By Mark Plumlee

People are crazy about their pets. They like to take them everywhere (or, in some cases, it might be too risky to leave them at home alone). This has led to a marked increase in the demand for dog-friendly dining. Maybe you’re looking at your pizzeria now and thinking, “Hey, I like dogs. Let’s get some more up in here!”

Well, good news! With springtime in full bloom, we have compiled a list of steps you can take to bring in new business by turning your pizzeria into a haven for dogs (and their humans, too, we suppose).

Related: Cane Rosso Rescue gives lucky dogs a sporting chance

Set Up Outdoor Dining
Indoor dining can be tough when you’re trying to accommodate a lot of pooches. Unless your brand is already dog-friendly and your space is deliberately designed for hosting canines (like a dog-friendly brewpub with concrete floors, for example), it’s nigh impossible to just introduce a bunch of pups to your dining room. It sounds more like a zany kids comedy—“The Dogs Opened a Restaurant!”—than a prosperous business. You don’t want to alienate regular customers who simply want to enjoy a meal without a dog up in their business.

That’s where outdoor dining comes in. For obvious reasons, outdoor dining offers a more-dog-friendly environment for people to sidle up to a table with their favorite pooch. And if someone’s staunchly anti-dog? Well, those weirdos can simply sit inside. (Just kidding…kind of.)

Of course, not every pizzeria has patios and outdoor seating. Fortunately, one of the few positive outcomes from COVID-19 was that the majority of states changed up their policies to allow restaurants to set up outdoor seating—whether on the sidewalk or in parking spaces in front of their stores. Chances are, if you had this option available at your pizzeria, you already took advantage of it during the pandemic. Making it dog-friendly is a great excuse to double down now and really go all out, especially since the new zoning rules appear here to stay in the majority of states.

Pro Tip: Keep a couple of water bowls on hand to offer to thirsty dogs. It’s good for the dogs, and it further endears you to their owners, building customer loyalty.

Brooks, Mark Plumlee’s puppy pal, celebrates his first birthday with a dog-friendly pizza.

Establish Common Sense Policies

This one’s important, especially if you anticipate having lots of dogs that will be mingling with customers and other dogs. You’re introducing a whole new set of variables. Ideally, everyone would be responsible dog owners and do the basics like clean up after their dog, not bring dogs around that don’t get along with other breeds, etc. Unfortunately, we know that’s not the case. That puts your place of business at liability, so you want to make sure you have your policies clearly stated and visible for everyone to see.

Here are some good ground rules to get you started:

  • All dogs must be leashed at all times. Even if someone claims their dog is great off-leash, it’s more a matter of other dogs. They react differently to a dog off-leash than when it’s on-leash.
  • All dogs over eight months old must be spayed or neutered.
  • All dogs must be fully up-to-date on their vaccinations.
  • Implement a one-strike-you’re-out policy when it comes to aggressive behavior towards other people or animals.
  • Owners are responsible for cleaning up after their dogs and any damage they may cause.

If you’re looking for a way to post your rules around your pizzeria, you can find free flyer templates on the internet that can be customized, printed out and stuck in your windows.

Team Up with Non-Profits and Shelters
Want to appeal to the dog-lovers while also giving back to your own community? Run cross-promotions with a non-profit that helps dogs or a local shelter. Here are some easy ideas to implement:

  • 10% of every order during a certain time period goes to the nonprofit.
  • 50% of every order for a specific item (maybe some dog-themed drink or dish) goes to the nonprofit.
  • Offer discounts if customers bring in items that can be donated to shelters, such as toys, collars, leashes, etc.
  • If you have the space for it, team up with shelters to host adoption events. They can be a great excuse for customers to come in, meet some dogs, eat some pizza, and maybe come home with a new little buddy.

Pro Tip: Many pet-friendly pizzerias use box-top flyers to promote their adoption events or special “pups-on-the-patio” promotions. Social media is another great opportunity to advertise these events, which also make fun photos for Instagram and Facebook.

Finally, if you’re looking for organizations to partner with, here are some of my favorites:

  • Canine Companions for Independence: They provide service dogs for basically any condition except blindness. They also partner with a women’s correctional facility in Oregon, providing a program wherein the inmates help raise the pups before they go away to their official training.
  • The ASPCA: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals conducts investigations into animal abuse, helps relocate abused animals to loving homes, and lobbies lawmakers to enact stricter rules to protect our li’l buddies.
  • Local shelters: As mentioned above, partnering with local shelters is probably the best way to see immediate results in your community. Plus these organizations are normally in serious need of extra resources, whether that be money, dog supplies, or volunteer time.

Dog-lovers are a bountiful (and somewhat nutty) customer base. Making slight pivots at your pizzeria can bring them in droves and help boost sales. Plus, you get to hang with a bunch of dogs. It’s a win-win!

Mark Plumlee is a freelance writer whose articles have been published in Full Service Restaurant, Modern Restaurant Management, Quick Service Restaurant, Hospitality Tech, That Oregon Life, The San Francisco Examiner, Blazersedge and other blogs. As a copywriter, he has helped restaurants and small businesses grow and define their brand for more than five years.