How to Make a Restaurant Dog-Friendly (Ultimate Guide)

You’ve owned a restaurant for several years now and done quite well for yourself. After reading this blog and realizing how profitable and popular dog-friendly establishments can be, you think you’re ready to make the jump and create a restaurant that’s perfect for pups and people alike. How do you do it?

Here’s how to make a restaurant dog-friendly:

  • Add an outdoor area
  • Create a doggy menu
  • Build an outdoor waste zone
  • Hire staff for tending to dog messes
  • Set out water bowls 
  • Buy some dog treats
  • Beef up your insurance 
  • Market and advertise

In this ultimate guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to create a dog-friendly establishment that people and pets alike will be ultra-excited to visit. Make sure you keep reading!

8 Steps for Creating a Dog-Friendly Restaurant

Add an Outdoor Patio

When the COVID-19 pandemic largely shut down the restaurant industry, outdoor dining became the only way to enjoy restaurant food for a long while. Many establishments still have outdoor patios or tents.

If yours does, then you can reconfigure this outdoor eating area to a dog-friendly part of your restaurant.

Keep in mind that canines are not allowed in restaurants, even dog-friendly ones, unless they’re service animals. 

If you’re building an outdoor patio from scratch, this gives you even more leeway to configure the area to your specifications. 

You want the outdoor patio to be spacious enough to accommodate everyone with dogs, but it can’t be infinitely large. You’re likely constricted by sidewalks, parking lots, or adjacent buildings and thus can only size the patio so big.

The patio should be easily accessible on the grounds of your restaurant and appealing. Add modern furniture and plenty of lighting for after the sun goes down. 

If your restaurant will continue to offer outdoor dining with dogs even in the cold season, then you might want to consider investing in some space heaters or outdoor heat lamps. 

We couldn’t find a quote for how much this building addition will cost you but expect to shell out several thousand dollars depending on the size of your patio space and how luxe you want it to be. 

Also, although this may go without saying, we have to mention it anyway. If you’re only renting your building, then you cannot add permanent structures to the land since you don’t own it. 

You can set up a dining tent with tables and chairs, but you couldn’t build anything. You’ll spend less money on your outdoor patio, but it won’t have the same je ne sais quoi.

Create a Doggy Menu

Your dogs are your customers too now.

Well, not exactly. It’s not like the dog is going to pay the bill at the end of the night, but they are going to sit outside just as long as their human companion does. 

That’s why you want to make sure that all the dogs that step upon the premises are well-fed.

This calls for a dog-friendly menu! 

Perhaps your chef can make a mean salmon or turkey pate or maybe you serve a cup of whipped cream or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert.

The doggy menu does not and should not be as in-depth as the rest of the menu. You only need to offer three or four things.

Don’t go too ornate with your doggy menu. Remember, the people who dine at your restaurant are paying for themselves, the ones they’re dining with, and now their pooch too. 

If you have to go with simpler offerings to keep the costs down, then so be it.

Build an Outdoor Waste Zone

Dogs have to use the bathroom between three and five times per day. If one of those times happens to coincide with their dining time with their human mom or dad, you need a designated area for the dog to make waste.

This area must still be on the grounds of your restaurant but should be far enough away that people dining outside (and inside too, for that matter) cannot smell it. If they can, they’ll complain, and the negative reviews will start piling up for you online.

Not only that, but the next time the health inspector drops by for a visit, you can bet you’re going to receive a negative mark. 

The waste zone must be outside. If you can, choose a grassy area, as this might make some dogs more comfortable. If you don’t have any greenery around your restaurant, that’s fine too. City dogs are used to doing their business on the concrete.

The waste zone doesn’t have to be overly encompassing, but it must be large enough that several dogs can use it at once.

Hire Staff for Tending to Dog Messes

A waste area is all fine and dandy until the dogs start using it. Periodically throughout the day, you’re going to have to have someone go out and clean up the dog waste. 

This is not a pretty job, and the restaurant staff you already have hired are not suited for it. You’ll have to hire someone else for this role specifically. 

Perhaps this person can also double as a dog wrangler if a canine begins to misbehave when at the restaurant.

