As far as American culture goes, bars and pubs traditionally fall into the “adults-only” category … or, at least, they did in past decades and generations. These days, bar owners and patrons alike seem determined to turn drinking establishments into family venues, where grown-ups, their children, and even their dogs can commingle while the adults enjoy a cold alcoholic beverage.
As bars that welcome the whole family grow increasingly popular, some patrons find themselves wondering: is it unreasonable to expect a bar to remain an adult space? Will the business advantages to family-inclusive saloons always outweigh the perks of a 21-and-over pub? We asked a few bar owners and patrons for their thoughts on “family-friendly” bars, and their responses proved highly enlightening.
The bottom line? Making bars more inclusive will increase profits and improve the odds of longevity.
The bar owners and consultants we interviewed provided a key advantage to allowing kids and dogs in bar contexts: these policies encourage longer patron stays and, subsequently, higher check averages. As health-conscious practices and teetotaling become more widespread among millennial/Gen Z client bases, business owners need to consider alternative ways of bringing in profits and offering an environment that welcomes families can draw in a new clientele, according to managing principal Tim Powell of Foodservice IP consultants. “With the changing consumer composition and Gen Z and younger millennials opting out of drinking, restaurant operators must consider changing philosophies. Traffic is down, as are check averages, and independent [businesses] are on the brink. Gross margins for beverages outpace [those of] food by 3 to 1. The math says [that] making the change [to higher inclusion is a good move],” Powell tells us.
Beer gardens and pubs that welcome children and dogs are a common sight in Europe, and American business owners are taking note.
In nations like the U.K. and Ireland, many drinking spots also serve as secondary “living rooms” for patrons, and they therefore make an effort to make their venues feel as home-like as possible. For guests with kids and pups, a bar that welcomes these members of their family are especially appealing, and these establishments are established parts of the cultures of these countries and towns.
Inspired by these successful overseas businesses, American bar and restaurant owners, like Andrew Miller of Good Fortune in Chicago, are proud to bring family-friendly drinking destinations to U.S. markets. “Being welcoming to dogs and kids is really reflective of the pub culture that England is based on. That’s what I grew up within the U.K., and I love that it fosters a community feel. So many of Chicago’s taps and taverns are based on that same European heritage, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Miller claims.
To get some perspective on this philosophy from a bar owner in the U.K., we spoke to chef/owner Jacob Kenedy of Plaquemine Lock in London, who told us that “I believe pubs and bars to be an important part of the social and community fabric of society. Whilst not all bars should welcome families, children, and pets, for many, doing so enhances the community contribution of the venue. Additionally, it seems intuitive that removing any barrier between ‘family’ and alcohol should encourage responsible drinking later in life, whereas complete exclusion of children from drinking environments could exaggerate the ‘adult’ perception of alcohol, and inhibit learning opportunities. Conversely, adults should learn to accept and embrace children in all environments — be it in a pub or an airplane, families have a right to enjoy. At Plaquemine Lock, we welcome families, dogs, and children not for profit, but because it enhances the pub and the community from everyone’s perspective. “
Family-friendly bars help to build neighborhood communities.
Every neighborhood dreams of having its own “Cheers,” a laid-back hangout where residents can unwind, chat, and form friendships over a pint. But in areas where a large chunk of the potential bar-hopping population has kids and pets at home, it can be tough for prospective patrons to make it down to the watering hole without the family in tow. That’s why beer gardens, breweries, and pubs seeking to establish a strong neighborhood presence often open their doors to kids and pups.
Owner and chef Justus Frank of The Garden in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia considers community-building a top priority of his business, explaining that “The Garden is located in Del Ray, where so many families have children and dogs. We definitely wanted to embrace that demographic and provide everyone with the opportunity to gather and relax with friends. Jeremy [Justus’s co-owner] and I have provided a significant amount of entertainment for families, from games to books to a children’s play area. We love our Alexandria neighbors, especially those who don’t use the Garden as an outlet to let their kids run wild.”
When it comes to both kids and dogs at bars, appropriate behavior is crucial.
Kid- and dog-friendly policies can broaden a bar’s appeal and grow its client base … but the parents (and dog parents) involved must be ready and willing to take responsibility for the behavior of their children and pets. Owner Briana Volk of the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club in Portland, Maine, which welcomes kids, explains it like this: “I believe in and have worked to create spaces that are kid-/family-friendly. By being open and welcoming to them, we build great community spaces. I’m a mom of two and love taking my kids out to dine. I also think that parents do need to be courteous of the people around them when they are out. So there is a give and take to it all.”
Dan DeKemper, owner of dog-friendly Cork City in Hoboken, New Jersey, sets down some ground rules for his canine patrons in order to keep the bar’s vibe positive for all visitors: “We are definitely pro-dog and welcome all customers who would like to bring their best friends to visit. However, you’d be surprised how some owners behave with their dogs in a public place. So we had to post a set of rules to establish ‘dog etiquette.’ Seats are for humans, not dogs; dogs must be leashed; dogs can’t roam around the bar; dogs can’t visit during high volume times; no excessive barking or you will be asked to take your dog home.”
Certain bar environments should remain adults-only spaces.
While general manager Chase Crawford of King Tide Fish & Shell in Portland, Oregonsupports his establishment’s welcoming attitude toward kids and dogs, he tells us that “you have to know your audience, and there’s a time and place for children and dogs. For instance, I do not believe either belong in cocktail-driven bar concepts or nightclubs, nor do they belong at the bar top itself.” Remaining cognizant of the space and patron expectation is crucial to a successful family-friendly operation involving beer, spirits, and a bar atmosphere.