Catering to canines

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association of Greenwich, Connecticut, we’ll spend $38.4 billion on our pets this year. Bark magazine says its readers—the kind of dog enthusiasts who would probably take their pet out to lunch with them—spend $1,450 a year on their pooches. 

No wonder more restaurants are trying to gain a competitive edge by catering to the canine crowd.

Grace Singleton, managing partner of Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has witnessed the trend firsthand. Zingerman’s has welcomed dogs in its outdoor seating area for more than 15 years. Singleton figures about 10 percent of the deli’s customers—many of whom are regulars—take advantage of the policy. “I’d estimate that their presence alone conservatively generates around $1,000 per week,” Singleton says.

That said, welcoming dogs on your patio does require a bit of forethought:

Dog Dining Tips

Provide water and bowls for the dogs. “People think of their dogs like they do their kids,” says Singleton, “so don’t allow them and then not take care of them.”

Instruct staff that if they pet the pooches, they need to wash their hands before handling food—though the safer, simpler approach might be to avoid touching visiting canines altogether.

Says Singleton, “It’s more important that guests don’t see you go from petting the dog to handling their food than it is for them to see you wash your hands.”

Don’t be fazed if a dog poops; it doesn’t happen very often, according to Singleton, and when it does it’s actually easier to clean up than, say, a kid’s vomit or a dropped tray.

Similarly, don’t be surprised at the occasional outburst of barking. Still, says Singleton, “We don’t get dogs that really behave badly.” After all, dogs that aren’t socialized, she says, aren’t the ones being taken out to brunch on Sunday morning.

Don’t forget your non-dog-loving patrons. Maintain a separate seating area where dogs aren’t allowed—Zingerman’s has a tent—and make sure that diners don’t have to walk through the doggie zone in order to get to important locations like the bathroom.

Consider posting a sign, something to the effect of “Well-behaved dogs, like well-behaved people, are welcome,”
to clarify your policy. 

Hold the Butter

Some restaurants are elevating bread service from the mundane to the memorable. Instead of the routine baguette or basket of rolls accompanied by a crock of butter, they’re tempting diners with breads and spreads that reflect the concept’s culinary style. It’s a sure way to make a good first impression.

New York City
As a child, Michael Psilakis’ Greek grandmother served him bread with a feta cheese spread for breakfast. When he became executive chef and co-owner of the Mediterranean-style Dona, he replicated that experience, adding a sophisticated twist. His version—which accompanies crusty rolls and breadsticks—is a dish of sheep’s milk ricotta immersed in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. “I felt the bread service should be special, more like a canapé,” Psilakis explains. “It grabs customers right off the bat, which is exactly what we want to do.”

Rustic Tuscan bread is served gratis with olive oil at this Italian wine bar/restaurant, but many patrons opt for something more inventive (and filling) to nibble while they browse the menu. Listed at $3 each under the heading “Cicchetti” are three bread spreads: White Bean Garlic, Sun-Dried Tomato and Roasted Eggplant. “They’re
an inexpensive way to stave off hunger pangs,” says chef-owner John Coletta.

Frijoles mixtos, the complimentary bread spread served at Chispa, was created by executive chef Adam Votaw to reinforce the restaurant’s Latin theme. The mixture is a healthy blend of cooked pink and white beans, olive oil, onions, roasted garlic, cumin and other seasonings. It’s been a big hit with guests, who tear off chunks of bread from the crisp, round loaves placed on each table and top them with the flavorful spread.


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