COUNTYWIDE — Make no bones about it, Fido and his owner can walk, play and now eat together in restaurants with outdoor patios in Santa Monica and throughout Los Angeles County.
So decreed the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Monday when it released new rules that give restaurant owners the option to allow dogs on outdoor patios.
The change came at the behest of dog-friendly restaurant owners that felt they were missing out on customers who wanted to stop by for a bite to eat or a coffee, but couldn’t bring their dogs through the gate.
“Many dog and restaurant owners advocated for this policy change, and we are pleased to support both residents and business owners with this opportunity,” said Jonathan E. Fielding, the county’s director of public health.
The new policy went into effect Monday everywhere except Pasadena, Long Beach and Vernon, which all have their own health departments.
People with their dogs still do not have the right to walk into restaurants unrestricted.
The restaurant must have an outdoor patio, and the patio in question has to come with a separate entrance so that pets do not walk through the restaurant or near where food is prepared.
Dogs also can’t sit on seats, benches, chairs or tables.
Restaurant workers will not be able to prepare food near the outdoor dining area, including dispensing or mixing of drinks and ice, and tables cannot be set in advance of customers coming to the restaurant to avoid contamination.
Employees can’t touch the dogs, but must clean up after them in case of any accidents involving bodily fluids.
All in all, it’s actually a lot of work for those restaurant owners who choose to take advantage of the rule, said Angelo Bellomo, director of environmental health for the Los Angeles County Public Health.
“Again, this will not apply to all restaurants,” Bellomo said. “It’s a means by which a restaurant operator who does cater to that clientele can allow them to have their dogs on the outdoor dining portion.”
Dogs are not allowed in the remainder of the restaurant out of concerns that free-floating hair will contaminate table settings, drinks and food.
Not all canines are known for their bladder control, and officials felt that keeping those accidents away from diners and carpets was a boon to public health.
As restaurant owners begin to take advantage of the new rule, additional restrictions may come online, Bellomo said.
It’s currently unclear if waiters and waitresses will be able to refill water glasses outside, or if they must bring them back indoors given the restriction on dispensing liquids near dogs.
Staff hasn’t gotten that far yet, Bellomo said, but they’re leaning toward requiring waitstaff to bring the glasses back indoors or minimally use covered pitchers.
Unsurprisingly, not all restaurants felt enthused about the possibility of inviting man’s best friend out for dinner.
Vanessa Bui, the manager at Barney’s Beanery on the Third Street Promenade, wasn’t sure that her restaurant would be the best place for a dog.
“Some dogs that people have here are a little loud,” Bui said. “We want to make sure that they keep on the other side of the fence.”
Even having the option available was a boon to dog advocates, who have long sought to soften Santa Monica’s heart and laws on canine companions.
“That’s so awesome,” said Georja Umano, founder of Unleash the Beach, an organization working to create a leash-free Santa Monica Beach.
Umano would like to see Santa Monica follow the example of Carmel, Calif., which has a dog beach and permits animals in outdoor dining.
“It’s great that Los Angeles is slowly waking up to some of these things that people really want, enjoy and makes their life better,” she said.