Cat Cafés and Doggy Dining Rooms

Chris Harding, The Guardian, January 10, 2012

Non-alcoholic beer, previously the preserve of the kids' table at family gatherings and desperate new year's resolutionaries, has finally found a market – though perhaps not quite where the manufacturers expected it.

The Brandling Villa, in South Gosforth, Newcastle has started serving up an imported non-alcoholic beer with hops, malt and meat extract to give its pet-owning punters no excuse for staying away - particularly as the pub already serves up a range of dog-friendly dishes like "chicken a la franc" and "Eggs Ladybird". The "beer" is obviously hitting the spot for its four-legged demographic, as the first 48 bottle run sold out in less than a fortnight despite the pub's owner admitting that his own dog doesn't like the "pretty revolting" brew.

It's not the first dog beer to hit the market. Bowser Beer from Phoenix, USA, and selling at $19.99 for a pack of 6, proudly declares itself to be carbonation-, alcohol- and hop-free and made with USDA chicken or beef and is seemingly equally popular - all stocks are sold out and won't be available again until mid-January. On this side of the pond, one Yorkshire pub has got in on the act. The King's Head in Gunnerside stocks Dutch pet care giant Beaphar's dog beer for service alongside "home roasted pig cheeks" at 40p a pop - a bargain in a culinary climate where offal has an increasing cachet.

But are pets really welcome in eating and drinking establishments from the bipedal customer's point of view? A quick straw poll showed a distinct split between those who believe that a "well-behaved dog in a pub is one of the glories of England" and the virulently opposed, who think they "stink, make a racket and jump up at people". There's also a difference in opinion about a pets' place in a restaurant as opposed to a pub. Craig Butcher, editor of MSN Food, believes that dogs in "pubs [are] fine, but restaurants - no" and I'm inclined to agree.

Pets, like children, are a disruptive influence. In the more relaxed atmosphere of a pub meal, that element of barely-contained chaos that pets and children share is not necessarily an issue. But in the more formal setting of a restaurant - where the meal is, to a greater extent than in even the best gastropub, an event that goes beyond the quality of the food - they impact upon and detract from the experience.

Obviously, there are those who feel very differently - the cat cafés of Japan are proof positive of that. In these cafés, in return for an hourly cover fee punters share the space with a clowder of resident cats - though even these establishments have rules regarding small children for fear that they'll disturb the main attraction. Cat cafés have proven wildly popular. The first opened in Taiwan in 1998 before spreading to Japan in 2004. Now, there are at least 39 cat cafés in Tokyo alone, and variations which specialise in housing black cats, rare cats and even fat cats.

The success of Japan's cat cafés can be put down to the tight apartment spaces in which pets are often forbidden, but the motivations for bringing a pet to a restaurant are a little less clear. Obviously some pets can't be left alone (though this is surely a relatively easily circumvented issue) and as a former pet owner I do understand the emotional bond to one's furry companion, but can they be anything but a hindrance when trying to socialize with one's same-species friends?

Would you like to be able to take your pet with you when you eat out? Or does the idea of having a dog in the dining room set you on edge? And does it matter whether it's a café, a gastropub or a full-blown restaurant?