Families have started to eat out more. Eating out still remains a top choice for families on holidays / weekends.
This trend has important ramifications on restaurant owners and managers. Whether you operate a traditional fast food restaurant, fast casual restaurant, or sit-down restaurant, you need to be aware of the changing demographics of diners. No longer are restaurant customers limited to singles, newlyweds, or empty-nesters. Restaurants now see more children than ever before. And this trend will only continue to grow.
Here are a few ideas for restaurant managers to create a kid-friendly restaurant:
Create a Fun Menu
There are many aspects to creating a fun menu for kids.
- Kids can be picky or adventurous. One way to appeal to both types of kids is to present new dishes in a familiar way. For example, vegetarian spaghetti can look and taste just like the familiar dish but with vegetable “noodles” rather than pasta. Most parents want kids to eat healthy while most kids judge food on the look and taste.
- Kids love interactive dishes. For example, build-your-own pizza or build-your-own ice cream sundaes allow kids to participate and personalize their dish.
- Kids appreciate creativity. Present familiar dishes in new and creative ways. For example, frozen desserts at a Japanese restaurant could be shaped like sushi or served in a teacup to appeal to the whimsical side of kids.
Offer Take-Out Options
Having young kids means dining with someone with a short attention span. On the other hand, dining with older kids means you might need to grab something to eat on the way to soccer practice. Either way, family restaurant customers are often short on time.
Offering menu options, as well as appropriate containers that work well for take-out dining, can appeal to these families. For example, restaurants with an active take-out menu can keep sauces and dressings in separate containers so food does not go soggy. Similarly, to-go cups, lids, and eco-friendly paper drinking straws should always be available for take-out drinks. And do not forget about ice cream containers and other dessert cups to go. Over 90% of American diners indulge regularly in frozen treats and these diners expect your menu to satisfy their sweet tooth.
It is easy to forget how much harder everything is for kids. They cannot see over the table, they cannot lift heavy glasses, and they have a difficult time with adult-sized utensils. If you want your restaurant to be kid-friendly, it must accommodate their size and coordination.
Straws and kid-sized cups with lids accommodate their small hands and tendency to spill beverages. Spoons and forks with shorter handles are easier and less frustrating for kids to maneuver. Even small dessert cups and ice cream containers to hold kids-sized desserts can help ensure portion control.
You should also consider if there are other ways to accommodate kids in your restaurant space. A show kitchen can entertain kids while they are waiting for their food. Large bathroom stalls with changing tables can help out parents with kids who are still in diapers. And lower toilets, sinks, soap dispensers, and towel dispensers can help kids who are potty trained.
Activities and Decor
Making a restaurant kid-friendly also means making it friendly for parents and other diners. Providing kids with activities can reduce unruly behavior that can disturb other diners. After all, you want to avoid becoming kid-friendly and couple-unfriendly at the same time.
Fast food and fast-casual restaurants can sometimes go so far as to provide indoor playground equipment or video arcades for kids. For other restaurants, this would clash with the restaurant’s theme or ambiance.
However, most family diners do not expect, or want, to eat pizza in an arcade every night. If they chose your restaurant, they were likely attracted to something besides your entertainment options. Providing activities for the kids in the party might be as simple as a pack of crayons and a paper table cloth to draw on. Or you may be able to keep kids entertained with a small gift, like a balloon, storybook, or paper hat, when they arrive. Alternatively, you can give them crayons to crayons to decorate their leftover containers while they wait for the rest of the family to finish eating.
Also, keep in mind that kid-friendly and museum-quality usually do not go together. If you plan to appeal to kids, you might want to forego the delicate crystal glasses and imported porcelain china and stick with durable (and inexpensive) glasses and dishes.
This does not mean that you have to cover everything in plastic and serve guests using disposable plastic plates. But you should be aware that not all parents and kids are conscientious about table manners and decorum when they are guests in your restaurant.
Kids are good judges of character. Hire good employees and train them to deal with children and children will respond to them. This can create a kid-friendly experience that will earn you repeat business.
Schedule staff so that they can take orders quickly. Train staff on how to handle allergy requests and special diets, like gluten-free. and make sure your staff asks whether kid’s meals should be brought out even if the rest of the order is not ready.
A kid-friendly restaurant concept can take some advance planning. However, the rewards from catering to families can make the additional work worthwhile. When you’re ready to craft a restaurant worthy of your neighborhood’s children, good managers should rely on these tips to get started.