It doesn’t take long once spring blooms into summer for people to begin crowding onto sidewalk cafés and patios. And some of these patrons eager to soak up the summer sun aren’t alone — many will be accompanied by their favorite canine comrades. With 48 percent of U.S. households owning a dog, this demographic is one you’d be wise to tap into during those warm summertime months.
Here are five simple steps to ensure your canine customers will be begging their owners to come back to your business over and over again.
1. Follow the Rules (and Make Your Own)
Before allowing any furry friends on your patio, consult the health codes in your area to confirm that you’re complying with all relevant laws, rules, and regulations. Once you determine that permitting dogs on your patio doesn’t violate any health or food service codes, establish and clearly display the ground rules for patrons who want to bring their pups.
For example, state if your four-legged guests will be allowed indoors or near the bar, or limited to the patio area only. Let dog owners know that they’re responsible for cleaning up after their pet and that the restaurant is not liable for any altercations that may occur with another canine guest. You might also want to stipulate that you’ll only allow pups that are on a leash, have up-to-date vaccinations, and are friendly toward small children and other canines. It’s all about setting expectations upfront. This way everyone (dogs included) can enjoy their al fresco dining experience.
2. Provide the Basics
While it’s the dog owner’s responsibility to bring any necessities for their pooch’s big day out, it sets a nice tone if you have some basics on hand for your canine customers. Keep a jar of dog treats and multiple water bowls and filling stations available for your puppy patrons. If possible, install some simple screw-in hooks underneath your tables so customers can tie up their dog’s leash in a secure and out-of-the-way place. Also, consider buying a few packs of doggie doo bags to have on hand for pet owners who forgot theirs at home.
3. Craft a Paw-some Menu
If you’re going to allow dogs on your patio, why not let them indulge in some delicious food, too? Take notes from the big dogs (no pun intended) like Starbucks® and Shake Shack that regularly feature canine-focused creations on their menus, like the whipped-cream based Puppuccino and the Pooch-ini®, a vanilla custard mix with ShackBurger® dog biscuits.
Put your own spin on the pet-friendly food trend by offering a peanut butter-based ice cream treat, brown rice and beef burger, or scrambled eggs and bacon bowl for your canine clientele. You can also ask your chef to develop a few dog-friendly menu items from inexpensive ingredients you regularly purchase to avoid incurring additional costs.
Pet owners greatly appreciate when restaurants not only allow them to bring their four-legged friends along, but also make an effort to include them in the dining experience. Plus, cute dogs enjoying their favorite meals make for perfect Instagram and Facebook posts for your customers, which translates to free digital marketing for your restaurant.
4. Build a Doggy Oasis
If allowing canine customers near the dining area on your patio isn’t practical, consider adding a puppy-approved play area. This way, your guests can still bring their furry friend and you don’t have to worry about chaos ensuing in the dining space. Several Texas eateries have introduced unique dining and recreation options for pooches. Some establishments even feature dog runs, a dog washing area, and “bark rangers” who keep the park tidy. That way, while your human patrons indulge in a meal out their pet can relish in people watching, savor some treats, and meet new friends of their own.
5. Support Canine Causes
Dog lovers tend to stick together. Try tapping into this network by hosting pup-themed events that support a great cause. Partner with local rescue groups, animal shelters, and other animal-focused nonprofit organizations to bring awareness to their missions and your restaurant. Encourage people to bring their dogs to these events and snap and share photos on their social media pages, tagging the event and your location. If the organization is holding a silent auction, consider donating branded items such as bandanas, leashes, and dog treats. Events like these not only raise awareness for animal issues, but also provide you an opportunity to connect and forge partnerships with other local business owners.
An Industry on the Rise
The amount of money people in the U.S. spend on their pets is expected to reach $75.38 billion in 2019. It’s clear that pet owners spare no expense when it comes to their favorite furry family members’ wellbeing and happiness. Take advantage of this rising market by making sure your restaurant patio is dog-friendly and ready to wow human and canine customers alike. If done correctly, establishing yourself as the local dog-friendly hotspot can help increase your revenue and give a whole new meaning to the phrase “dog days of summer.”
For more summer-focused tips, check out our e-book “Get Your Restaurant Ready for Summer on a Budget.”