While the pandemic rapidly changed consumer habits and wreaked havoc on supply chains, some savvy operators are benefitting from another trend accelerated by pandemic conditions. The number of U.S. households with at least one dog (69 million homes) increased to 54% in 2020 from 50% in 2018, and almost 50% of new dog owners said the pandemic influenced their decision. For the first time, pet industry sales exceeded $100 billion, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) 2020 State of the Industry Report. This tidal wave of spending is expected to continue for the near future. Morgan Stanley forecasts that pet industry spending will nearly triple to $275 billion by 2030, and pets outnumber children nationwide in many major cities and apartment buildings.
When we take clients through our concept development process, we identify the target market and define points of difference for the new brand that will appeal to the needs of that market to ultimately create an emotional connection. In the competition for diners, what better way to draw the growing group of dog devotees than to give them a space that celebrates their best friend and its unique needs? The dog-park restaurant model goes a few steps beyond the dog-friendly restaurant. Typically, these restaurants have an enclosed area where dogs can wander off-leash while the dog’s owner can enjoy a drink nearby with friends.
Mutts Canine Cantina is a multi-unit hybrid dog park, restaurant, and bar growing rapidly through franchise with plans to be in 40 new markets as a long-term goal. The brand is targeting mixed-use projects and being pitched as a solution for oddly shaped or undevelopable tract land within an existing development as it becomes an attractive amenity for young, social dog lovers. Mutts operates on a membership model, and each unit features a walk-up bar offering craft beer, a full bar offering a broader selection of drink options, high-definition televisions, and Adirondack-style lounge chairs throughout the dog park areas. A separate patio features counter service food options specializing in chicken sandwiches, burgers, milkshakes, and a Doggie Menu for the four-legged patrons. The membership model gives operators access to a direct line of communication with users, which benefits the business (in addition to being a separate revenue stream that most F&B cannot realize), drives visitation frequency, and gives guests a sense of “ownership” of the concept.
Texas leads the pack in dog bars, but the trend is expanding to other markets with large Millennial populations. With two locations in Maryland, Bark Social offers either a daily dog pass (free entry for those without a dog) that costs $10 weekdays and $15 weekends, a monthly pass that runs $40, or an annual pass that is currently $365. Positioned as a social club for dog lovers, the concept offers locally-sourced craft beer, wine, and coffee and provides a slew of private-labeled treats, dog food, and products, including cupcakes, birthday cakes, and ice cream, “pupsicles,” and other retail items. We often work with clients to raise the average check at their businesses, and we have seen concepts with patios that allow dogs to enjoy a bump after adding “for the dog” items to their menu. Bark Social offers sweet potato chips at $8 and a pup cake for $10 (making them the obvious venue for increasingly popular dog birthday parties!)
With a traditional F&B concept, location can make or break you. These hybrid concepts benefit from lower occupancy cost and abundant parking by utilizing non-traditional locations, often getting incentives to bring business to the area. Bar K, with two locations in Missouri, takes non-traditional a step further by using repurposed shipping containers in its facility design to add additional bar service to their extensive play yard. The spaces are colorful, and the concept offers straightforward food from an all-day menu and a full calendar of events for people and their dogs, giving their guests reasons to return throughout the month and creating a sense of community.
At the other end of the spectrum, Boozehounds in the Palm Springs area offers elevated design and high-end food in a 7000 sq. ft. venue featuring a dog-friendly open-air atrium along with a cabana bar and patio, truly a restaurant built for dog lovers, not a dog park with food. The menu is Japanese influenced, consisting of locally sourced and seasonal ingredients paired with a large selection of specialized beers, wine, unique craft cocktails, and “bowls” for canine companions. The concept has a set of rules for “pettiquette” and expected behavior for dogs and their adult chaperones which sets a different tone from the dog park experience.
Although these concepts are truly targeting a specific segment, most operators will not be able to add a dog park to their facility to draw guests in. There is inspiration to be had from concepts that cater to dog owners. It has been proven that operators with the potential for dog-friendly patio space can capitalize on that opportunity to drive frequency, loyalty, revenue, and more.