Why Is There A Dog Sitting At The Table At Outback Steakhouse?

If they knew what an Outback Steakhouse was, most dogs would want to visit there as often as possible. But non-service dogs aren’t allowed inside. Reader Erik and his wife recently attempted to dine at Outback, but the presence of another customer’s large, poorly behaved ostensible service dog drove them out of the restaurant.

The definition of a ‘service dog” can be as fuzzy as a Pomeranian, but being allowed to stay in an establishment means that the animal has to behave itself. Or so Erik thought.

Last evening I had to leave my local Outback Steakhouse because I was a bit disgusted. My wife and I show up at our local Outback at around 7:00; the place is dead on Sunday, which is great, since the service is fast.

Our server introduces himself, all is good, we order our drinks. A few minutes later he comes back with our bread and drinks and takes our order.

He tells us our salads will be right out, and they are. So we’re about half way through our salads, I look up to talk to my wife and two booths behind her I notice AN 80 POUND DOG SITTING IN THE BOOTH. I mean this looks like something from a Marmaduke cartoon.

I immediately look at where I put my silverware, because this animals paws are where my food and silverware would go if I were sitting there. Yuck, sorry. I like dogs, but I don’t eat with them. I needed to find out what was going on.

I grabbed the first employee I saw and before I could get the words out of my mouth I saw that this guy knew what I was going to ask. I said, “Is that a dog in the booth?” He replied, “Yes, actually a very BIG dog.” I added, “Does outback allow animals here now? I’m kind of disgusted.” He said “I completely understand, let me grab the manager.”

Within seconds I had a very nice manager come out with that look of, “I can’t believe I need to address this, I wish the dog wasn’t here.” She smiled, I smiled, and she proceeded to tell about the situation.

She immediately offered to move us and pay for our entire meal. I declined and just said I’ve lost my appetite, if the dog is sitting there, what’s sat at my table before we got here? She said she completely undersood and there was no need to pay. My wife chimed in and said we still want to tip the waiter, but we’re just not hungry.

After we resolved that we’re going to leave, the manager told us that this individual with the dog has done this once before now, and other customers had the same reaction. In fact, one family left because their son, who was completely terrified of huge dogs, started crying when it came inside and sat at the table beside them. She said the dog was an animal that helps the individual with “some kind of impulse disorder.” She said last time this happened they completely sterilized the booth, washed the seat pads thouroughly, and cleaned everything very well. We’ve all seen how fast the busboy wipes up a table, so I don’t buy that line, but I sure want to. I didn’t tell her that though, she was very nice.

I did a little research of my own when I got home, and according to the ADA, service animals are permitted anywhere a human is. I guess there is very little criteria for what qualifies as a service animal also. Apparently no documentation, state, or federal certification is needed to classify the animal as a service animal. I was always aware that seeing-eye dogs were allowed to go anywhere, but an “impulse control dog?” What’s next, a dog that helps people who have ADHD?

Where does the board of health come in? Would the local board of health approve of animals sitting at the table, paws on it, showering the shared condiments with its dander and spittle?

It feels like this guy is testing the system. It was obvious that the manager was scared to say anything because this guy might make a scene or file a lawsuit.

Dogs that spend a lot of time hanging out in public should, at the very minimum, have passed or be preparing for the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen certification, which indicates that they at least have some manners.

UPDATE: We heard from someone at the U.S. Department of Justice, who pointed out that service dogs of this type are not covered by the Americans with Disabilities act unless the dog is trained to perform a specific function. The regulations were updated this March. Here’s the relevant section:

Under the ADA’s revised regulations, the definition of “service animal” is limited to a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. For example, many people who are blind or have low vision use dogs to guide and assist them with orientation. Many individuals who are deaf use dogs to alert them to sounds. People with mobility disabilities often use dogs to pull their wheelchairs or retrieve items. People with epilepsy may use a dog to warn them of an imminent seizure, and individuals with psychiatric disabilities may use a dog to remind them to take medication. Service members returning from war with new disabilities are increasingly using service animals to assist them with activities of daily living as they reenter civilian life. Under the ADA, “comfort,” “therapy,” or “emotional support animals” do not meet the definition of a service animal.

ADA UPDATE: A PRIMER FOR SMALL BUSINESS