LONDON Nov. 11, 2010 — -- One of the newest restaurants in London's swank Belgravia neighborhood boasts menu items like chicken and turkey casserole or slow cooked lamb hotpot. It also has a belly rub bar.
Lily's Kitchen Diner is London's - and possibly the world's - first restaurant for dogs.
"It's all about the dogs," said Henrietta Morrison, owner of Lily's Kitchen, the company that set up the diner. "We just thought, you know, let's flip things around and make the dog the star. Let's do a restaurant for dogs."
Lily's Kitchen set up shop on upscale Pimlico Road to raise money for charity and entice pet owners into trying out the company's line of organic dog and cat food, with ingredients like marigold petals advertised as good for detoxifying, or celery seeds for joints and digestion.
The diner welcomed about 30 dogs on opening day ranging from a massive great dane to a chihuahua and cocker spaniel. Lilly's Kitchen office manager Katy Taylor has swapped clerical duties to work as the doggie waitress. She seats the dogs at one of three table options, varying in size to accommodate all breeds. Dogs are told to sit and stay at their spot at the table, which features painted place settings. Food is delivered in white paper bowls.
"I'm serving dogs and I'm loving it," Taylor said, adding she used to work as a waitress for human clients and finds this much easier. "Dogs have no complaints. There's no questioning the bill. They just love it. They wolf it down and their tails are wagging."
The dogs dine for free, but owners are encouraged to make a donation to charity and peruse the company's line of products that are available for sale. Lily's Kitchen Diner is a temporary shop and plans to stay open for six more weeks.
After the dogs dine, they can enjoy one of the store's other attractions: a snooze zone with a vintage full-size sofa for the pups to nap on or a visit with a dog behaviorist who offers tips on table manners. There is also a belly rub bar where pups are lifted onto a table with padded pillows and massaged by staff members. And dogs can get a session with the holistic vet who soothes their aches with acupressure.
Phil Curtis commuted by subway to give his dachshunds Stanley and Ollie the chance to try out the restaurant.
"They're having an absolute ball, they couldn't be having a better time," Curtis said. "To have a place to take your dog, especially in London, where they can play with other dogs is a fantastic idea."
Morrison hopes the restaurant will help dogs gain more access in London. She says pets here are less welcome than in U.S. shops. Lily's Kitchen supports the "Freedom to Roam" campaign and is gathering signatures with plans to convince the prime minister to support owners who want to bring their dogs indoors with them as they shop.
London has recently developed more services for pet owners with high-end doggie daycare services popping up. But facilities here still don't compete with New York, according to pug owner Lewis Stagnetto, and more is needed to make dog ownership easier for busy Londoners.
"It's nice to know there's a place around the corner where you can take your dog to eat," he said.
Stagnetto said the restaurant has the potential to help free up his schedule. Instead of worrying about rushing home to feed his dog, he can pop round to the diner, fill up his dog's belly, and then carry on with his night.
"I know a lot of people will frown on it and think, 'Why do you need this, it's pathetic'," he said. But for Stagnetto having a dog and enjoying activities with his pet have made everything more fun. "It just adds a little bit more to your life."