(SS) The one thing that coronavirus hasn’t managed to shut down is outings with our dogs.
And now that restaurants have expanded their outdoor seating in order to comply with social distancing and 50% capacity rules, many South Florida eateries have become the place for pups and people to enjoy some time out of the house.
“This is our first outing,” says Jodi Moro, looking down at Tula, her 3-year-old Dogo Argentino sitting beside a courtyard table at the Blue Fish in Boca Raton’s Mizner Park. “I’m super careful. She hasn’t been able to mingle.”
She isn’t the only one; Peyton has missed mingling, too. The Old English sheepdog is holding court at Kapow Noodle Bar on the other side of Mizner Park. He eagerly greets passersby at a sidewalk table at the al fresco shopping/dining/entertainment enclave.
“He loves happy hour,” says Jessica Gray-Patterson, who is enjoying fries with her husband Jesse and, of course, Peyton. “It’s good to get him out of the house and socializing. He’s so excited.”
As more people stop and admire Peyton, Jesse adds, “Yeah, we couldn’t hold him on a leash. He likes the attention. I like the attention. She likes the attention.”
Todd Lawrence, the general manager at Blue Fish, thinks that dogs have cabin fever, too. He’s seen it with his own two pets, a Boston terrier and a poodle/Shih Tzu mix.
“I just know when the dogs are outside of their home they always seem to be happier,” he says. “My dogs love to go for car rides. When they are in the park they are very, very excited.”
The dog days of the pandemic
Before COVID-19 some restaurants were a regular puppy palooza.
“The big difference that we’ve seen [is] in the past, pre-pandemic, guests coming in all the time [with their dogs],” recalls Peter Lopez, the director of operations at Shooters Waterfront in Fort Lauderdale. “Now what we’ve seen ... they are not coming back in big groups.”
But he adds that while the clusters of people and pets sharing a table alongside the 340 feet of dock space at the Intracoastal restaurant may be smaller, the tail-wagging just might be more enthusiastic.
“The dogs are getting to see each other for the first time and they have a little extra pep in their step,” Lopez says.
Brian Bagley, the director of operations for the company that owns Loch Bar restaurant in Mizner Park, notes that the pandemic and the summer heat is giving the outdoor seating new emphasis.
“We are seeing people arrive earlier than normal to catch the happy hour specials,” he says in an email to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “It is very common for the majority of our patio tables during happy hour to have dogs at them.”
The Ben West Palm, on the waterfront of the bustling downtown area, sees the patio at its Proper Grit restaurant as a draw for dog walkers.
“There are two beautiful parks across the way, the Jose Marti Park and [Flagler] Banyan Square,” general manager Bernardo Neto explains. “We have a beautiful patio at Proper Grit. We’re tying that in with people going to these downtown parks by the water where a lot of our guests walk their dogs. You can come in and have brunch and you don’t have to go home and put your dog away before you meet your friends.”
Over at Casa Sensei on Fort Lauderdale’s Las Olas Boulevard they’ve seen an increase of guests bringing their fur babies to enjoy the dining at the outdoor dock seating alongside the Himmarshee Canal.
“I would say 50% more,” estimates co-owner Patricia Lara. “I think everybody is looking for dog-friendly places and kid-friendly places, a place outside. Instead of going out to dinner at night by themselves, they choose to come for brunch with their kids and bring their dogs. I think people appreciate being able to sit outside and have fresh air and feel safe. Outdoor [seating] has doubled on weekends. Our brunches have probably tripled.”
Lara, who also owns Wonder Paws animal rescue, says that the restaurant has enacted all of the safety protocols from the CDC and has added large fans outside to help keep guests cool.
Who’s a good doggy?
Back at Boca Raton’s Kapow, co-owner Vaughan Dugan says while he has seen the numbers starting to return, he hasn’t seen much of a difference in doggy dining attitudes from before the pandemic hit just short of six months ago.
“I think it has a lot to do with everyone’s level of comfort,” says Dugan. “It’s whether people are comfortable as humans on whether they are or not going to bring their dogs out. Wherever everyone is with what’s going on with COVID, that’s where they are.”
Dugan, who also co-owns the Dubliner Irish Pub next door, says he thinks seeing the tables spread six feet apart, staff wearing masks and gloves, paper menus and other safety measures are allowing guests to start venturing back into the restaurant scene.
“As far as Mizner Park, we’re seeing a ton of people coming out, doggy parents sitting in restaurants with their furry friends. They are part of the family, too.”
Outside, on a courtyard next to the indoor/outdoor bar at Kapow, a 6-month-old American pit bull terrier named Pebbles — brought there by Patrice Zoumas and her daughter Nina — plays with Louie, a 3-month old Siberian husky.
Juan Salamanca, Louie’s pet parent, says the two are regulars at Kapow because of the attention the staff gives dogs.
“They always give him doggie bowls immediately without asking, which is amazing,” explains Salamanca. “Even though many places say they do, they really don’t. And this is just a very dog-friendly environment. It’s nice to be at an … open area where dogs are cared for and admired. And you feel at peace instead of that you’re bothering [people], they’re welcome into the space.”
- Kapow and the Dubliner also do special orders in the kitchen for the pets. “In Boca we all have a finicky palate, the people as much as the pets that belong to those people,” says Dugan.
- Shooters Waterfront on Fort Lauderdale’s Galt Ocean Mile has a new Doggy Menu with menu items ranging from $8-$14, including veterinary-approved savory dishes created by Meals for Dogs in Fort Lauderdale.
- Quarterdeck Seafood Bar and Neighborhood Grill in Fort Lauderdale on 17th Street just launched a Puppy Chow menu with items such as grilled chicken with rice for $6, sweet potato treats for $2 and an unseasoned hamburger patty for $5.
- Stoner’s Pizza Joint on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale is putting photos of dogs, cats and other pets who need to be adopted from the Humane Society of Broward County on their pizza boxes and are offering a year of pizza (one large pizza per week) to anyone who adopts a pet from the fliers. “With over 500 pizza boxes being delivered a week, we have already made an impact with five pet adoptions and counting,’ says John Stetson, the CEO of the restaurant brand.
- At the Ben West Palm, when guests check into a room with their dogs, they are given a gift bag with a dog bowl, a treat, a leash, a collar and a pet waste bag. There’s even a miniature dog robe in the room. “All they need to do is basically pack their own clothes,” says Neto at the Ben. “They can bring their dog ... and we’ll have everything in there when they get here and they don’t have to worry.”
- Fort Lauderdale’s Casa Sensei, the restaurant known for its Pan-Asian fusion fare with Latin American flavor profile, also serves sushi...for dogs. “We’re doing everything in-house,” says Lara. “We have doggy sushi rolls, which is basically ground beef and/or chicken or a sushi roll with vegetables and rice. We can also make them a little stir fry. Everything is fresh. A lot of places keep things frozen, but that doesn’t make sense now, so we make everything fresh.”