Theo ordered a steak and a beer, and when a server at Art and Soul brought his food to our patio table, she set it gently on the floor and patted Theo’s head.
Theo is a greyhound. (His owner, Janine, was the one who put in his order.) The beer is a non-alcoholic “Bowser Beer” made of chicken broth and malt extract. Along with the steak — a grilled and sliced sirloin “good enough for a human,” as the menu says — the brew is available on Art and Soul’s Pooch Patio menu, a selection of five dishes just for pampered dogs.
Man’s best friend is also his favorite dining companion, as you’ve probably noticed, judging by the number of furry guests on local patios. And with “yappy” hours, dog menus and an abundance of welcoming restaurants, it's easier than ever for dog owners to have an al fresco cocktail with their cocker spaniel or some wine with their Weimaraner — for better or worse.
“If your dog is well behaved and can sit and not bark through a meal, they’re a pretty fun addition to a patio,” said Tammy Gordon, owner of Ike, a 5-year-old rat terrier. “It’s nice to be able to not rush home to take your dog out at the end of the day.”
Gordon blogs about food as Florida Girl in DC, and Ike is her companion for many meals. Some of their favorite haunts are Medium Rare, Ghibellina, Blind Dog Cafe and Cantina Marina, which hosts a regular doggy happy hour on Mondays, complete with a dog- biscuit buffet. Most of the time, servers and fellow diners don’t know he’s there: Ike sleeps in a special carrier, only perking up when meat is brought to the table.
“Every now and then, he does gets some scraps,” Gordon admitted. But as a former server in a restaurant, she is hyper-conscientious about making sure her dog is behaving appropriately in a restaurant setting. Her most important rule: “Your dog can’t get in the way of the server doing their job. The dog can’t get in any pathways.”
But as those who aren’t dog people are always quick to point out, just because a dog can be brought to a restaurant’s patio does not mean it should.
Trainer Shera Beck, who works with Pawfect Pups in Arlington, advises her clients that dogs who are nervous, easily frightened, reactive toward other dogs or children, or unpredictable around strangers are not ready for a bustling restaurant environment. And very young dogs, while cute, may need more time: Bringing a puppy to human social events is not the same thing as socializing it.
“If the dog doesn’t enjoy this, it’s not fun for you or the dog,” said Beck, who brings her Weimaraner-Lab mix, Breck, to Arlington restaurants Lyon Hall, Liberty Tavern and Rustico. “You don’t want to take a dog to a place that is literally their worst nightmare.”
Many of Beck’s clients specifically request that she train their dogs toward being happy-hour ready. After teaching the dogs a series of commands — down, stay and the place command, which instructs a dog to relax on a mat until they’re given permission to move — Beck makes sure her clients practice with them in busy environments before bringing them to happy hour.
“The main thing is making sure your dog has had plenty of exercise,” Beck said. “People think, ‘My dog has been cooped up all day, let’s go to a restaurant.’ ” Not only is that a bad idea for the dog, but also for restaurant guests in general.
“One bad dog that barks or growls can ruin everyone on the patio’s experience,” said Scott Magnuson, co-owner of the Argonaut, in an e-mail. Poor dog behavior at the H Street NE pub soured Magnuson on the experience; now dogs are permitted only outside the restaurant’s patio structure.
Despite the abundance of openly dog-friendly D.C. eateries, restaurant owners remain wary of exposing themselves to the potential risks of having dogs on the patio. Service dogs are always welcome, inside and outside, of course. But the D.C. Department of Health’s food and safety regulations ban dogs from any area of a dining establishment where food is served.
“If this type of conduct is observed during a regular inspection, the business will be subject to applicable sanctions,” which include issuing a formal notice to remedy the situation, followed by a closure of up to five days, said Marcus Williams, the department’s director of communications, in an e-mail. Regulations to address restrictions on dogs in food establishments have been drafted, Williams added, and should be ready for public comment in the fall.
Other jurisdictions are more permissive. In Montgomery County, dogs are allowed on patios if the restaurant gives notice to the Department of Health and Human Services, according to a spokeswoman. And in Arlington and Alexandria, a variance permits dogs on certain patios.
The pet-friendly Kimpton hotel chain’s Alexandria restaurant, Jackson 20, has held a Tuesday night dog happy hour for eight years, hosted by Charlie, the bichon frise who serves as the Hotel Monaco’s director of pet relations. His owner is Annee Gillett, area director of catering for Kimpton and, while most dogs are on their best behavior, she sometimes has a word with owners of unruly dogs.
“I really like to say it’s not the dog, it’s really the owner,” she said. “Sometimes you have to talk to owners and say, ‘Hey, you have to keep your dog closer to you’. ” And sometimes, as in the case of a dog that was snarling at the others, she has to kick people and pets out.
Dogs will be dogs, after all. Ignorant as they are of basic human restaurant decorum, it’s incumbent upon their owners to keep them in line. I once watched as a man showed off his gorgeous pit bull puppy on the patio of a 14th Street restaurant. But she was rambunctious, and when she climbed on the table and slurped water from the glassware, a manager politely but firmly asked him and his dog to leave.
So how does the model dog owner dine out with his or her canine companion? It helps to pack bowls and treats from home. It also helps, Beck said, to bring a blanket or mat for the dog to lie on, not only to help the pet get comfortable, but also to enforce the place command. Another tip from Gillett: Keep your dog on a short, non-retractable leash. “My number one pet peeve, because it leads to trouble with dogs, [is] when owners use those extendable leashes.”
Remember, too, that not everyone else in the restaurant may love your dog as much as you do. Ask permission before allowing your dog to approach people or other dogs.
“Sometimes newbies will come in and think, ‘I can let my dog off leash, it’s a big dog party!’ ” Gillett said. “But at the end of the day, it’s still a restaurant.”
Back at Art and Soul, as the humans worked their way through a snack board of deviled eggs, pimento cheese, pickles and cured salmon, Theo wolfed down his sirloin. It was gone in less than a minute, and he licked the bowl so clean it shined. Then he lapped up some of his “beer” and laid down on his mat to take a blissed-out nap amid the company of humans enjoying their meal.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the Department of Health has drafted regulations to ease restrictions on dogs in restaurants. However, the DOH has only drafted regulations to address the issue of animals in restaurants. This version has been updated.