More than a third of Americans own a dog, and many of them like to take their furry companions everywhere, including restaurants. Most restaurants don’t allow pets inside for health code reasons, but instead of turning dog lovers away, eateries can still please pooches and their owners with dog-friendly initiatives like dog-themed promotions and causes, dog treats and pet-friendly patios. Here are some ways brands can attract dog owners.
Offering dog owners a place to eat with their pet can benefit both consumers and operators, says Cathleen Enright, president and CEO of Pet Food Institute, a national association of pet-food makers. Instead of going to a restaurant after work, “A pet owner may go home because they have to let their dog out,” she says. “But if they can take their dog for a walk and stop in somewhere, everybody wins.”
California-based casual-dining chain Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar is one concept that has dog-friendly patios. The chain's website has a "dog policy" section with guidelines for dog owners, such as requiring all dogs to be on a leash and off laps and furniture. Additionally, servers are kept up to date on health department policies and taught how to deal with any dog issues, such as accidents and customers with allergies. Creative Director Rebecca Simms said restaurants have had to ask guests to remove their dogs, but that for the most part dogs behave and customers enjoy the freedom to bring their pets.
Concepts with dog-friendly patios can serve dog meals. Lazy Dog offers brown rice with a grilled hamburger patty or grilled chicken for $4.95, along with complimentary bowls of water. This menu keeps customers from sharing their own food with dogs; Lazy Dog’s meals are served on disposable plates, and consumers are forbidden from allowing their dogs to eat off or drink from their own plates and glasses.
When developing a dog menu, Enright says operators should stick to proteins and grains and avoid certain ingredients, including chocolate, garlic, onions, grapes and nuts. She says dairy products are acceptable in limited qualities but warns some dogs are sensitive to dairy and may experience diarrhea—which operators likely don’t want happening on their patios.
Portion sizes are also important, considering some dogs only need 300 calories a day, Enright says. She suggested restaurants list calorie counts and consult with a veterinarian or dog professional when devising a dog-friendly menu. For its dog treats, Shake Shack partnered with NYC dog bakery Bocce’s Bakery to develop bone-shaped dog biscuits and a Pooch-ini custard featuring dog biscuits and peanut butter.
Casual-dining Texas chain Cane Rosso is another concept that attracts dog owners with its dog-friendly patios, but the chain also sees traffic from potential pet owners. Founder Jay Jerrier also operates a dog rescue group, Cane Rosso Rescue, and often holds adoption events and fundraisers at his restaurants. This initiative can not only please dog owners, but also patrons overall—a third of consumers say it’s important for restaurants to support charities and give back to the community, according to Technomic data.
Pizza chain Pat’s Pizza also promotes dog-friendly causes. Its location in Ellsworth, Maine, turns leftover all-natural pizza dough into dog biscuits. Proceeds from the treats, which are sold in four-packs for $2, are donated to a local animal shelter. Before introducing the biscuits, Pat’s Pizza ran the idea by its fans in a Facebook post, which was liked 999 times and shared by 105 users.
Concepts without patios can still offer dog treats to on-the-go consumers. Sprinkles Cupcakes developed a sugar-free cupcake for dogs that the chain said became so popular, it now stocks them in its Cupcake ATMs so patrons with pets can pick one up without going into a bakery (where dogs aren’t allowed).
Some of the more senior members of the team smile at the junior staff who are excited to uncover an interesting trend in “eatertainment” or the latest single-ingredient concept. We try not to be condescending when we suggest they do some research by looking at past issues of Restaurant Business or old Technomic top chain reports before calling it the next big thing.