Gone to the Dogs — Making your outdoor restaurant patio ‘pet friendly’ can reap big rewards
Dogs are man’s best friend, and increasingly, people are living life with their best friend right by their sides. That includes hiking, driving, shopping — and eating. This puppy love is not going unnoticed by savvy retailers, many of whom are cashing in. Several large retail chains welcome well-behaved canines, including most Home Depot and Lowe’s locations, and even the high-end retailer Nordstrom’s.
And why not? Pet lovers are a rapidly growing consumer market. In 2015, Americans spent over $60 billion (that’s a ‘b’, folks), on their pets. Over 65% of all U.S. households now own a pet (according to the 2015-16 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association).
While health regulations do not allow dogs inside restaurants (except service dogs), many cities, especially within the past five years, have relaxed regulations for pooches within outdoor areas. This is great news for restaurant owners who have outdoor patios and want to actively woo the dog lover set.
Red’s Porch in Austin is dog friendly, and general manager Sean Bradshaw believes that it is a huge draw. “We have a lot of regulars who are dog owners and they know they can come to Red’s with their dogs. Sometimes they come in multiple times per week. The whole idea was to be an organic restaurant with a down home feel – like going to a friend’s out in the country. Here you can relax with your friends and family, and pets are just part of the family.”
Tim Rohloff is manager of the Katy Trail Ice House. Located on the popular hike and bike Katy trail that meanders through Uptown and Oak Lawn area of Dallas, having a pet-friendly restaurant was part of the plan since the restaurant’s inception. Approximately 75% of the restaurant is outdoors and pet friendly, and they have made a name for themselves as such. “We have tons of dogs here every day, especially being located off the trail. People come just to be able bring their animals and have a drink.”
If you are launching a dog friendly restaurant or plan to become one, there are a few simple guidelines to make the transition smooth for guests, staff and dogs.
Tell them about it
There isn’t much point in become a dog friendly restaurant if no one knows about it. Start marketing yourself as such. Promote your dog friendly status using door or window signage, online on Facebook, your website and other social media outlets, YELP and Foursquare. Call your local pet stores and shelters – make sure they know you welcome four-legged friends. Many people search for canine friendly places online, so make sure you are optimized for Google search results.
Make sure your space is “dog friendly”. Texas is hot – make sure you have strategically-placed water bowls throughout the area (easy to find, but not in the direct traffic areas) and be sure to keep them filled. Offer free dog treats. Some restaurants even offer a dog “menu”. Rohloff says they sell treats of various sizes, evening offering organic options. Have pet waste bags handy for quick clean-ups. Also keep toys and a blanket or two on hand just in case you get a dog in need of a little distraction.
Be clear on the rules
Post a clear set of house rules, both onsite and online. Recommendations include that dogs be kept on a short leash, aggressive dogs will be asked to leave – and any pet ‘accidents’ are the responsibility of the owner to clean up. The more up front you can be with guidelines, the less worry you’ll have if an issue does crop up.
Bradshaw also emphasizes the need for clearly marked pathways and designated pet friendly areas, and make sure that every guest knows the layout of the land. “Customers are just like guests in our home,” he says. “We show them around and make sure they know where everything is, and where pets can and cannot go.”
Be Creative….Be Social
Most dog lovers are social creatures and enjoy getting together with other dog lovers. Consider creating events that drive dog loving traffic by bringing the pet community together. Host a special “yappy hour”….or partner up with your local animal shelter for an ‘adopt-a-thon’ or fundraiser. Red’s Porch held a Halloween doggie costume contest which was a great success. People also love taking photos of their pets, which is a great marketing opportunity. Encourage guests to use your username or hashtag when posting photos to social media.