Are you a dog or a cat person? Well, if you’re a caf or restaurant operator, your answer should be ‘both’! There’s a lot to gain from telling your customers that you love their furry friends, Ken Burgin reports.

Social media experts know that the ‘3 Fs’ are winners for creating popular content: food, fashion and fur. Food we know all about, fashion is at our retail neighbours, and fur – that’s cats and dogs. Everyone’s best friend. But hang on, aren’t animals in cafes and restaurants a health hazard, and something we could be fined for? (Fellow Hospitality columnist Tony Berry alluded to this in one of his recent scribes, click here to read his thoughts).

In France, Italy and Germany well-behaved pooches are allowed into restaurants, and in the USA they have dogs flying on planes in the main cabin. Closer to home, we got cat cafes in Melbourne and Sydney (the cats are in a separate visiting room), and at Cafe Bones in a Sydney park, your little darling can enjoy a pupaccino. Heck, you can even buy ‘pupcakes’ to keep them from being jealous of the muffin you’re enjoying!

So if there’s so much enthusiasm and emotion around dogs and cats, how can restaurants and cafes capitalise on it in their marketing? Let’s count the ways…

1. Support your local animal shelter. You might be helping them with a fundraising event, or do something like the Tradies Club in Gymea – they regularly feature animals at the local pound on their Facebook page. Who can resist these loveable orphans, with their big eyes? Get onto the email list of your local organisation – you’ll receive lots of content for a regular social media post.

2. Remind people about seeing-eye dogs. Legally you’re obliged to allow them in your restaurant, but take it further. Search YouTube for ‘guide dogs for the blind’ and you’ll find dozens of videos that show them being trained and helping the blind be more mobile. Nice content to add to Facebook for some community interest.

3. Feature customers and their pets. Popular cafe West Juliett in Sydney’s inner suburb of Marrickville puts photos on Facebook of pets visiting with their owners. They add the hashtag ?#‎dogsofwestjuliett so you can see the dozens of furry visitors they’ve had over the last few years.

CoogeePav-3-8-2014-50.jpgMerivale's Coogee Pavilion makes dogs feel at home too.

4. Put out the water bowls, and add hooks to an outside wall or post. Thoughtful touches like this are appreciated by owners who want a coffee and a catch-up, knowing Fido is being cared for.

5. Feature staff and their pets. Dave the chef and his new Staffordshire Terrier pup, Sam the barista and her two Burmese cats or that slightly eccentric staff member with a tank full of tropical fish. Ask them for pictures to share on Facebook or your blog – you’re unlikely to have a problem with reluctant photographers! Make these part of your regular ‘interesting staff’ feature on social media – also show us staff and their (hot, crazy) cars, staff and their holiday snaps, and staff in their favourite team’s colours.

6. Share the news about pet events in your area: some churches do a ‘blessing of the animals’, just like the Rev Geraldine did in the TV show Vicar of Dibley. The Feast of St Francis of Assisi on 4 October often has animals being blessed at local Catholic churches – he is their patron saint.

7. Capture special moments. There are dog and cat shows in local halls, and some wonderful dog-training scenes in your local park. In Centennial Park near where I live, every week the dog training area is a circus of devoted ‘parents’ teaching their dogs to sit, stand and run around in circles. Take photos and share this little corner of eccentric devotion. There’s even a program called Living Ruff, run by the RSPCA ‘for homeless pets and their people to help them remain together while they get back on their feet, and to be as healthy and happy as they can be.

Full disclosure: I’m a ‘dog person’ and still remember our family’s fox terrier, Mike – he could escape over a 6 foot paling fence and outrun most cars on the road. A legend!

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