed and is not a part of the interior physical facility.
  2. The outdoor dining area has a separate entrance for patrons and their dogs.
  3. The establishment posts a clearly observable sign stating that dogs:
    • Are allowed in the outdoor dining area
    • Must be kept leashed and under control
    • Are not allowed on seats, tables, and laps
    • Are not allowed to eat or drink from restaurant dishes
  4. The establishment provides effective means for cleaning up dog vomitus and fecal matter. For more information, read the handout Keep It Clean(PDF, 1MB).

Service Animals

Generally, service animals are allowed to be with their person, even in places that don’t allow pets. This includes being inside a restaurant.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has guidelines for distinguishing between a pet and a service animal. A service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. An animal providing emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship is not a service animal. 

Food establishment staff are only legally allowed to ask two questions to determine if a dog is a service animal: 1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? And 2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.

For more information about service animals, see ADA Requirements: Service Animals and Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA.

Service dog

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