Are you a dog lover? Then creating a more dog-friendly restaurant or coffee shop could be your path to increasing profit.
Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen a steady “humanization of pets.” This is a fancy way of saying we treat our furry friends more and more like two-legged members of the family. We take our pets on family vacations, we take them to the office, and even out to eat.
Some will argue pets are now treated better than most humans! But that’s a discussion for another day.
What’s not up for debate is the disposable income of pet owners. According to a report from Statista, the average annual disposable income (money that’s not needed to pay for basic necessities like housing and food) of a pet owner in 2009 was an eye-popping $32,143 U.S. dollars annually.
The excess spending money of an average pet owner in the United States is a requirement to bring a pet of any kind into the home. The average annual cost of owning a dog is estimated at $1,400 – $4,300 annually. Leashes, collars, food, toys, grooming and babysitting all add up.
Of course this number could balloon into the five figure mark as the dog requires more frequent veterinary visits or a desire to demonstrate appreciation for your pet with a special treat.
Considering the disposable income of most pet owners, you can see why this market can be so appealing to the animal lover or financially savvy restaurateur alike. Now that you understand the opportunity, let’s dive into some specific ways you can make an existing restaurant or coffee shop more welcoming to pets and their owners.
Build Pet Branding into Every Part of Your Business
There are all sorts of ways you can get creative and integrate pet friendliness into the core of your business. These little touches can help guests feel more comfortable dining at your establishment knowing pets are truly welcome. Here are a few ideas that will make for nice touches:
- Custom Invoices: Make your invoices more fun by having a good invoice template like adding a little logo of a dog bone at the bottom. Alternatively you could include pet related quotes to the receipt if you prefer. When you combine a template with a well-designed logo of a Golden Retriever for example, it will make the printed bill more distinctive and memorable to guests.
- Wall Art: Remember those old paintings of dogs playing poker? You don’t need to go there. There are all sorts of more modern photography of dogs running on beaches, wagging their tongues out of the window of a car that could be included on the walls of your establishment.
- Door Mats: There are plenty of custom door mats designed to greet pet owners. These are super affordable and can be purchased for well under $50 on websites like Amazon.
Be careful not to go overboard in this area. After all, you are a restaurant, not a pet shop. But including a few of these touches can go along way to differentiating the experience for this segment of clientele. At the end of the day, you need to decide what feels right for the business.
Put out a water bowl
You’ve probably seen a water bowl set out for dogs at a brew pub or other hip establishment overflowing with millenials. That’s a nice gesture. But you can take this a step further by delivering a fresh bowl of water to the table for each dog.
Think about it… Your staff is already delivering a glass of water to each guest at the table anyway. It takes little extra time and effort to bring fresh water to Rexy too. This little differentiator is both inexpensive and greatly appreciated touch for patrons.
Provide a Comfortable and Specific Place to Potty
One of the biggest challenges of going out to eat with a dog is figuring out where they’ll go pee or poo. Remove this stress for dog owners by creating a dedicated dog potty area outside your restaurant.
These potty zones can be created more affordably than you might think too. Check out the video below of a DIY dog potty area. This is an easy project that you can get done in about a day of effort for under $400 all in. You’ll need some pea gravel, drainage material, and a defined space to put this all together. You can get creative with the decorative rocks that surround this area too. You could put this together into an 8”x 8” space.
As you can see the space requirements are highly variable for this sort of thing so you can create a zone that fits your space.
Provide bags and garbage disposal units.
While most owners will bring their own disposable bags to pick up poop, you’ll want to provide these to any guests who might forget too. You can find all sorts of dog waste bags and bag stations online.
Here’s one that can be delivered for free and includes bags for under $250. This is similar to what you would expect to see at a dog park. There’s even a waste bag included in this unit so you don’t need to buy the piece separately.
As you may have already guessed, you’ll want to make sure this unit is conveniently located near the potty zone.
Create a Dog Menu with Treats and Meals
Another way to capitalize on the humanization of pets in the restaurant industry is to turn them into paying customers. Add a special doggie menu that includes different flavors of special treats. Reports show that pet treat spending has outpaced dog and cat food sales over the past half decade.
Best of all, most dog treats have a long shelf life of 3 – 6 months and you don’t need to make these yourself, meaning you don’t need to hire additional staff to support the menu. This is the ideal add-on for guests and it’s an easy carryout item if they decided to leave Rex at home.
Create a Patio and Open Yard Space
Dogs love to get out there and run. They love to jump around, smell things and be social. If you have the option of providing an open yard space at your restaurant take advantage of it. It’s not always easy for families with pets to dine for an evening. By creating an open play yard, you’ll make the restaurant or bar more appealing to this group.
Depending on where you operate, you may only be able to make this a seasonal yard for the summer months. Even so, only offering the area for a limited part of the year can bolster sales and increase the frequency of visits. This type of yard also serves as a dog park with food and drink that allows owners to socialize with like minded folks.
Create a Clear Pet Etiquette Policy
While encouraging pets to visit your restaurant can help the bottom line, it doesn’t come without challenges. While the majority of clientele will bring in pets that are well behaved, you don’t want a highly energetic pet ruining the experience for everyone else.
One way to prepare for these situations is to create a clear pet etiquette policy for the restaurant. These guidelines should be clearly posted in your restaurant, menu, and followed by staff. These rules will also protect staff from
- Require Leashes: No dogs should be allowed to be in the restaurant without a leash. This could be disruptive to other guests.
- No barking: A bark or whimper here and there is to be expected. But a dog should not be barking across the restaurant at another. This is uncomfortable for everyone.
- No jumping: It’s easy for some dogs to get excited. But jumping on staff or other guests should not be permitted or tolerated.
Creating a dog-friendly restaurant environment can be a lucrative differentiator for the restaurant, but it won’t make sense for everyone. Consider your location and customer demographics before going this route because it will change the vibe of your establishment. Fully consider the pros and cons before making this decision.