Inviting canine customers into a restaurant can come with a certain degree of chaos. Some dogs can be likened to rowdy patrons who have had too much to drink: loud, unpredictable and not quite in control of their bodily functions.
But they can also provide a more intimate experience for guests. “The whole dynamic of the workforce changes when you add in the element of dogs,” says Allison Locher, lead bark ranger at restaurant-dog park Yard Bar in Austin, Texas. “It’s a bonding experience between you and a customer.” Not to mention, it's just plain adorable.
Here’s how Yard Bar and other restaurants prepare workers to serve four-legged friends and their humans.
Don't forget a treat
Hospitality doesn’t have to be reserved for those of us who don't sniff strangers’ hindquarters. Yard Bar has a special menu for puppers that includes sliders and housemade ice cream. The Fifty/50, an upscale sports bar in Chicago, opens its patio to dogs and trains staff to get them water bowls and make sure they stay full throughout their visit. While The Fifty/50’s guests chow down on a burger, they can purchase their canine companions a $3 pig ear or $3.50 rawhide bones.
Give room to wag their tail
At The Fifty/50, hostesses are trained to space out guests with dogs. Not only does the practice help reduce the risk of dogs not getting along, but it avoids workers getting tangled up with leashes. “The last thing you want to do is trip servers and food runners,” says Eddie Mahoney, operating partner for the restaurant.
Install a no-petting policy
Mahoney asks workers to resist the cuteness of the puppies dining at the restaurant. This means Fifty/50 workers are not to pet dogs, sparing them from constantly running to wash their hands. The rule also helps safeguard against potential dog bites.
Train staff to stay on their toes
Yard Bar employees are trained to be proactive instead of reactive. Many dogs are off-leash, so staff know to watch pups’ body language to prevent any scuffles or danger. The Fifty/50 teaches bussers to be on the lookout for dog piddle or anything else that could make the patio slicker. “They need to clean it up very fast,” Mahoney says. “We need to take care of it just as we would a spill from a normal customer.”
Be conscious of all customers’ needs
Most dog parents are considerate and react appropriately when their dogs are disrupting the dining experience, Mahoney says. Team members are instructed to offer to get treats or water for dogs who are acting up. But if a customer does complain about a dog’s barking, employees are trained to get a manager to handle the situation.
Play it cool
At one Burrito Beach unit in Chicago, dogs are welcomed on the patio. “Our main message to staff is treat people who have dogs the same as anyone else,” says Jeff Winograd, vice president of operations for the chain.
The Fifty/50 preaches the same philosophy, asking staff to think of the pets as children. “People treat dogs like their normal kid, and we like to do that too,” he says.