Posted by: Jan 12, 2020

CC License: Eric Sonstroem

A surprising amount of confusion and inconsistency surround a simple question: Can I take my dog to a Florida taproom or tasting room?

Restaurant or Bar…if You’re a Dog, it Matters

Before diving in to the Florida rules and regulations that affect whether dogs and other animals are permitted in a brewery’s taproom, a winery’s tasting room, or any other watering hole, it matters whether that watering hole is legally classified as a “restaurant” or a “bar.”

Restaurants are governed by Florida Statutes Chapter 509, which largely incorporate the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Code. The Florida agency charged with the regulation of restaurants (which are called “public food service establishments” in the Florida Statutes) is the Division of Hotels and Restaurants (part of the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulations).

Bars are not governed by Florida Statutes Chapter 509 and do not come under the administration of the Division of Hotels and Restaurants. Instead, “bars and lounges” (which are limited to serving drinks, snack foods, and pre-packaged foods) are subject to food sanitation rules adopted by the Florida Department of Health, particularly the Food Hygiene Standards in Rule 64E-11.003 of the Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.). Confusing matters further, the Food Hygiene Standards refers to bars and lounges, as well as other premises subject to these standards, as “food service establishments”–not to be confused with “public food service establishments”, which are restaurants.

This distinction between restaurants and bars matters for this reason: different government agencies enforcing different statutes and regulations can lead to different outcomes. And if you’re a dog (or a dog lover), it matters, as discussed below.

Dogs Not Allowed Inside Florida Restaurants and Bars (Unless Its Working)

Whether or not you’re at a restaurant or bar, no dogs or other live animals are permitted inside, with a couple of exceptions. For restaurants, this prohibition comes from the FDA’s Food Code of 2017, as adopted in Florida. For bars, the prohibition is in F.A.C. Rule 64E-11.003(6)(c). For restaurants, the list of exceptions includes aquarium fish and crustaceans, caged animals, service animals, and patrol dogs. For bars, the list is limited to aquarium fish and crustaceans and service animals.

What about the Florida restaurants, bars, and taprooms that do allow patrons to bring their pets inside–how do they do it? Most likely, they simply don’t know that Florida law currently prohibits pets inside the dining area. In most cases, it is the appropriate regulatory agency–the Division of Hotels and Restaurants for restaurants or the county office of the Florida Department of health–that delivers the bad news. This might come as a result of a routine inspection, but more often then not it is the result of a consumer complaint. Unfortunately, this leads to the current situation, where some restaurants, bars, and taprooms “get away with it,” while others don’t.

A 2019 bill approved by the Florida House of Representatives would have changed the status quo, at least for some taprooms and tasting rooms, but the bill did not get a vote in the Florida Senate. House Bill 1219, introduced by Representative Anthony Sabatini, proposed to create a new Florida statute which would have allowed dogs and cats in taprooms and tasting rooms. The bill is not being considered in the 2020 session of the Florida Legislature, but it might return in the future.

For Some Restaurants and Bars, Dogs Not Even Allowed on the Patio

Florida laws and regulations, and their enforcement, are fairly consistent for restaurants and bars when it comes to prohibiting live animals inside the dining area. Things get much less consistent when it comes to the patio.

For restaurants, there is a clear statutory path to allowing dogs onto their patios. Florida Statutes Section 509.233 specifically authorizes local governments to allow dogs (but no other pets) in the outdoor portions of public food service establishments. Under this statute, several Florida municipalities–including the City of Orlando, the City of St. Petersburg, and Sarasota County–have created “Doggy Dining” programs. Restaurants that apply for a permit (and pay the requisite permit fee) are thus allowed to invite dogs (and their owners) onto the patios. Taprooms and tasting rooms that have a Public Food Service (PFS) license issued by the Division of Hotels and Restaurant should check with the permits office of their local government to determine whether a dog-friendly dining program exists in that community.

The situation is not as clear for bars. Florida Statutes Section 509.233, which allows dog-friendly dining programs, applies to restaurants (“public food service establishments”) and not bars (“food service establishments”). As a result, whether dogs (and other pets) are allowed on the patios of taprooms and tasting rooms under the regulation of the Department of Health comes down to one thing: Does the county health department actively prohibit dogs on patios, only prohibits dogs on patios in response to a complaint, or never prohibits dogs on patios? Examples of all three approaches exist across Florida. As recently as 2018, the Florida Department of Health stated that there was no push for enforcement when it comes to dogs on patios, but acknowledged that some county health departments did more enforcing than others. If the county health departments are not consistent among themselves, it’s no wonder that there is confusion and inconsistent behavior among Florida’s taprooms and tasting rooms.

Do you have questions about whether dogs are allowed on your taproom or tasting room patio? Contact us at contact@brewerlong.com to schedule a 15-minute introductory call at no charge.

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