The city of San Marcos’ “Dining with Dogs” ordinance was intended to create an avenue for dog owners to bring their pets to restaurants and bars, but the regulations have some business owners asking the city to throw them a bone.

City Council approved the first reading of amendments to the ordinance on Tuesday night.

Under the ordinance, dogs are only allowed in dining establishments that have patios and received an approved variance from the ordinance at a cost of $200. So far one establishment, the Railyard Bar & Grill, 116 Edward Gary St., has applied for a variance from the ordinance. Service animals are also allowed in dining establishments, including restaurants and bars. If the city did not have such an ordinance in place, the city would be subject to the state health code, which calls for an outright ban on animals in dining establishments.

The city’s “Dining with Dogs” ordinance was passed in 2015. Before that, it was technically illegal for dogs to go to restaurants.

“Although the intentions of the council were good in passing this ordinance, it places unnecessary burdens on establishment owners,” said Seth Katz, co-owner of Zelick’s, Pie Society and Dos Gatos, at a meeting in July. “The bottom line is people want to have their option to bring their dogs to establishments with patios.”

Neighborhood Services Director Jeff Caldwell said the city adopted its ordinance because the state code was too restrictive.

“We did the ordinance to allow dogs to go to restaurants,” Caldwell said. “We wanted to have a variance process to allow [dogs to go to restaurants].”

On Tuesday night, Caldwell said a second establishment is in the process of applying for a variance.

Chase Katz, who also co-owns Zelick’s, said the ordinance would require the business to install another entrance for customers with dogs. In addition to building a new entrance, he said the business would have to have an employee at the new entrance checking IDs, resulting in additional payroll costs.

“That creates a huge financial burden on us, and I think it’s unnecessary to achieve what we really need,” he said. “What we really need is a safe environment for people.”

The updates to the city's Dining with Dogs ordinance include:

  • Remove a requirement prohibiting dogs from coming within 7 feet of an entrance to the interior of a food establishment

  • Require a sign to be posted near the entrance and exit of the patio explaining the rules related to dogs

  • Require establishment staff to be trained on the city’s Dining with Dogs ordinance once a year, and within 14 days of hire for new employees

  • Require food establishments requesting the variance provide a form for employees to sign indicating that they have been trained on the rules regarding dog dining

  • Require that the forms signed by employees be available upon request during inspections or investigations of complaints

  • Clarify language regarding how restaurants with gravel eating areas should disinfect the spaces containing dogs

  • Require city staff to have pre-variance meetings with business owners to discuss the necessary steps to obtain a variance