Patio season is almost here. That means months of warm weather and clear skies at your favorite restaurants and bars.
But your dog can’t come.
Blame state rules.
Both Illinois and Iowa have banned non-service animals from restaurants and bars. That includes outdoor eating areas, like patios and beer gardens.
Unlike California and Florida — where municipalities or individual businesses can decide whether or not to allow pets into restaurants — Illinois and Iowa have statewide prohibitions.
Both states have adopted versions of the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Code, which bans most animals from the premises of a business that serves food.
“It’s a state code. We have to do what they say is their program,” said Eric Bradley, Environmental Health Coordinator at the Scott County Health Department, which enforces the state policy.
In Illinois, a restaurant can petition the county or in some cases a municipality for a variance, according to local municipal officials and a spokesperson with the Illinois Department of Health. Businesses in Iowa can apply for a variance, or exemption, from the state government.
But local health officials said that few businesses in the Quad-Cities area have applied. When asked about the number of variances in the local area, public health officials on both sides of the river counted fewer than four.
"The department is open to the possibility of waiving the regulation concerning dogs on patios, provided the facility is willing to institute rules that provide equal protection" for all patrons, said Stefanie Bond, public information officer at the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.
The lack of applications might reflect ignorance of health code, or the red tape in obtaining a variance.
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Ken Croken, a supervisor on the Scott County Board, called the requirements to obtain an exemption “overly onerous.”
“I’ve talked to a lot of restaurateurs who say that they’d very much like to accommodate pets,” Croken said. “It could be very good for business.”
The no-pets rule has two exceptions. The first is service animals, which in general are not considered “pets” and are allowed into public places.
The second exception is the city of Chicago.
In Illinois, a state law allows any municipality with a population of 1 million or more to legislate whether or not to allow dogs in outdoor areas of businesses where food is served. Chicago is the only municipality in Illinois with more than 1 million residents.
On both sides of the river, Quad-Citians said they want the policy to be made at the local level, not by state. An Iowa petition from 2017 to amend the health code received 1,230 signatures.
“Counties are not at liberty to just pass a different law,” Croken said. “Since service animals are allowed in outdoor seatings and even inside the restaurant, it becomes a pointless exercise in overreaching government.”
Many who live in the area have said that they enjoy seeing dogs on the grounds of local bars. Some local businesses have even admitted to allowing dogs on their patios, in violation of health code. Violators risk losing their license.
But Bradley said that the Scott County Health Department has received few complaints and has not penalized local businesses for infractions.
“We get calls now and then,” he said. “We really haven’t written anybody up for that, or given any citations. It’s about education right now.”