In the food-service industry, a restaurant’s atmosphere can run the gamut from high-end and elegant to fast and furious. Chances are, though, that your restaurant’s style is somewhere in between – say, casual and laid back, with an emphasis on good food and good times. For many people, dining out means getting together with friends for a long leisurely meal; for others, though, having a good time means inviting along their loyal pet. Many dog owners enjoy spending time with their canine friends, and are looking for restaurants that will welcome dogs as happily as they welcome humans. If you’re considering opening your restaurant’s doors to dogs, read on to discover what amenities you should be providing so that both pets and owners enjoy their time and want to return.
What Is Your Target Audience?
Non-dog-owners may not understand this, but dogs are big business, especially among millennials. Millennials are also big on dining out. Put those two facts together and perhaps it’s not that hard to believe that there is an entire website devoted to finding dog-friendly restaurants: Bring Fido. Given the size of the millennial cohort who are marrying later, having fewer kids, and loving their pets, perhaps it’s not that surprising that dog-friendly restaurants are a growing trend. In addition to millennials there is also an increasing number of aging Baby Boomers who once had kids at home but are now parents to pups instead. They too, are a demographic that restaurants should be looking at when deciding whether to become dog-friendly.
How to Do Dog-Friendliness Right
Turning your restaurant into a dog-friendly environment is not that difficult – if there is a will there is a woof.
If you’re just starting out and intend to welcome pets to your restaurant from the get-go, choose a location near a spot that attracts dogs and their owners. That includes parks, walking trails, and bodies of water (after all, dogs do love to paddle). In addition, you may want to set up shop close to local dog-related business. That way, for instance, when pet-owners bring their dogs to the local groomer, and have an hour to kill, ensure that they see an ad or flyer for your restaurant, which is conveniently located nearby, and make it clear that they can bring the pooch afterward, as well.
Even if you become the most dog-centric restaurant in town, you don’t want to turn off your loyal non-dog-loving customers, who may be less than thrilled to share their dining space with canines. The ideal way to solve this dilemma is to have a pet-friendly patio. That way, dog lovers and those who are less enamored of our furry friends, can keep a reasonable distance and still enjoy your excellent food. Ideally, pet-owners and their dogs should be able to access this patio area without going through the main dining area. Seating dogs and their owners in a separate area will also avoid the problem of having them in the way of servers, which increases the risk of trips and falls.
Offer Bonzo a Bonus
To be truly dog-friendly, you have to have a good-service mentality for the animals as well as for the owners. It’s not enough to just “allow” a dog to be tied up outside – that’s not friendly at all. So, for instance, when a waiter brings a pitcher of water to a table, have him or her bring a water bowl, as well, for the thirsty pup. This is a cheap and easy way to make dog owners feel like their pet is genuinely welcome. Stock up on dog treats or create a small dog menu. Plenty of businesses go out of their way to treat dogs well; just take a look at “The Ultimate List of Companies With Secret Menus and Free Products For Your Pup,” to fully understand just how accommodating you can be.
Read the Regulations
Just as you’re careful to follow health and food-safety regulations for your kitchen, you have to check the rules regarding dog-friendliness. Health and safety codes related to dogs and restaurants include the condition that dogs must be kept away from areas where food is prepared, while some states and localities maintain that dogs must be kept outdoors. If local rules say that you cannot allow dogs in your restaurant, you can try applying for a variance that will allow you to get an exemption. To get this variance, you will need to show that you are taking steps to avoid any dangers inherent in allowing dogs into your restaurant. For example, requiring wait staff to wash their hands after touching or petting any furry visitors before handling someone’s food.
Another example is to create a place for dog waste. In addition to being toxic, dog waste can quickly smell up your restaurant, which won’t help attract customers. Make sure you have a space for visiting dogs to do their business, and a way to get rid of it properly. Encourage your customers to clean up after their dogs and ensure that you have a supply of bags and separate trash bins for customers to use.
Another rule you may encounter is ensuring that customers remain with their dogs, or at least keep them on a leash, at all times. Some states may even require this in their licensing requirements, so make sure that you read the regulations carefully. Whatever rules you make for your visitors, both canine and human, make sure they are clearly listed so everyone can see them. While you hope that people will follow the posted rules, you should be ready to ask people – and their pets – to leave if they have a problem adhering to the regulations.
Check with your insurance company regarding coverage that can protect you from issues that may arise from having dogs in the restaurant. These include: staff or customers tripping over dog leashes or someone getting hurt by a dog. Depending on where you are, you may be liable if a dog gets loose and injures other dogs or pedestrians outside the restaurant.
Put the Word Out
Once you’ve made the decision to welcome dogs, state it loud and clear on your website, on your Facebook page, and via any other social media outlets you use. Dog owners are wary about going somewhere they’re not welcome and no one likes getting ready for a night out with Rover, only to end up getting turned away at the door. Put your restaurant’s name on sites that promote dog-friendliness; and follow the mantra: if you announce it, they will come.
Consider offering specials and deals that cater to people who bring their dogs. You can designate Dog Days or Pet Hours during which there are special discounts only for people who bring dogs. Keep in mind that the added value in becoming dog friendly is that it will boost the Instagram factor for your restaurant. Very few things are more photogenic than a cuddly poodle partaking of one of your colorful desserts surrounded by a tableful of happy customers.
You Won’t Be Alone with Your Dog-Friendly Approach
In case you’re still not convinced that being dog-friendly is a worthwhile trend, just peruse the Internet. People Magazine has published a list of the “Most Dog-Friendly Restaurants in the United States,” and there are many such lists on the Net. Morristown Deli in New Jersey, for instance, goes out of its way to welcome four-legged customers by offering doggie appetizers, meals, desserts, and cucumber water (colored pink or blue depending on the pooch’s gender). These small touches help to create a great environment for pets and their owners – if you’re about to embrace dog-friendliness – you may as well do it with gusto.
Dog-Friendly Restaurants: Bark If You’re In Favor
Although welcoming four-legged friends at your restaurant has many benefits for your business, you must also be prepared for the downside. Some dogs aren’t as well-behaved as they should be and they can disturb other customers – even other dogs and dog-owners. If you’re still ready to move ahead with your dog-friendly plans, ensure that there is a separate area for pets, taking into consideration your regular customers whom you don’t want to alienate. In other words, while you’re busy attracting a whole new clientele, don’t forget those who are not thrilled with the new pet-friendly environment and consider them, as well, in your decision-making process.