Adorable or Deplorable? Pet Friendly Hospitality

By: Emadene Travers, J.D. Ph.D. GAC | Faculty, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh—Online Division

July 24, 2017

Adorable or Deplorable? Pet Friendly Hospitality
In recent years there has been a significant trend toward pet friendly hospitality.  It includes restaurants, hotels and motels, spas, beaches, shopping, campgrounds, tours, and parks.  Travel with a pet, whether by airline or car, is now widely accepted. Americans love their pets and consider them family members. The hospitality industry has responded in the hope the trend can be targeted for greater profit.  Let’s look at some fun facts.

According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), almost 70% of households in the United States own a pet.  While dog ownership is the most popular, cats come in second, with lesser categories that include fish, reptiles, birds, other small animals, and even horses. In 2016 families in the United States spent over $66 billion on their pets. In 2017 this figure is expected to increase by at least $3 billion.

With so many pets, and money being spent, there are pet friendly businesses popping up everywhere.  These businesses normally would not be associated with pets.  Take restaurants for example. Historically, local and state laws prohibited diners from bringing their pets any place where food is prepared or served. Now, it’s almost as if there’s a competition to become the “most pet friendly” city or state.

Originally the idea behind pet friendly restaurants was that owners could bring their pets to an area where operations would not be disrupted—usually an outdoor patio.  Owners dine on the patio while their pets accompany them under leash.  In fact, local and state governments have increasingly recognized the ability of a restaurant to seek a variance in zoning laws that permits pet access to patios under certain conditions.  This change in the law has allowed restaurants to exceed customer expectations. What a unique service strategy!

The original idea has evolved in some surprising ways.  More and more pet friendly restaurants have started serving pets just like their human counterparts.  In many pet friendly establishments, humans and dogs dine together, literally! There is a menu for humans and a menu for dogs.  Some establishments even comply with pet dietary restrictions and provide food allergy information the same as people.  In other establishments pets are allowed off leash to more thoroughly enjoy their restaurant experience. 

One location that seems to be a hot spot for pet friendly restaurants is Washington, D.C.  At Art and Soul, the Pooch Patio Menu includes a non-alcoholic Bowser Beer made from chicken broth and malt extract and a sirloin steak that a human might find appealing.  At one of the Kimpton Hotel restaurants, there is a happy (yappy?) hour every week hosted by the hotel’s Director of Pet Relations (a dog not a person!).  Dairy Godmother serves dog friendly frozen yogurt pop sickles that come in banana and pumpkin flavors.  According to Bring Fido, a website that locates pet friendly businesses in the U.S. and overseas, there are 200 pet friendly restaurants in Washington, D.C alone.

Then there are pet friendly hotels.  Many are already known for their pet policy which, for an additional fee, can include doggie pads and treats. At some hotels there is no luxury spared.  According to the Travel Channel, amenities include pet room service menus, doggie robes and towels, gourmet pet cakes, and even pet psychics.  Menus feature everything from steak to caviar, foie gras, and tuna tartar.  The Ritz Carlton has gotten on the bandwagon by marketing dog friendly merchandise including the Ritz Carlton signature blue doggie bed and a ceramic doggie bowl with their famous logo.  The Loews Loves Pets program features a name tag at check-in and a concierge that provides pet sitting or pet walking services.

The pet friendly trend has an international dimension.  Aliuromania is the first cat café in the Middle East.  The café was started in Dubai by a female Saudi entrepreneur who loves cats.  She first got the idea from cat cafes she heard about in South Korea. In India there is a concern to make Diwali more pet friendly.  Diwali is a Hindu festival of lights.  During the celebration it’s popular to have loud firecrackers which can scare dogs and make them more aggressive.  Mexico has a website dedicated entirely to the dog friendly parks, hotels, and restaurants in Mexico City.  Mexico developed its dog parks as part of the emphasis on becoming more environmentally conscious.

Pet friendly is not without its detractors.  One hospitality manager in Australia remains firmly against the idea.  According to the Brisbane Sunday Mail, the top five reasons to ban pet friendly establishments include hygiene, health and safety, asthma and allergies, food contamination, and customer comfort. However, one must consider the rules of the house. At Munchie’s Coffee House and Barkery in Hamilton, Ontario, dog customers understand they cannot bark to the point of being rude.  Dogs have to be on a 6 foot non-retractable leash and accompanied by a human over the age of 16.  Aggressive behavior is prohibited and dogs will not be muddy when they come in.  Owners are expected to clean up after their pets.

What does the future hold for pet friendly hospitality? The Cahaba Beach Dog Park near Birmingham, Alabama may provide a clue.  Cahaba Beach is a private dog park for members only that caters exclusively to the dog community. It also offers a dog-friendly venue for events including birthday parties (for dogs and humans).  Also check out the Dream Dog Park project sponsored by Purina.   With the understanding that dogs bring people together, the goal of this project is to bring communities together for a better world.

According to travel and tourism futurist, Dr. Ian Yeoman, the bond between humans and their pets is unbreakable. In the future we are likely to see new and innovative forms of pet hospitality including pet weddings.  Whether it’s pet edibles, luxury pet resorts, pet amusement parks, pet massages, or pet cruises, the future holds many exciting pet ideas for every sector of the hospitality industry.

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By: Emadene Travers, J.D. Ph.D. GAC | Faculty, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh—Online Division

July 24, 2017