Schwartzkopf Bill Would Permit Pets in Outdoor Seating Areas of Restaurants

DOVER – In response to confusion and conflicting information about allowing pets to accompany their owners to restaurants’ outdoor seating areas, House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf has filed legislation to make clear that pets are permitted.

The issue grew from a notice that the Delaware Division of Public Health sent to restaurants and posted on social media earlier this summer informing them of an existing – but rarely, if ever, enforced – regulation prohibiting patrons from bringing their pets to the outdoor seating areas of restaurants. The notice led to confusion among restaurateurs and customers and an outcry about the policy.

Rep. Schwartzkopf, whose coastal district’s restaurants are known for being welcoming for residents’ and visitors’ dogs, said he fielded numerous concerned messages.

“I was just as surprised as they were to hear that this regulation was a long-standing rule that simply wasn’t enforced for years. I used to bring my dog with me to breakfast all the time and never knew anything about this policy,” said Rep. Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach. “I know how residents and visitors thoroughly enjoy bringing their dogs with them to grab a coffee, bagel or sandwich and sit outside their favorite establishment.

“After reaching out to the Division of Public Health, I decided the best thing to do was to sponsor legislation making it clear that restaurant owners can decide for themselves whether to allow pets to accompany their owners at their outdoor seating areas. Bottom line: This was a regulation that wasn’t being enforced, so we should get rid of it. This bill will just return things to the status quo many have enjoyed for years.”

House Bill 275 would permit the owner of a beer garden or food establishment to permit leashed dogs on licensed outdoor patios of food establishments and in beer gardens. Rep. Schwartzkopf noted that the establishment still would need to abide by any health regulations and cleanliness rules.

HB 275 has 18 co-sponsors and has been assigned to the House Administration Committee. The General Assembly is on recess and will return on January 14.