As U.S. regulators are easing rules for dogs at restaurants in outdoor spaces, Key Biscayne is taking a cautious approach when it comes to encouraging Fido as a dinner date.
Dogs are neither formally allowed nor banned at island restaurants, but the Village has been slowly ramping up code enforcement with the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said.
To be clear, there’s interest. More than two dozen pet-friendly restaurants are listed in the Chamber of Commerce’s dining guide,
Even though nearly half of states already allow canine dining outdoors, the issue is far from settled, with many diners and restaurants pushing back against the increasing presence of pooches.
Restaurants have been required to allow service dogs for decades. But it wasn’t until the mid-2000’s that a handful of states — including Florida and Illinois — began passing laws allowing dogs in outdoor dining spaces, according to the Animal Legal and Historical Center at Michigan State University. Twenty-three states now have such laws or regulations.
Jeremy Gauger, Key Biscayne’s code compliance chief, says the current Village code doesn’t speak to whether pooches are legal dining companions.
“As of now, our code is silent,” he said. He said as officials periodically update regulations, clear rules about dogs eating outdoor at restaurants are probably a good idea. For now, he said officials are not contemplating any enforcement actions. The Village has stepped up enforcement of a ban on dogs at beaches, however.
The Florida law, adopted last year, sets forth a process where a restaurant applies for a permit before allowing dogs on the premises. The procedure involves a description of the outdoor area, hours, and other sanitation and safety rules.
In 2020, the Conference for Food Protection — a group of food industry and health experts that advises the government — asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue guidance for states. It cited a 2012 risk assessment in Australia and New Zealand that found that the health risk to human diners from dogs was very low.
The FDA’s updated food code, issued late last year, says restaurants can have dogs in outdoor areas if they get approval from a local regulator. Restaurants should have signs saying dogs are welcome and should develop plans to handle dogs and their waste. They should ensure dogs remain properly restrained and provide separate food bowls so dogs don’t use plates or utensils meant for humans.
The new guidance comes as U.S. pet ownership is rising. Nearly 87 million U.S. households now have a pet, up from 85 million in 2019, according to the American Pet Products Association.
And experts say more people are looking for dining options that will accommodate their dogs. Yelp searches for businesses using the “dogs allowed” filter jumped 58% between the year ending May 1, 2021, and the year ending May 1, 2023. A total of 47,415 businesses now describe themselves as “dog friendly” on Yelp, the company says
Tatyana Chiochetti, who leads the Key Biscayne Chamber of Commerce, agreed, saying that dog-friendly dining is here to stay.
“We think it enhances business,” she said.
The Associated Press Dee-Ann Durbin contributed to this report.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.