It's Now OK to Take Your Dog Out to Dinner
Fergus entered Daphne's restaurant, an Italian restaurant in London's tony South Kensington neighborhood that's a favorite of celebrities and serves a gorgeous Tagliatelle with Girolles and Summer Truffle for £30 ($39).
He sat down, drank a little water and looked around the room. Sniffed the air. Licked his nose.
Here's the thing: Fergus is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. And while canines have traditionally been welcome in Britain's country pubs, they're becoming increasingly common sights in restaurants like Daphne's in London, and on restaurant terraces from New York to California.
Daphne's is just the latest place to admit dogs, starting last month with lunch, and only in the conservatory section of the dining room. This spring, New York City's health department issued new rules allowing dogs in outdoor areas of restaurants. After California passed a similar law two years ago, restaurants there have been putting out water bowls, leash stands and other doggie amenities, the California Restaurant Association said.
"It's very gratifying when people say they can go out for dinner more often because we welcome dogs," said Jeremy King, co-owner of several hit London restaurants that open their doors to dogs, including brasserie Bellanger, Colbert and the American Bar at the Beaumont.
The fears around health and safety are overblown, said Dr. Lisa Ackerley, a professorial fellow at the Royal Society for Public Health and food-safety adviser to the British Hospitality Association.
"It's a myth," she said. "If they are not in the kitchen, they can't contaminate food that is being prepared, and in a dining room they are no more of a risk than humans."
European regulations say dogs must be kept out of "places where food is prepared, handled or stored." In other words, dogs are banned from kitchens but not dining rooms. In the U.S., dogs are usually less welcome than in Europe. The Food and Drug Administration recommends banning non-service dogs from food establishments, but the final decision is left to state and local authorities, which differ in their approach.
"People are unhygienic," Ackerley said. "How many sit down and start handling food without even washing their hands? If we are worried about hygiene, we should worry about ourselves."
Brian Clivaz, owner of L'Escargot in London, said he tries to make his restaurants feel like home. And that includes welcoming dogs.
"Every good home or castle has a dog," Clivaz said. "We serve food to them on request. Only the finest, of course."
Chef Daniel Boulud tries to create a welcoming atmosphere for dogs at his high-end restaurants Café Boulud and Épicerie Boulud. "We always have bowls with water for dogs outside," he said. "We don’t want them to eat there, we just want them to have a little drink on their way to the park."
New York-based Shake Shack serves two special doggy treats at its London restaurant: Pooch-ini (red velvet dog biscuits, peanut butter sauce and vanilla custard); and Bag O' Bones (doggy bag of red velvet dog biscuits by Bocce's Bakery.)
"Shake Shack was born in Madison Square Park, where many of our guests would bring their dogs out for a walk," Culinary Director Mark Rosati said. "We saw this as an opportunity.”
The approach to pups in the U.K. and U.S. dining scenes is coming closer to resembling the one in France, where the only attention dogs attract in restaurants is affection.
"It's particularly important in our more-French-style restaurants, because it is part of the traditional French restaurant scene," King said. "No one turns a blind eye throughout France if someone brings in a dog."
At upscale hot-dog spot Bubbledogs in central London, restaurateur Sandia Chang said real dogs are very welcome. She shares treats meant for her own dog, Noodle, a cross between a dachshund and a toy poodle.
"We give them a bowl of water," she said. "Sometimes their owners will order a sausage for them."
Chang always calls ahead to check if Noodle is welcome before dining out. She mentions the restaurant Andrew Edmunds in London's Soho as particularly dog friendly, a view that is shared on the London Dog Forum. Her other favorites include Shake Shack; The Red Lion & Sun, in Highgate; and Gaucho Grill in Hampstead, with a special Doggy Sunday each month.
"The only trouble we have had is a bit of dog-envy," Clivaz said. "If one dog gets more attention than another, then the owner can get quite peeved."
Fortunately, one regular is a dog psychologist.
At Daphne's, diners can buy a dog bowl created by a regular, designer Lulu Guinness featuring her own pooch Daphne the Westie. It's £60 ($79). Fergus feels right at home in a restaurant: He's owned by chef Bruno Loubet and his wife Catherine.
Just don't go thinking that only dogs are getting their own way. There's a waiting list for tables at Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium, which bills itself as London’s first Cat Cafe.