Pampered pets join the diners but are restaurants barking up the wrong tree?

The regulations say no animals in eating places. But it appears a blind eye is often turned and pet owners are taking advantage.
Pampered pets join the diners but are restaurants barking up the wrong tree?
Fang Le

Customers play with dogs at Hotdog cafe in the Biyun community. Hotdog counts a lot of dogs among its clientele.

Restaurants in Shanghai typically provide doggie bags for patrons to take home uneaten food. Now a small, growing number of eateries is giving a whole new slant to dogs and dining out. 

Some restaurants now allow patrons to bring in dogs and cats. Although it appears that Shanghai regulations technically prohibit animals from entering eateries, it is apparently a rule not strictly enforced.

Pet owners love the privilege, but other people are more dubious about eating in a place where dogs urinate, bark and even smell. 

“Every weekend, I take my Gatsby for a drive,” said Ma Luohui, an accountant speaking of his pet dog. “But it’s hard to find a restaurant that will let him in, so I have to return home before lunch or dinner.”

This might seem like a bit of a trivial social problem, but with a more than 100 million households in China estimated to own a pet, access to public places becomes an issue for people who like to take their dogs and even cats everywhere with them. 

“After a morning of frolicking with the kids and chasing birds on the promenade, my Ruby deserves some special treat of his own,” said Xie Min, a stay-at-home mom who owns a golden retriever named Ruby. “Some restaurants now allow pets to come along in. You just have to look for them.”

Pampered pets join the diners but are restaurants barking up the wrong tree?
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A cat has a ringside view at Tono’s cafe in Tianzifang area. 

Aiding that search is, a local lifestyle information service provider that has launched a new feature that identifies “pet friendly” restaurants. “Pet owners want to find places that will allow the animals in, and many restaurants are willing to do that,” said Rao Dehong, the manager of Koubei. “We bring them together.” Koubei lists more than 30 such restaurants, with more expected to join.

One example is Hotdog Cafe. Located in the Biyun community, a prominent residential community for expats, Hotdog counts a lot of dogs among its clientele. “We have 11 dogs, all well trained,” said Xu Yongtao, owner of the cafe, “and we welcome other pets to hang out with us, not just dogs.”

At 2pm on a Saturday, the cafe is packed.

“This is the first time we have come here,” said the owner of a golden retriever, who said he found the cafe on, another lifestyle information services provider. 

When a pug nearby urinated on the floor, no one raised an eyebrow. A waiter appeared quickly to mop up the puddle.

“People enjoy the dogs as well as our food,” Xu told Shanghai Daily. “We are quite famous. Our dogs are minor celebrities among dog lovers. You should come back tomorrow. We’re hosting a pet adoption event.”

“I think this is a fashionable trend,” said Terry Ji, owner of the restaurant Terry & Loo which also allows patrons to bring their pets in. “Foreign countries do the same.” 

Well, maybe not all places in all countries. In the US, for example, city ordinances governing where you can take your pet vary greatly. Typically, dogs are not allowed in restaurants or in any food establishment because of hygiene standards. The exception are guide dogs. In many cities, however, dogs are allowed in patio and other outside areas.

Many places in France — especially bars — do allow pets inside. Some have resident dogs or cats sleeping out or prowling their premises. 

“This is a new concept that we don’t have in Britain,” said a woman who identified herself only as Rachael. “No pet was allowed in a restaurant. The best one can do is to leave a pet outside on the terrace.”

“Cat cafes are quite common in Japan, but dogs, not so much,” said Wen Xueliang, who has been studying in Japan for two years. “All dogs must be leashes in public places. Only the blind can bring their guide dogs in.”

Pampered pets join the diners but are restaurants barking up the wrong tree?
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Not everyone is happy with the idea of having pets around when they eat out. Steven Read, an overseas student from Australia, said he felt odd when he went to a cat cafe with several Chinese friends. “You don’t just go to someone else’s place and pet their pets,” he said.

“The idea of a dog cafe is horrific,” said Jiang Yuwei, who lives in the Biyun community. “I mean who wants a dog peeing at your feet while you are trying to finish your pasta? There should be rules against this.”

There are rules. According to Shanghai kennel management regulations, dogs are not allowed in restaurants. 

“We asked the authorities before Hotdog was opened,” said Xu, “but they did not express any opinion. I think we just have to be very cautious about the hygiene issue.”

“I know there are rules, but they are not enforced,” said Wang Xiaoying, owner of another dog cafe. “And nobody seems to complain.”

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