The industry is certainly growing: recent figures put the British spend on pets at over £5bn last year, a rise of almost 25 per cent on the year before.
Of this, at least £1bn was spent on non-food experiences, suggesting that owners are buying more than bones for their canine pals – choosing to spend mainly on grooming, vet visits, and accessories, according to a 2015 survey from pet accessories brand, Pets At Home.
The same poll found that Brits spend around £450m each year taking their pets on holiday, and allocate a significant proportion of their budget on food.
Jennifer Stevens, co-founder of pet information service and app Pet-fi, agrees that customers’ interest in dog-friendly events and spaces is on the rise in the UK.
As well as the rise in dog-friendly hotels, she cites recent examples such as this summer’s ‘wooftop cinema for dogs’ in east London’s Peckham Rye, which explicitly encouraged dogs to attend and offered dedicated doggie snacks such as 0% alcohol ‘dog beer’ from Belgian brand Snuffle, and ‘pupcorn’ treats.
She explains: “Today’s pet-parents are making a very conscious decision to include their dogs in their holidays. A great business will recognise that for many their dog is a member of the family and they need to have facilities that include them in the experience.”
Pets of Instagram
Photo: Pexels / Stefan Stefancik
Unsurprisingly, customers’ penchant for posting online is also a factor, with cute and cuddly friends gaining serious traction on social media, to the benefit of business.
Figures show that nearly 90 per cent of owners share photos of their animal on social media, with 20 per cent even said to have set up a separate account or user name for their pet.
As Stevens says: “Millennials especially [those aged around 18-35] are likely to share their experiences and photos on social media, and images with dogs are a great boost for any pet-friendly business.”
Photo: Shake Shack
As Instagrammable eats go, American burger group Shake Shack is perhaps one of the best known examples of companies showing awareness of its customers’ canine creatures, with treats that match up in branding and style to the rest of the menu, and photograph beautifully.
With a separate “Woof” section dedicated to dogs, the offer includes the Pooch-ini (£4.75), with red velvet dog biscuits, peanut butter sauce and vanilla custard; and the Bag O’Bones red velvet biscuit doggie bag (£5). The biscuits are especially made for Shake Shack by Bocce’s bakery in New York.
Mark Rosati, Shake Shack’s culinary director, is clear on the brand’s mission: “We’ll always have a special place in our hearts for our furry four-legged friends. Shake Shack offers a special treat for all our guests. All the biscuits [are made] in small batches, by hand and with fresh ingredients.”
But it’s not just quirky American brands taking the lead.
Bow wow burgers
Photo: Porky's BBQ
London-based, five-site barbecue group Porky’s BBQ has gone so far as to introduce what it claims is the ‘first burger for dogs’, with its Bow Wow Burger created to honour National Burger Day (25 August) and National Dog Day (26 August) this month.
Developed in partnership with dog treat specialists Murphy’s Bakery, the burger treats are served in a traditional burger box, and have been designed to appear as a hamburger with ketchup and salad sandwiched within a bun.
Far from simply a ‘national day’ gimmick, the treat was actually created thanks to customer demand, with co-founder Simon Brigg from Porky’s explaining that some diners will come to Porky’s BBQ due to its dog-friendly policies.
He said: “All of our restaurants are now dog friendly because we position ourselves as family friendly, and you can’t have the whole family without the dog. We get a large number of dogs and dog owners into the restaurants, and it’s only fair that we offer the dogs a snack too.
“In some of our more neighbourhood sites in Crouch End and Chelsea, customers will often choose where they eat based on it being dog friendly.”
Battersea restaurant London House is another business keen to ensure diners' dogs are catered for - and keen to dispel the idea that dogs are only really welcome in muddy country pubs.
Head chef George Lyon explains: "It's important because you can reach out to a completely different audience by making the guest and dog feel at home. Being a neighbourhood restaurant we feel that the demand for owners and their pets to be able to eat, drink, and socialise in a non-pub environment has become more prominent. Guests definitely feel more at home when they bring their furry friends with them, and we want to make sure everybody is welcome."
Beds, bowls, and bags
Photo: South Lodge Hotel
Hotels can also benefit from this barking boost by ensuring that guests know their pets are as welcome as they are.
Country hotels and B&Bs within beautiful countryside and hiking hotspots – where customers will often bring dogs for long walks and rambles ‒ have long understood the benefits of allowing dogs in-house, but even higher-end establishments can make sure pups are catered for without causing chaos.
Hotels that offer dog-friendly spaces, alongside simple touches such as offering guests a dog treat hamper, dog beds, water bowls and even toys, can reap the benefits and attract customers who might otherwise choose to stay elsewhere, or not take the trip at all.
David Connell, general manager at the five-star, 89-bedroom South Lodge, an Exclusive Hotel, in West Sussex, explains: “We attract visitors who not only like to relax and escape the city, but who also enjoy being in the great outdoors. As such, it’s really important that we are able to accommodate the whole family for a stay, dogs included. It’s a very popular service [and] it opens up the property to a whole new audience.”
Photo: Pexels / Adrianna Calvo
As well as the benefits mentioned above, South Lodge also offers dedicated dog-friendly bedrooms with doors that open directly on to the hotel gardens, so guests can take their pets outside easily.
Other top hotels that have dog-accessible areas include the 47-bedroom, five-star Cliveden House in Berkshire; and the four-star Headland Hotel & Spa in Cornwall, which charges £20 per night per dog, and offers them a welcome pack including food and a blanket.
The 91-bedroom Goodwood Hotel on the 12,000 acre Goodwood Estate near Chichester, which allows dogs in all areas of the hotel except for two of its restaurants, and even has a private members’ club called The Kennels to “reflect the estate’s dog-owning history”.
The hotel allows guests to bring up to two dogs of any size, and provides beds, bowls, pooper scoopers and bags on arrival. Concierge is on-hand to help guests with dog-sitting, walking and grooming, and can even arrange birthday parties for pets.
Photo: London House restaurant, Battersea
And while countryside pubs, country clubs and landed estates might make obvious puppy playgrounds, even inner city hotels can still capture canine custom.
The boutique 56-bedroom Milestone Hotel in London’s Kensington offers a welcome pack including a toy, treat and clean up bags on arrival, plus dog grooming and sitting on-site. Dogs can even have their own specially-designed cushions and duvets, and ‘do not disturb the dog’ door signs, and guests have access to a 24-hour pet concierge.
The upscale 85-bedroom Belgraves in London’s Belgravia may be classily decorated, but it also offers a range of dog services, with a package including bowls and concierge dog-walking services, and a complimentary bag of dog food on guests’ arrival through the hotel’s partnership with Swedish-based premium dog food company Wonderboo. The by-appointment and emergency Elizabeth Street veterinary clinic is also on-hand for guests 365 days a year, adding extra reassurance.
Stevens advises: “Think through your pet offering, and always try to keep a few treats on hand, as it’s a great way to start guests’ experience or stay. The humanisation of pets has definitely led to a much greater demand, with an emphasis on improving pet-parents’ lifestyle.”
From burgers to beds to bowls, there’s no escaping the benefits of understanding just how much people love their pets, with a definite trend towards customers seeing dogs as an integral part of their dining out experience or hotel stay.
You’d be barking mad to miss it…
This year’s National Dog Day is on 26 August 2016. It seeks to raise awareness of the number of dogs that need rescuing, and give recognition to the work dogs do in assisting disabled people, in helping in disaster zones, and in the aftermath of events such as the recent Italian Earthquake, where they helped emergency services with their work.