Some Salem restaurants are going to the dogs. At least, when it comes to dining al fresco.
City officials say they are allowing restaurant owners to apply for a variance that would permit people to bring their canine companions into outdoor dining areas.
The state’s food code hasn’t allowed dogs, unless they are service animals, in restaurants since 1999. The city’s Board of Health recently contacted local restaurants that were violating the code and strongly enforced the no-dogs policy.
“We never had complaints at the café,’’ said Steve Feldmann, owner of the Gulu-Gulu Café, one of the restaurants that was violating the code.
After the health board stepped in, he said, “We had to turn a lot of people away. We’ve been in town for five years and customers were used to bringing their dogs. It was difficult to explain to people.’’
Feldmann said he started looking for other towns that allowed dogs on outdoor patios at restaurants and presented his findings to the health board. “The health inspector was kind enough to make some phone calls and tried really hard to work something out,’’ Feldmann said.
Larry Ramdin, the town’s health agent, looked to nearby Swampscott, which he said was the only other community in the state that allowed variances for dog-friendly restaurants. The state code allows individual communities to make their own judgments on whether to grant variances, Ramdin said.
A variance was drafted and Gulu-Gulu and its sister restaurant, Flying Saucer Pizza, received them Thursday. “We approve requests from restaurants on a case-by-case basis,’’ Ramdin said.
Some of the conditions listed: Only one dog per person, every dog must be leashed, and the dogs cannot sit in patrons’ laps.
“It’s great they worked so fast to allow this while it’s still summer and didn’t wait until the middle of winter,’’ said Feldmann, “We’ve been seeing lots of dogs on the patio. People seem to be enjoying it.’’