Two-thirds of consumers today (66%) call themselves dog people, while a third (34%) most connect with feline friends, according to Datassential’s Midyear Trend Report. While this may seem like a silly statistic to mention when talking about the restaurant industry, it’s significant when it comes to pet-friendly restaurants — consumers feel like their furry friends are a full-fledged part of the family, and when the family goes out to eat, many feel they should be able to share that experience with their pets.
And so, the restaurant industry is facing increasing calls to make their establishments pet-friendly. But how does a restaurant grow more pet-friendly without alienating customers that want to dine with humans only? And what rules need to be imposed once you open the doors to four-legged customers? And once a restaurant opens its doors to pets, what kind of atmosphere, activities and food do consumers crave?
According to Datassential’s Pet-Friendly Foodservice Venues report about a third of consumers have visited a pet-friendly restaurant, and two in five are interested in checking one out. Gen Z, the youngest consumers in adulthood, and millennials have higher rates of both visitation and interest than older consumers.
And there’s no doubt that customers tend to be happier, and rate a restaurant visit more highly, when they can bring their pet along. More than half of consumers (52%) think pets make a foodservice venue more fun and welcoming.
What do consumers want most when visiting a pet-friendly venue? Well, a few good treats certainly don’t hurt. Neither do water bowls. These are two critical additions that may drastically improve the satisfaction of consumers without an operator having to spend much extra money. Got a little extra space? A play area is also much appreciated by consumers who choose to bring their pets to restaurants, and as a bonus — it allows animals to expend energy so that they’ll be better behaved when their beloved human is sitting at a table, and also provides a space to separate two otherwise well-behaved pets that might otherwise cause issues if they bark or fight with one another.
And that brings up an important point – it’s as critical to have rules of conduct for pets as you already do for humans. Perhaps more so. While pet-friendly venues can bring a great deal of satisfaction to both pet owners and those customers who just want to interact with animals without the responsibility of owning one themselves, they can also lead to sticky situations if misbehaving pups are loose or operators don’t properly cater to customers that choose not to dine with pets.
In fact, many consumers agree that when it comes to visiting pet-friendly restaurants, there should be some ground rules. Over 80% of consumers think pet-friendly restaurants should at least establish some rules and restrictions, like a leashing or muzzling requirement. And nearly half (47%) of consumers — even pet lovers — want pets to at least be leashed when dining in.
Even pet owners concede that allowing dogs and cats to roam around restaurants might turn chaotic: nearly half are worried that pets might cause disturbances or make the environment unsanitary.
Beyond the critical consideration of safety, what else do consumers want from pet-friendly restaurants? After a few doggie toys, water bowls and play areas, more than half (57%) of consumers would enjoy a few biscuits or other treats to take home and 55% of consumers surveyed want a pet-safe menu items that owners can share with pets (hint: leave out the onions, garlic, raisins and any pungent spices.) And 48% of consumers also want pet-safe menus for takeout or delivery to enjoy at home.
If operators are wondering exactly how far to lean into making their venue safe, comfortable and welcoming for pets, it appears most consumers would welcome a restaurant or watering hole going all-out. More than half (53%) of consumers say they want a pet-exclusive menu or menu items, like house-made treats or “Pup-uccino” drinks for dogs. And nearly a third (27%) of consumers want an establishment to go the extra mile and create special programming for pet-parents, like play dates or other events, like, ahem, “yappy hours.”
In fact, if a venue is looking to welcome in more younger clientele, specialized events where customers can bring their dogs and socialize may be the ticket.
Nearly half of Gen Z and millennials say they also look to pet-friendly restaurants as a chance to meet new pet-owning friends or socialize with old ones. At the same time, many consumers without pets also want to visit these unique venues to play with animals without needing to own one at home.
Samantha Des Jardins is a writer at Datassential.
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