In that case, then they’d need some degree of animal training or a veterinary background.

If you’re only hiring someone to scoop the poop, then no such background is required. That said, you definitely want to make the pay good and maybe add some other employee jobs to drive up the number of applicants.

We’d suggest starting with at least one employee in this role and then possibly hiring another person if the amount of dog waste is too much for one person or they just need a break.

Set Out Water Bowls

You have all these delectable items on your doggy menu that would get any pooch salivating at the mouth. Once they gobble up your menu, they’re naturally going to be thirsty. 

Your dog-friendly restaurant should have communal dog bowls aplenty. The bowls should be stationed throughout the outdoor eating area and close enough that people don’t have to interrupt someone else’s dining experience by getting up to let their dog drink.

A hydrated dog is a happy dog, and that’s what you want at your restaurant, plenty of happy dogs. 

You might want to ask your new hire to replace the water bowls incrementally throughout the day with water so none are ever empty. 

The water should always be fresh and cold. Expect the water bowls to be drained nearly instantly in the spring and summer, as all the heat and humidity will undoubtedly make a dog thirsty. 

Before your restaurant closes for the day, all water bowls should be brought inside and washed out thoroughly, then left to air-dry overnight.

Buy Some Dog Treats

What dog doesn’t love treats? That’s a rhetorical question, as every four-legged friend goes gaga for treats. 

When a dog begins misbehaving, you might be able to distract them with treats. If you have a staff member with professional dog-handling experience, they should be the one to intervene in a situation like this and diffuse the situation.

You might also ask your waitstaff who’s serving your outdoor customers to carry a few doggy treats in their aprons (away from any straws or utensils, of course). They can offer the dog some treats and instantly become that pup’s best friend.

This is an especially good idea for dogs who might be apprehensive or anxious around strangers. You could possibly prevent the dog from having an accident!

Beef Up Your Insurance

You’ve already insured your restaurant (or at least, we hope you did), but now that you’re going to have dogs on the premises, now is as good a time as ever to evaluate your policy and maybe add additional protections.

Although unfortunate events aren’t very likely to happen once your restaurant becomes dog-friendly, you can never say never. A customer could get bitten or scratched, or perhaps people get sick from being in proximity to the dogs or their waste. 

In situations like these, insurance can be the difference between you having to pay out of pocket and possibly bankrupting your restaurant and being able to skate by. 

If your restaurant insurance provider isn’t willing to extend your coverage to include pets such as dogs, then you might have to look into buying a separate insurance policy for pet care businesses or similar businesses. 

No not put off getting insurance or upgrading your existing insurance. You never know when the worst could happen, and you will not want to be uninsured if it does!

Market and Advertise

How do you tell the world that your restaurant is now dog-friendly? Signage around the front door and in the windows helps, but for those who aren’t within walking or driving distance of your restaurant, you need to use good, ol’ marketing and advertising.

We’re assuming you already have marketing campaigns in place. It’s time to begin a new campaign promoting your restaurant’s big change. 

Part of that promotion will undoubtedly be advertising. You might rent out a billboard near your restaurant to inform people of your new four-legged customer base or perhaps you mail out materials. 

You should pay for a new Internet advertising campaign on social media and across the web to spread the news around.

Write a blog post and even record a short YouTube video! 

Be sure to tell people that your menu isn’t changing and be clear that there will be a separate outdoor area for dogs and their humans to enjoy a nice meal. Anyone who doesn’t want to bring a dog or interact with dogs can still eat inside.

To sweeten the pot and convince more dog owners to give your restaurant a try, you might run a discount or mail out a coupon code (you can email the coupon code to your email subscribers as well).

This move can attract new and repeat business alike!  

Conclusion

Making a restaurant dog-friendly is a big step. You’ll have to renovate or create an outdoor patio, change your menu, upgrade your insurance, and hire some new staff. You’ll also have to pay for doggy bowls and treats as well as new marketing and advertising campaigns.

Mixing animals and foodservice can go wrong, but it’s also a wonderful way to enjoy the companionship of animals and make your restaurant more unique!

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