Are Emotional Support Animals Allowed in Restaurants?

By: Prairie Conlon Updated: October 13, 2022

A great perk of having an emotional support animal (ESA) is that they can fly and live in rented accommodation with you. But are emotional support animals allowed in restaurants and other public accommodations? Can ESA owners grab a bite to eat with their faithful companion animals by their side? Keep reading to find out!

Pet Vs. Emotional Support Animals: What’s the Difference?

“Are emotional support animals allowed in restaurants? What about pets? Is there even a difference between these two?!”

These are questions we get a lot. To answer them properly, we need to first learn about what an emotional support dog is and what makes them different from a pet!

A pet is a cute companion animal that entertains their owners and keeps them company. Pet owners get them because they love animals and want a new furry buddy in their lives.

ESAs have a job to do, however. They have one giant task: making living with a mental health illness or condition easier. They maintain their owner’s well-being and provide comfort during the really bad days. Ufff — not an easy job, sometimes!

People suffering from mental or emotional conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, anxiety or depression may massively benefit from the companionship of an ESA.

are emotional support animals allowed in a restaurant

Who Can Get an Emotional Support Animal?

While anyone can own a pet, not everyone can get an ESA! Only people with emotional or mental disabilities can welcome an emotional support dog in their lives. This is the main difference between a pet and an ESA. ESAs are prescribed by a licensed mental health practitioner (LMHP) to mitigate the symptoms of your disability.

You can think of an emotional support dog as a doggo with a job. Because they do provide a service for their owner, they are assistance dogs. On the other hand, pet dogs are not assistance dogs. It may not sound like a big difference, but trust us — it is!

What is the Difference Between and ESA and Service Animal? 

Since we’re on the topic of assistance dogs, let’s get something clear: an ESA is not a service dog. Both are assistance animals. But the definition of a service animal is different from the definition of emotional support dog. The main difference lies in who needs to be trained and what kind of tasks each of them carries out.

Service animals and psychiatric service animals are specifically trained to help with daily tasks that may be limited due to the individuals disability, for example a seeing eye dog or a dog that recognizes when PTSD is triggered and intervenes.

What is an ESA Letter, and How Can You Get One?

In a nutshell, an emotional support dog is an assistance dog. So, they have emotional support animal letter!

A licensed mental health professional (LMHP) has to issue your ESA letter. It states that the ESA owner has a mental health problem or other disability that requires them to have an ESA by their side. Thanks to this letter, you’ll be able to be near your furry ESA companion at all times.

There is only one way of getting an emotional support letter. A doctor’s note just won’t cut it. You need to find a licensed mental health professional in your state to issue your ESA letter.

Having an ESA sadly isn’t your answer to “Are emotional support animals allowed in restaurants?”. Still, there are other perks!

If only there was a convenient way to reach out to a therapist… Oh, there is! CertaPet puts you in touch with a LMHP in very quickly. To get started, complete this free, 5-minute pre-screening test and we will handle the rest!

ESAs Are Protected by Two Federal Laws!

The beauty of having an ESA is that there are two important federal laws that protect them. Neither answer the question “Are emotional support animals allowed in restaurants?” — but they’re even better!

In the United States, emotional support animal laws cover fair housing and travel by plane. Luckily, these two ironclad laws protect your disability rights.

emotional support animal restaurant

A Close Look at the Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is an ESA owner’s best friend. If you live in private or public rented accommodation, you can live with your ESA. Unfortunately for pet owners, this law doesn’t apply to them.

Under the FHA, all landlords must provide reasonable accommodation for ESAs and their owners. This includes not charging a pet deposit or fee at the end of every month and not refusing them housing.

There are only two exceptions to this law. The first is if your ESA is a direct threat to other people, your landlord has the right to evict you. The second is if you don’t show your accommodation provider a valid ESA letter.

Understanding the Air Carrier Access Act

Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), your ESA can fly with you. Leave your flight anxiety at home and bring Fido along with you!

Make sure to bring your emotional support letter with you and to read up on the airline’s ESA policy. If you do everything right according to their policy, you and your dog will board right away. If you’re denied boarding, you have the right (and duty!) to file a complaint. After all, flying with your ESA is one of your disability rights.

**Please note, as of January 11, 2021, under new regulations passed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the allowance of Emotional Support Animals onboard flights may vary from airline to airline. Please contact your airline of choice for their most up-to-date policies on Emotional Support Animals.

When Are Emotional Support Animals Allowed in Restaurants?

When going out with a service dog, you may access all public establishments. But it’s a different story when it comes to ESAs. The question remains — are emotional support animals allowed in restaurants?

The short answer to that is: it depends. ESAs can only go into public establishments that have a pet-friendly policy. If the restaurant you’re dying to go to allows pets, your ESA can go in. If it doesn’t, then your cute pooch will need to stay home. Unless…

Unless you call ahead and check with the establishment’s owner if they can make an exception for you! Make sure you explain your situation and hope for the best. You never know, the owner might be a lover of animals…

Why Service Animals are Legally Allowed in Restaurants and ESAs are Not

Now, you may be confused about why a service animal has access to all public places. Why don’t ESAs have the same access? This is because service animal laws are different from ESA laws. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers service dogs (and the occasional miniature horses). This law allows them to go into all public establishments while the dog is on duty.

But this isn’t the end of your dreamy lunch-or-dinnertime escapades with your ESA! There are plenty of pet-friendly public restaurants in the United States. A quick Facebook or Google search will give you a list of pet-friendly restaurants near you.

What about Public Stores Pet Policies?

Are Dogs Allowed in Walmart? Is Walmart Dog Friendly?

Unless it’s a service animal, Walmart is non pet-friendly so you cannot bring your ESA there.

Are Dogs Allowed in Target? Is Target Dog Friendly?

Like Walmart, Target only allows service animals and not other pets!

are dogs allowed in target

A Well-Behaved, Well-Mannered ESA is Often a Welcome ESA

An emotional support animal does not need to be trained. Yet, it is a good idea to train and socialize your dog from a young age. Everyone loves a puppy with good manners — including restaurant owners!

Getting into a public establishment with a trained dog is much easier than with an unruly one. Teach them to sit, stay, and come back on command! Plus, they don’t have to be trained by a professional to do these things — you can train them yourself!

If You Need an ESA Letter: CertaPet Has You Covered

There are so many benefits to getting an emotional support letter. Coming home to a loving presence after a long day at work alone makes the whole process worth it. And the best part? CertaPet makes your life a whole lot easier by handling the paperwork for you.

To get an ESA you need an emotional support letter. Don’t worry about the hassle of finding a licensed mental health professional. CertaPet does all the leg work for you. Simply take this 5-minute free screening test and you’ll be holding your fuzzy friend in no time!

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