Dining with dogs gets clean bill of health

Dogs can now hang out with their owners at many Georgia restaurants without fear of getting bitten by state health inspectors.

The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) is among a growing number of state and local agencies to sign off on a practice that many restaurants were already allowing to occur under the table — both literally and figuratively.

“It was actually against the previous code,” said Chris Kumnick, deputy director of the Environmental Health Section at the Georgia DPH. “We were just trying to find a way to allow it, but do it in a safe manner.”

As of November, Georgia restaurants may allow pet dogs in outdoor dining areas, provided they are kept on leash and have no direct contact with wait staff or customer plates and utensils. The guidelines are similar to those recently adopted in New York and California.

Maryland requires restaurants to notify their local health department in writing at least 30 days in advance of allowing dogs in outdoor dining areas. And Florida requires restaurants to obtain a permit from their local government before allowing dogs in designated outdoor areas.

In all cases, it’s up to individual restaurants to decide whether to allow dogs at all. The decision is a no-brainer for many sidewalk cafes and restaurants in Decatur, a pleasant suburb of Atlanta with lots of foot traffic.

“I think it attracts an additional clientele,” said Eric Roberts, executive chef at The Iberian Pig, a dog-friendly Spanish restaurant. “There’s a lot of green spaces around, people walking dogs on a regular (basis). So, it gives them the opportunity to come in and sit on the patio and enjoy a meal beside their best friend.”