Restaurants may permit dogs on patios

Restaurant owners in Cedar Park can now apply with the city to allow dogs on their outdoor patios because of a new ordinance approved by City Council on March 26.

Restaurateurs may apply for a variance through the city of Cedar Park for free, and the Williamson County and Cities Health District gives final approval. Once the variance is approved, restaurants must follow regulations to allow customers to bring dogs onto their outdoor patios, including requiring dogs to be collared and leashed.

Pet owners are prohibited from feeding dogs meals or treats while on the patio, according to the ordinance.

To receive the variance, restaurants must have separate entrances other than a front door for dogs to enter, said Amy Link, Cedar Park assistant director of development services.

Restaurants must also post signs to notify patrons that dogs are only allowed outdoors. Employees must avoid making drinks or food dishes on the patio.

The ordinance requires city of Cedar Park staffers to maintain a comprehensive list of dog-friendly restaurants, which will be made available on the city's website, Link said.

City Council heard the first reading of the ordinance March 12 after city staffers proposed the change to fill a gap in the city code, Link said.

The city previously had an animal control ordinance to allow dogs on restaurant patios. But the ordinance did not establish a formal process for restaurateurs to apply for a variance, Link said.

City staffers examined ordinances of other cities and discussed the proposed ordinance with members of the Cedar Park Chamber of Commerce and Williamson County's health district for feedback on the variance.

"Some of the [misconceptions were that] this was a required option—that a restaurant would have to allow for dogs on patios," Link said. "But it is not. It is strictly an option for restaurant owners to take advantage of."

Gerald Freeny, owner of Bellini's Texas Grill, said he plans to apply for the variance. The Parmer Lane restaurant is named after his dog, a terrier mix named Bellini, and dog owners have often asked if they can bring their canines to the restaurant, he said. Bellini's opened an outdoor patio in October.

In summer 2014, Rick Redmond, owner of Lone Star Grill & Bubba's Backyard on New Hope Drive, asked the city to consider an ordinance outlining the application process for restaurants to allow dogs on patios. Redmond said he planned to allow dogs on Lone Star Grille's outdoor patio after the restaurant opened in May 2014. But after he announced his plans, the county health department notified him that Cedar Park ordinances did not outline a process of applying for a restaurant variance.

Redmond said he has kept dog owners from bringing their pets to the restaurant until the issue was resolved.

Before the ordinance, county health inspectors who found restaurants allowing dogs on patios would have found the restaurant in violation of the Texas Food Establishment Rules, said Marcus Cooper, marketing and communications director with the health district.

The city's new variance request and review process will last about one week or at most two weeks, he said.

"Then we will work with those restaurants to make sure that [the rules are] enforced," Cooper said.