It's not easy being green ... and dog friendly. Or at least that's the lesson the folks at the downtown Taco Boy recently learned. Following a visit by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, the Huger Street hotspot learned that its sustainable-minded mission didn't jibe with current DHEC regulations. The result: Taco Boy will no longer permit dogs on its spacious outdoor patio.
According to Thom Barry, spokesman for DHEC, a restaurant must meet specific requirements, including the environmentally unfriendly demand that the restaurant use disposable plates, utensils, and cups.
"DHEC stated that if we wanted to allow dogs on our patios, we would be required to serve all our food and drinks in disposable containers," says Phoebe Byers, director of marketing and development for REV, owner of Taco Boy, Poe's Tavern, Monza, and Closed for Business; all four restaurants currently do not allow dogs. "It is extremely wasteful, and REV is serious about sustainability and initiating green practices at all our restaurants."
The relatively new Mexican restaurant on Huger has been a model of green practices; it has an on-site recycling system and uses stormwater for outside irrigation. Meanwhile, the inside decor relies heavily on refurbished materials. According to Byers, all REV-owned businesses use biodegradable soaps, recycled to-go ware, corn cups, and Xlerator hand dryers. They also try to support local farms whenever possible.
Byers indicated that any attempt to adhere to DHEC standards would create confusion in the kitchen and make it impossible for the restaurant to live up to its standards.
Barry says that a failure to comply with this dog-friendly restaurant regulation is a minor violation that will result in a one-point deduction to the overall score a facility receives on its inspection. He adds, "We have not issued any monetary penalties for this violation." DHEC doesn't keep track of the number of restaurants that have received a variance.
Minor violation or not, for most of those in the food and bev business, a single point deduction is likely to be a big deal. It is for REV. "Most restaurants/managers, if they're serious, take DHEC recommendations seriously and address them immediately because they don't want to receive a low score. It's a poor reflection on how they run their business," Byers says. "Anytime we have a recommendation from DHEC, we typically address it that day or as soon as possible so we can maintain high DHEC scores."
From the peninsula to Park Circle, Folly Beach to Shem Creek, more and more Charleston-area restaurants have attempted to woo customers by allowing them to bring their dogs along to dine with them. Some host so-called yappy hours, while others allow dogs on their outdoor decks. Others with sidewalk dining also regularly serve clientele who have their dogs by their side. The regulations apply in all situations, both inside and out.
The City Paper recently spoke to two dog-friendly restaurants. One said that it had never applied for a variance from DHEC and was completely unaware that such regulations regarding man's best friend existed. Another restaurant said it also did not know about the regulations. Neither use disposable utensils, plates, and cups. Both restaurants said that they had not been visited by DHEC recently.
In 2008, the state agency began to require restaurants to apply for a variance allowing animals in areas where food was served. Prior to 1995 only service animals were allowed in restaurants.
Byers, for one, thinks that the requirement to use disposable items is unnecessary. All plates, utensils, and cups are scraped clean if necessary, sprayed off, and put into the dishwashing machine.
So far, Byers says, Taco Boy's customers seem to be taking the new rules well. "We haven't experienced too much backlash," she says, "but, of course, there are customers who are upset that they can no longer bring their pets with them."
Asked about his thoughts regarding the guidelines, Maxwell, a lovable mutt, said, "Ruff, ruff." We'll take that to mean that he doesn't like them.