I went out to eat twice last week. That’s unusual, but a good friend wanted to meet for lunch and my husband and I needed a date night.
I arrived earlier than my friend and entered the restaurant, one I’d never been in before. In response to my statement that I would be meeting a friend, the man at the front podium disappeared inside the dining room. Ah, and so it begins. I knew he wasn’t looking for my friend because I never described her. I predicted he would return with reinforcements who would discuss the presence of my service dog.
Just as my friend arrived, a manager, who was terribly polite, showed up. He welcomed me but informed me “Health Department rules” require them to seat me and my dog on the patio, not in the dining room. I took a breath, smiled back at the nice man, and informed him the local health code indeed allows service dogs in the dining room as does the Americans with Disabilities Act. Still smiling I offered him a copy of the Department of Justice’s business brief on service dogs.
The manager declined my offer, saying, “It’s obvious you know the law.” We were seated in the dining room and moments later we were visited by the owner who reiterated that we were welcome and if we had any questions we should ask to speak to him.
Was this an act of lawsuit avoidance or simply a means of fixing a botched first impression? It didn’t matter. They worked hard to fix what could have been a big problem and they succeeded. We were able to enjoy our lunch without indigestion.
The next evening my beloved and I entered a barbeque joint I’d been in three times with my service dog, two of those with my husband. The waitress who met us when we walked in looked at my dog with great concern, took the menus and began to walk away. Thinking we were being seated, we followed.
Instead, she walked to the half wall separating the dining area from the kitchen and began to talk to the chef. She turned back to me and told me, “Your dog can’t be in here. The Health Department says so.”
Due to the music pouring from the overhead speakers, the awful acoustics of the place (I usually avoid loud restaurants but a) it’s hard to find a quiet place these days and b) I was really in the mood for barbeque) and the noise from various conversations I had a hard time understanding her. While I tried to get her to explain the problem, the bartender started yelling at her and the chef. “It’s a Seeing Eye Dog,” he mistakenly explained, “It’s allowed to be here!”
Then the bartender looked at me. “It’s OK, sweetie, you go ahead and sit down, you’re fine.” Sweetie? Really? We sat down and within a minute the bartender was at our table.
“The chef wants to see your license.”
“What?” I asked. Did he want to see my driver’s license?
“You know, the license you get for your dog.”
“There is no such thing!” I insisted.
“That’s what I thought and that’s what I’ll tell him,” said the bartender.
Finally we ordered. The chef kept eyeing us hostilely. I looked at my husband and wondered aloud if perhaps the “chef” would spit in our food or try to poison me?
What was the difference between these two experiences? I encountered ignorance at both restaurants. However, at the first restaurant I also encountered civility. I was given ostensibly bad news with a calm demeanor and a smile. My explanation of the law was met with respect and belief. At the second restaurant the lack of welcome and overt hostility continued throughout the meal.
Which restaurant would you return to in the future? Which restaurant would you recommend to friends?