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Are Emotional Support Dogs Allowed in Restaurants?

old man on a bench with a dog licking his ear
Dr. Erica Irish author of Are emotional support animals allowed in restaurants

For decades, dogs have served an important role in the life of persons dealing with physical or mental health issues. Trained dogs can perform a large variety of tasks for their owners, and they provide comfort for many people, even strangers!

You may find the need for such a magnificent canine companion to help you where you live, but lately, it has become difficult for some people to know when and where they can bring their dogs outside of the home. 

Can you bring your dog to public areas like restaurants, and what are the criteria that would permit you to do so?

What is an Emotional Support Dog?

As discussed in previous articles, it is important to distinguish between a service animal and an emotional support animal. A service animal is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act as a dog (or in some cases, a miniature horse) who is trained to do work or perform certain tasks for a person with a disability. This kind of training usually takes a year or two, and some of that time may be spent with the person who will later be assisted by that particular animal.

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) provide comfort and security for people diagnosed with emotional or mental disabilities. ESA species do not have as many limitations as service animals do.

Some ESAs have been known to be dogs, cats, rodents, birds, reptiles, and even pigs. ESAs also go through some training but they do not perform physical tasks as Service Animals do. ESAs for people with PTSD technically fall into this category unless there is a physical task that they can perform for you (e.g. licking your face during a panic attack).

Because service animals perform vital functions for disabled people, they are permitted in public places such as stores and restaurants. If someone asks you for information about your service animal, they are only permitted to ask two questions: is your animal a service animal and what task does he perform?

The person is not allowed to ask you for information about your disability and is not allowed to ask you to make your service animal perform the task on command as proof. Also, there are no official registries for service animals so you will not be required to show a form of identification.

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Where are ESAs allowed?

Emotional support animals have more restrictions than service animals do, and so there are limits to where your ESA can go in public. In the case of housing restrictions, your ESA is allowed to live with you regardless of your landlord’s pet policy.

Under the Fair Housing Act, apartments and college dormitories are required to allow ESAs or they can be financially penalized. Also, you do not need to pay a pet fee for your ESA because they are considered a working animal and not technically a “pet.”  

The Air Carrier Access Act allows ESA on airlines provided that specific guidelines are followed. The main requirements are a recent letter of approval from your licensed mental health professional and a well-behaved ESA. If your ESA becomes easily distracted in busy environments, it is not recommended to fly with him. If you do not have an ESA letter, the airline can bar entry onto the aircraft.  

Where are ESAs not allowed?

According to the law, ESAs are really only permitted at airports and in all kinds of housing regardless of pet policies. Dog parks and pet-friendly areas are still permissible, but for other public locations, ESAs are not allowed. Unless otherwise specified, this includes hotels and AirBnBs, workplaces, grocery stores, theaters, and restaurants. Only Service Animals are allowed in these places.

However, there are still some places of business that boast a “pet-friendly” label. You can always call to check if there is a restaurant with outdoor seating that would allow you to bring your ESA. If service animal rules are not specified on the door of an establishment, it doesn’t hurt to call and ask if you can bring your ESA with you. Websites like TripsWithPets.com, DogFriendly.com, and BringFido.com are search engines that can direct you to pet-friendly locations.


The distinction between service animals and emotional support animals can sometimes be difficult to remember. In short, service animals perform physical tasks whereas ESAs do not. ESAs are permitted in no-pet housing and airports whereas service animals do not have any restrictions.

If you’re not sure about whether or not your ESA is allowed to come with you to certain locations, call and speak to someone about it. The worst that could happen is that they will answer in the negative, but if not, you may be able to go out into the public with your ESA!

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Meet The Author 

Dr. Erica Irish

Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine

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