Pups Present on Some Restaurant Patios, More on the Way

By on June 2, 2016

The first two dining establishments in the area to receive Dog Friendly Patio/Deck Variances from the Douglas County Health Department (DCHD) started allowing dogs on their patios in early May, and so far so good, according to the general manager of one Omaha business.

“We haven’t seen big numbers of dogs being brought to our outdoor patio yet, but we’re hoping that will change,” say Mike Cizek, General Manager of the Black Oak Grill in Midtown.  The other business to receive the variance allowing dogs on patios is Cantina Laredo, also in Midtown and owned by the same company as Black Oak.

“We’ve had a smooth start to this process, and we really haven’t had much in the way of customer complaints about sharing space with dogs,” said Cizek. “In fact, when people find out what‘s happening, they’re generally pretty supportive. I think a lot of that is due to the fact that we did a lot of preparation, including significant staff training which was developed and conducted by the Nebraska Humane Society, to get ready for this. For example, we want to make sure our personnel know how to do normally simple things like place dishes on patrons’ tables…you don’t want to reach in front of a dog to do that, which could make it feel uncomfortable or defensive. It’s just part of knowing how to do things the right way to help people and animals get along comfortably.

“So far, we’ve typically had just one or two dogs at a time on the patio, which isn’t a bad thing, at this point. The variance allowing dogs on patios or decks was approved late last summer, so we had plenty of time to plan and prepare well, which we did. But this relatively slow start has given us time to test out those plans, and if we find we need to change things we can, and will, without a big disruption.”

Much of the planning was based on a comprehensive list of requirements developed by the DCHD in a collaborative effort. “The Department took a good look at what’s been done in other communities with respect to allowing dogs on patios and decks,” said DCHD spokesman Phil Rooney. “Obviously, our primary responsibility is to ensure food safety, which becomes a little more challenging when you include dogs in dining areas. We took what we learned from other communities and added the input we got from our local restaurant operators over a period of several months. We used all that to put together detailed requirements which have to be met if eateries want to allow dogs on their patios or decks.”

Some of those requirements are simple and straightforward, such as keeping dogs on short leashes, not allowing them to enter inside dining areas, regular patio cleaning, and more. Highly visible signage listing rules and regulations is also required.

“There are a number of other things we need to do to accommodate dogs on our patio,” said Cizek. “For example, and this is another common sense thing, we try to keep people with dogs separated from other people with dogs. We also insist on good dog behavior, which, frankly, hasn’t been a problem yet. But we don’t want unruly and barking dogs creating an unpleasant atmosphere for other patrons. To be honest, dog owners don’t want that either, and so far it just hasn’t been an issue. If it becomes a problem, the offending dog(s) will have to be removed. However, that’s not a whole lot different than our policy regarding people who may not be behaving all that well.”

Dogs can be given water, but not food while they’re on the patio. And, of course, dogs being dogs, “accidents” are inevitable…not the most appealing situation in any area where food is served. Here again, Cizek said there has been significant preparation. “Our employees have to clean up after the pets, and we’ve provided special cleaning products just for such occasions,” he said. “We have separate trash containers for animal clean-up, and we’ve installed a dedicated hand-washing station. There are regulations about overall patio cleanliness requirements, and they’re strict. But, customers care about sanitation and safety, and the Health Department and our business have addressed both concerns as thoroughly as possible. With this kind of gradual start-up, we’ll have time to modify our plans if and when it becomes necessary.”

DCHD’s Rooney says the department views the process positively, as well. “It’s been a good, thorough and well-thought-out effort between restaurant operators, the Health Department, and the Nebraska Humane Society. We believe we’ve all done what’s necessary to maintain food safety while helping restaurant operators succeed.”

Although only two restaurants have received the variance to date, others are reportedly in the process of pursuing variances, or are at least considering it. For those who do, Cizek says he’s willing to share his experiences and preparations with those who are interested.

“Absolutely,” he said. “We’ve tried to make everything we’ve done easy to duplicate by others. We think consistency and familiarity in what people see when they go from one eating establishment to another will be reassuring for patrons and good for the overall effort.

“We don’t really know what kind of impact this will have on business,” Cizek says. “But, if people are out walking their dogs, it does give them an option to stop in for a meal without having to take their dogs home. Overall, people seem to like the idea.”


Requirements for receiving the variance and more information about the effort are detailed in the following links:




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