Florida law prohibits dogs at restaurants, unless local governments create permit systems for restaurants that want to allow them. FILE, LUKE JOHNSON/STAFF
BY SARA DRUMM Tribune correspondent
Published: July 12, 2013
Updated: July 13, 2013 at 09:16 AM
BELLEAIR BLUFFS - Restaurants here - from casual breakfast spots to upscale steak houses - have long welcomed dogs to their outdoor dining areas, allowing them to stare longingly at people's food while their owners eat.
That's technically not legal, as Florida law prohibits dogs at restaurants, unless local governments create permit systems for restaurants that want to allow them.
Now, the city is poised to join a growing number of Pinellas County governments that sanction "doggy dining."
Dunedin, Clearwater and St. Petersburg have approved such measures, and Pinellas County followed suit in April, establishing a system for restaurants in unincorporated parts of the county.
City Clerk Debra Sullivan introduced an ordinance last Monday, based on the measures the county adopted. At their meeting tonight, Belleair Bluffs city commissioners are hoping to hear from local restaurateurs about the proposal. The City Commission likely will revisit it at an Aug. 12 workshop and vote on the ordinance at a later meeting.
Commissioner Suzy Sofer, treasurer of the Bluffs Business Association and owner of Cody's Original Roadhouse, said she wouldn't be able to take advantage of the new ordinance because she has no outdoor seating area. Most local restaurants, though, do allow dogs outside, and that helps their business, she said.
"I think that is one of the appeals that Belleair Bluffs has, that they tend to cater to the dog-lovers," Sofer said.
Welcoming dogs has made the city's business district more welcoming, said Allen Edger, owner of Maggie Mae's on the Bluffs.
"There are a lot of pet owners that love to spend a Saturday morning and come out and have breakfast and bring their dog," he said.
The only complaints Edgar has gotten were about noisy dogs.
"I would definitely pay a permit to allow dogs," Edger said. "It definitely helps business."
Mayor Chris Arbutine said he thinks the proposal has the City Commission's support. City leaders want to do whatever they can to help the local economy, and allowing people to bring dogs along to restaurants is part of the local culture, he said. Prohibiting that could hurt business.
Restaurant owners who want to allow dogs would be required to purchase permits and designate outdoor seating spaces for dogs.
They would also be required to provide hand sanitizer at every dog-friendly table and to make staff members wash their hands every time they pet a dog.
Above all, the city wants to make sure its restaurants are compliant with state law, Arbutine said.
"We want to do what makes people happy," he added. "I think that whenever you loosen up an ordinance for a business it definitely makes more room for the business to do better and the clients to be happier."