The question continues to arise from the brewery owners I work with: “Are dogs welcome in the brewery?” Most brewery owners and patrons would say “yes,” and many township managers would say “no.”
Let me preface this whole article with “Don’t shoot the messenger!”
As a commercial insurance agent specializing in craft beverage insurance, I’ll tell you that your brewery insurance policy most likely does not specifically exclude pets at your facility — essentially, allowing them to be there. That said, I’ve recently seen insurance policies that have an “animal exclusion,” so… beware.
Depending on your local and state government, it may be a code violation if you have a pet at a brewery or restaurant that serves food. It is typically against the U.S. Department of Agriculture code to have a pet in any areas where food is being made or served, including outdoor patios. I say “typically” because service dogs are becoming more and more common. Of course, service animals are allowed anywhere their owners go.
The regulations for a restaurant, tavern, or beer and wine license are all different, and could dictate whether you can even consider a pet-friendly stance in your establishment. In any event, 17 states now have laws or regulations allowing pets on their patios, so whether you’re on board or not, the trend is growing.
What to Consider
Before committing to a stance, think of your many patrons at the brewery or distillery who could be afraid of, or just dislike, dogs (hard to believe, I know). I bring my 86-pound Olde English Bulldogge, Philly, everywhere — she’s great, but she’s a tank. Even the five-pound dogs are feared by many. So, if a business is allowing dogs to be on premises, inside or out, and people are afraid of dogs, they may avoid your establishment altogether.
On the other hand, some pet owners may visit longer or more frequently if they’re able to bring their furry friends — fewer worries about leaving their dogs home alone and needing to head home early to take care of them. Pet-friendly policies could serve your business well financially, as patrons opt for a few pours of beer rather than having a taste before they have to hit the road. Dog owners are also frequently social and enjoy getting their fellow owners together, giving your sales an additional bump.
Another consideration that goes both ways is sanitization. Allowing pets on your patio could open up your space to extra germs from dander, slobber, and all the other things that come with pets. However, if you dedicate some resources to keeping your space clean and sanitized (and holding your customers accountable to cleaning up after their bestie), this compromise could work out in your favor and has the potential to keep your team more on top of cleanliness than ever before.
Your city or county might have regulations different from your state that prevent you from even considering allowing pets on your patio. In that case, you’re out of luck. The city or county laws most often trump state laws as state governments find local government more in tune with its residents’ needs and wants.
General safety is one more consideration for your brewery — when you open patio doors to pets, you’re also opening up the possibility for dogs whose personalities clash or owners who don’t control pets as needed. It’s important to set clear expectations for tethering pets and what sorts of boundaries you want to enforce when it comes to pets socializing. I should mention, your insurance policy is very important, and in the event of an altercation, you need all your bases covered to avoid fines from your city, or worse, lawsuits. The jury is still out when it comes to liability. While pet owners are most often the responsible party in these situations, there’s not too much precedence out there to confirm that will always be the case.
To help your decision-making, here are some best practices when it comes to allowing pets on your premises:
- Stay up to date on laws and regulations: Again, all of this hinges on whether your state, county, and city will allow pets and what conditions they set on pets on your property. These could change at any time, so stay tuned in.
- Maintain permits and insurance policies: Just as you do with the TTB and health department, ensure you’re up to date on any certifications or liability policies — you’ll be glad later on.
- Post signage: Be transparent about your policies and expectations for pet owners. From keeping furry friends on non-retractable leashes to having a separate entrance for pets and their owners, it’s up to you (and your state and city’s regulations) to set standards for welcoming these patrons. Also make sure patrons know you do allow pets! It might let a few of them know they should avoid the pet-friendly area if it’s not their speed.
- Limit staff contact with pets: Many state laws and regulations ban staff contact with animals altogether. Others just limit it to those handling food — consider what works for your team.
- Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share: Your staff and your patrons should contribute to keeping your space clean and sanitized when there are pets present. Ask patrons to mind their pet’s facilities and dedicate a staff member and monetary resources to maintaining your spot’s sanitation.
Wrapping It Up
Listen, I love dogs, but I also like to avoid messy situations. If you do allow dogs on premises, be sure to create a clear set of rules that will apply to all customers and also instruct your employees on what to do in the event of an incident.
Local and state health regulations may make this decision easy for you. You should first talk to your local officials about codes specific to your area — you can use them as a reason for your decision.
Protect your guests. Protect their pets. Protect your employees. Protect your business!
Kyle C. Rheiner, CIC
Host of The Beer Mighty Things Podcast
Food & Beverage Practice Leader – Arthur Hall Insurance