Dear Restaurant Owner:
Last week, I was so excited to give your brewpub a try. It was a beautiful day here in the Pacific Northwest, and I had learned that you have a large, outdoor patio. My calendar was deliciously clear of meetings or other commitments, so I decided to spend the afternoon with Lani, my Labradoodle, including a stop at your eatery as the highlight of our afternoon.
Lani and I hiked south along the Sammamish River from Wilmot Gateway Park to your place, a glorious 2.2 miles beneath a clear sky and a soothingly warm sun. We both enjoyed the journey but were thirsty when we arrived at your place, and we were ready to rest. What we were not ready for was to be abruptly turned away.
“No dogs allowed,” your hostess said. To a Seattle dog owner, these are harsh, foreign words.
“Not even on the outdoor patio?” I asked.
She shook her head. “Because of the food.” Whether she meant it would be unsanitary for the dog to be near food, or she was worried the dog would somehow snarf down all the food, or the food might trigger allergies for the dog, wasn’t at all clear.
“Seriously?” I said. “Lots–no, most–restaurants around here let owners bring their dogs to the outdoor seating area.”
“Really?” she said. I could tell, by the shocked tone in her voice, that she doesn’t get out very much. “Well, we don’t.” She practically snarled.
While Lani slurped outside, tethered to a front railing and receiving countless smiles and greetings from the clientele, I slipped around the back of your building and looked at the outdoor dining area.
It was huge, one of the largest I’ve seen around here. And it was almost empty, as this was 2pm on a weekday. It would have been quite simple to seat my exhausted, well-behaved, non-shedding dog at the perimeter of your patio, out of everybody’s way. I could have ordered a glass or two of your freshly brewed brew. I could have also ordered a full meal–I was famished. And your server could have earned a sizeable tip from Lani and me. If your hostess hadn’t turned us away.
Are you worried about sanitation?
If you’re thinking that somehow a dog would be unsanitary on the patio, let me ask how a crow flying overhead and dropping white feces onto my table, or a fly landing on the rim of my glass or cannonballing into my soup, is more sanitary than my hypoallergenic dog lying under the table. Or how that child with the green snot, or the man handling the salt and pepper shakers after using the bathroom and not washing his hands, is any more sanitary than my dog lying under the table. If you want to ensure your patio is sanitary, you need to surround it with cover and screens, and require all customers to wash their hands upon entering, and perhaps make sure everyone also submits to an onsite health screening. If you’re worried about sanitation, perhaps you should make sure all your workers really do wash their hands after using the bathroom–I’d venture a bet they don’t.
Oh, and if you’re worried about the legal aspects, the Department of Public Health has been quoted saying that restaurants get shut down for food-borne illnesses and employees not washing hands. Not for letting dogs onto the outdoor patio.
Maybe it’s the safety factor
Perhaps you’re worried that a dog might present a danger to other customers. I suppose that’s true if it’s an aggressive canine. But most dog-owners I know who bring their dogs to civilized settings usually have their dogs under pretty good control. And if they don’t, you always have the right to remove a patron with an aggressive dog, just as you can ask any belligerent customer to leave.
Frankly, I’m far more concerned about human customers in an environment where alcohol is being served, like your establishment. Ever heard of a beer brawl? And what about the ones who also happen to be carrying a weapon? How do you handle those situations? I know you’re not supposed to allow concealed weapons in a bar, but here in Washington State they’re okay in a restaurant, right? Like your brewpub patio where Lani and I wanted to eat? Bottom line: gun-toting, beer-drinking humans present far more of a danger than my 32-pound leashed Labradoodle.
Are you thinking that if you start letting dogs onto your patio that your restaurant will become a place where chaos reigns? That doesn’t need to be the case. You can limit the number of dogs, just as you theoretically limit the number of toddlers by keeping only ten booster seats on hand (according to the person who answered the phone when I called). You limit the number of disabled people by limiting the number of ADA tables, right? You even limit the number of booth-lovers that come into your business by having a limited number of booths.
I’m quite confident you can find a way to manage canine chaos as well as, or perhaps even more easily than, other forms of chaos. Like exploding kegs, for example.
First dogs, then boa constrictors
You might think that by letting dogs into your restaurant you are opening a can of worms rather than a can of Purina Dog Chow. Next will come the cat-lovers, right? Then the snake handlers!
Perhaps that’s a valid concern. But not a big one, I suspect. I have yet to see a cat or a pet snake in the outdoor seating area of a restaurant, or anyone even trying to bring them in (although I did read about a guy who tried to bring a goat into a local eatery).
And most of us are pretty reasonable. Let’s not worry about things that might never happen tomorrow. Let’s deal with the facts today. “Dogs bring people together,” says Jill Hinton Wolfe, a blogger and dog enthusiast. They also are known to make people less stressed and, overall, happier. Don’t you want happy people in your restaurant?
And then there’s the question of dining experience
Ah yes, the dining experience thing. Perhaps a dog will upset the dining experience of other patrons, you say. Possibly true. But consider the parents who bring their squawking children into fine restaurants. Or the other obnoxious adults. Just last week I was out to dinner with my husband and we were seated next to a man with a boisterous voice. He was so loud I couldn’t taste my Brussels sprouts. I would have much preferred a quiet dog lying underneath that table.
Or maybe you’re thinking that, by letting a pooch onto your premises, your image would suffer. I suppose that could be true if you were a 5-star French restaurant with a $$$$$ rating. But you don’t operate a 5-star French restaurant. You operate a brewpub. You’re in the business of being cool. And I can tell by the layout of your website, the events you host, and even the content on your social media sites, that you really do want to be cool. Well guess what? Dogs are the ultimate in cool.
Especially here in the Pacific Northwest. According to “Seattle’s Dog Obsession,” an article that ran in Seattle Magazine a few years ago, there are a lot more dogs in Seattle than children: about 153,000 dogs to 107,178 kids, according to figures from the U.S. Census and the Seattle Animal Shelter. And Seattle is considered one of the best cities for dogs, according to a Forbes article in 2013.
KOMO News has also reported that many local watering holes roll out the welcome mat for furry customers. “Most hangouts reserve their patios as dog-friendly spaces,” one article reads. Isn’t that exactly the type of place you run? A hangout?
And check this out: there’s a 4 ½-star hotel just a few miles away from you that offers Yappier Hour for its customers and their furry friends at their waterfront restaurant during the summertime. Who’s cool now?
In closing, my dear restaurateur, I must say you’ve lost me as a potential customer. And you’re probably going to lose all the dog-lovers I happen to mention this to, like the lovely couple with three leashed dogs I met on my way back north along the river trail. (They told me they never eat at restaurants that aren’t dog friendly.) You’re losing the people you think of as your target market, some of the coolest people around.