By Jon Zeller | July 9, 2021

Summer is here, and one highlight of the warmer weather is the opportunity to eat outdoors at a restaurant with your dog. If you’re looking to ensure the best experience for yourself, your fellow customers, and your favorite four-legged dinner date while you dine out, here are some things to keep in mind.

Don’t feed restaurant food to your dog

Idiomatic use of “doggy bag” notwithstanding, your dog shouldn’t be sharing your restaurant food. Dogs can’t eat everything you can (this despite a gaze suggesting they wholeheartedly believe they should). Many common ingredients in human food—including chocolate, grapes, and xylitol, to name just a few—can be dangerous or even deadly to our canine pals. And even dishes without ingredients poisonous to dogs are likely to be loaded with butter, oil, and seasonings that are not good for their health. So, when you bring your dog out to eat, keep them away from all unauthorized food.

And remember to give your dog an ample supply of water—especially, but not only, on a hot day. Bring your own vessel if you can; while some restaurants may have dog bowls on hand, there are no guarantees.

If you crave the thrill of letting your dog lick up the remnants of your canine-safe ingredients, wait until you’re back in the privacy of your own home.

Show a healthy respect

If it were up to this correspondent, dogs would be allowed everywhere. And there are countries in this world where pooches routinely make their way into fancy restaurants. But the freedom to take your buddy out for a night on the town also comes with some responsibilities toward others; when you find an establishment sensible enough to welcome you and your dog, do what you can to keep the place safe for the humans who eat and work there.

Dr. Donald Schaffner, a Rutgers University professor, expert in food safety, co-host of the podcast Risky or Not?, and owner of two dogs, points out a Centers for Disease Control list of diseases that can be spread from dogs to humans. He recommends that if your dog seems sick—for example, if they’ve recently vomited or had diarrhea—you leave them at home. “If a human were experiencing these symptoms,” he says, “we would ask them to stay home from the restaurant as well.” This good citizenship will help prevent the spread of disease, and may also help foster more favorable attitudes among those who are skeptical of pro-dog policies.

Because there are pathogens that might infect a dog without causing symptoms, Dr. Schaffner says, “even an asymptomatic animal poses some level of risk.” While conceding that the same is true of an asymptomatic human, he reasons that “we can’t ban humans from restaurants.”

You might assume that one of the most perilous dining-with-a-dog activities would be letting a dog lick a plate or silverware. But, as Dr. Schaffner and co-host Ben Chapman note on their podcast, the short answer to whether letting a dog lick your plate is risky is: “not as long as you wash it after.”

Having said that, we suspect that letting your dog eat off of a restaurant’s plates or utensils, or drink out of its cups, will gross a lot of your fellow diners out and possibly upset the eatery’s management. So if you crave the thrill of letting your dog lick up the remnants of your canine-safe ingredients, wait until you’re back in the privacy of your own home.

Model dog-dining decorum

You can bolster the reputation of dog people everywhere by being a good guest. Call ahead to inquire about the rules of the restaurant or cafe. Are dogs permitted? You and your dog will have a better time if you go somewhere that’s happy to accommodate you.

Once you’re there, conduct yourselves agreeably. Do what you can to keep your dog entertained while you’re dining. They can’t participate in your conversations about how work is going or how unbelievably delicious this mousse is—so bring a treat-filled toy or something else that they’ll enjoy chewing. And, before you leave for the restaurant, feed your dog and give them a nice, long walk.

Keep your dog leashed throughout the meal, and make sure they can sit calmly and on command. A restaurant can be crowded and full of distractions, and you can’t be certain how even a usually well-mannered dog will behave. Keeping yours clipped to a leash will reduce the likelihood of them wandering off and getting hurt, or bothering any diners who have a misguided aversion to man’s best friend.

KaCee Solis-Robertson owns two dogs, has worked in food service for around 15 years, and currently makes cocktails at WedgeHead in Portland, Oregon. She’s seen a lot of dogs at restaurants—and that’s generally been a positive thing. “Most dog owners are very well in tune with their animals,” she says. But she does offer an important note on safety:

“The worst thing that could happen” for servers, Solis-Robertson says, “is that we’ve got three plates in our hands of your very delicious, sometimes very expensive food, and your dog jumps on us.” This could create a dangerous situation for staff, other guests, and your dog.

Space for your dog—from people and other pups—will also improve your chances of a harmonious meal. If your dog is sociable and wants to say hi to potential new friends, check that they’re okay with it—confusing as it is that anyone could be less than delighted by a pup looking up at them with a wagging tail, don’t assume that everyone loves your dog as much as you do.

Laws and customs vary from place to place. If you’re lucky, you may be in a locale with dog cafes—eateries that exist to serve dogs and their people, putting them first while taking special sanitary precautions.

Have fun!

Bringing your dog out to a dog-friendly restaurant is a great way to get human-canine quality time, and many staff members and other diners will be glad to see your pooch. Solis-Robertson raves about Mr. Pony, a terrier who’s a regular at WedgeHead. “She is a well-behaved, absolutely sweet older girl,” she says.

Dr. Schaffner likes that dogs seem to be allowed in more spaces these days, including outdoor eateries. “That said,” he adds, “I’m not ready to eat inside a restaurant where there might be dogs.” But even the food-safety expert hasn’t always let the presence of an animal stop him from savoring an indoor meal. “I still remember wandering into a restaurant in Amsterdam and being very surprised to find there was a cat walking around,” he told us. “That was some of the best arugula salad I’ve ever had, but I’m sure it had nothing to do with the cat.”