Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Opening a Dog-Friendly Restaurant
Almost 45% of Americans have dogs. Anyone who has ever had a dog knows that dogs enjoy accompanying their masters anywhere and everywhere, and when they are left behind and crated while their human is out having fun, it can be a depressing experience for them to be left out. Dog people typically love their dogs with great vigor, and by offering dining that includes the family dog as part of the dinner party, it will be a selling point that many will appreciate.
A Dog Walks Into a Bar…
Some basic guidelines that need to be followed will help keep a dog-friendly restaurant from becoming a canine free-for-all.
- Good rules for pet owners to start with are no barking, no jumping, and visiting pets must be on a leash. These are basic rules to help keep both the dogs and the humans safe. Giving a few warnings is ok, but letting a dog in that is not trained to stay on a leash, who incessantly barks, who bites, or who jumps on everyone is an issue that will drive business away again and again.
- Plan your restaurant to have an outdoor seating area that is not enclosed. Most rules in the United States regarding having pets in a restaurant that are not service animals do not allow for pets to be in enclosed areas at a food service establishment.
- Make sure that your dog-friendly dining area isn’t located anywhere that the customer must walk through an enclosed dining area to get to where they are going.
- Having a walk-up window, versus servers to bring the food to the dog-friendly area might be a way to go, depending on your intended clientele.
- Buy outdoor heaters or install fire pits for areas that can get cold, even if they only get cold at night. Making your dog-friendly area as comfortable as possible for most or all of the year will help you maintain a steady business and keep that flow of income coming in.
- An outdoor play area for visiting dogs is a great idea, as the visiting pets can get a bit of exercise and socialization while their owner dines. A small dog run, an area with dog toys will be a big plus for visitors with dogs.
- Dog poop will be a factor. This will require staff that is OK with potentially cleaning up dog poop. When interviewing staff, let them know there will be dogs around. This is also important if anyone in the staff has any kind of allergies to dander or issues with dogs in general.
Making a Menu for Dogs
Since you have decided to make your place a canine-friendly establishment, there is no reason not to make dogs paying customers. Since you have a restaurant, there is no reason that the visiting dogs have to stick to dehydrated dog food. Having items on the menu for dogs will only reinforce the idea that dog people are very welcome in your restaurant, and it will hopefully cement new customer’s loyalty and turn them into regulars.
There are apps out there now that instruct dog owners where to bring their beloved companions, including BringFido and PetFriendlyRestaunts.com.
When considering what to offer visiting pets, it must be considered if the back of the house is comfortable cooking for animals. While you can always offer treats and snacks that are made elsewhere, having a full menu for the dogs who come in is something that more and more places are doing. People are willing to spoil their pets more today than ever. There are some areas where offering a full menu for dogs, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, is not only feasible but very likely profitable.
Consider offering pet accessories, if you have the right set up to display them. Doggie t-shirts with the restaurant’s branding are a potentially popular, low-cost up-sale item. If you offer leads and collars, customers who might have brought along their dog but forgot their leash will take advantage of not having to go back home and return so their dog stays leashed while dining. There are dozens of non-perishable options for profit.
Offering take-out items for dogs is a great idea, as well. Dog treats that offer a reasonably long shelf-life make keeping fresh stock easy, but offering fresh dog treats that are regularly baked/prepared for your dog is a luxury item that can justify a slightly larger price. Offering your customers dog products that aren’t loaded with preservatives and less than healthy ingredients, like what is found in most mass-manufactured dog foods, is a product that isn’t readily available everywhere. By offering nutritious, healthy, and delicious dog snacks you can become a hero to dogs and their owners throughout your area. Who doesn’t want to be a hero to all of the pups in town, after all?
Basics to Consider
Let’s review some basics you want to consider before hitting the “GO” button:
- What type of human are you catering to? Are you looking to attract singles who have pets? Perhaps you want to open in an area with lots of retirees: this may change the kind of things you offer both to the human customers and their pets. Maybe you want to open a family-friendly restaurant for people with kids and pets because you are near a family-friendly vacation spot. Laying out the exact demographics you want to attract is important to think about in the planning phase.
- How upscale will your dining experience be? Although having pets allowed might eliminate the odds of having a successful high-end dining establishment, there are certainly many levels of casual restaurants that can cater to varying levels of income or tastes in food and drink. There are some pretty swanky LA dog-friendly restaurants, for instance, that have proven that high-end dining and dog-friendly dining can mix. Decide if your place might have outdoor dining only, with a pickup window for ordering food. This can eliminate issues that indoor dining might create with local health departments and with interactions between the staff and the pets of diners.
- No matter what kind of place you want to open, no restaurant in the US allows pets in the food preparation areas, so the location of your kitchen is very important when planning a dog-friendly food joint. A consideration that sits above all things is the safety of the food you are selling. Health codes must be strictly adhered to. Because you plan to allow dogs in your restaurant, health inspectors will likely take a special interest in ensuring your restaurant is safely offering food to the public. The only federal laws that touch on pets in dining establishments are the laws regarding service dogs, so nearly all of the rules you will need to adhere to will be state and local laws.
- Make sure you thoroughly check your local and state government offices (and their websites) for specific rules that apply to pet-friendly establishments.
- Get insurance for any dog-related issue that might crop up. People are unfortunately very litigious, and adding dogs into the mix with people can create countless circumstances that could potentially land you in a lawsuit. If this idea will eat you up inside, save yourself the anxiety and open a non-pet-friendly restaurant. If you create a safe, fun environment, and you plan accordingly, with a little luck it won’t be a stressful life for you if you decide to go forward with opening a dog-friendly dining establishment.
When you are looking for a loan for a restaurant, you might want to bring along a copy of your business plan and include the fact that you will also cater to pets. This is a great way to get started with your pet-friendly business!