She cuts out of work early to pick up her youngest from daycare and heads to a soccer game for her oldest, followed by a stop at the store to pick up the middle child’s last-minute request for the perfect dinosaur toy to add to the science diorama that’s due in class tomorrow. And she hasn’t even thought about what’s for dinner. Even though there’s a cafe right beside the store she’s rushing through, this mom is willing to drive a few miles down the road to go to one of the restaurants she knows will cater to her…and her kids.
Is your restaurant going to be the one that saves her day?
Delighting Kids and Their Grown-Ups
Attracting families with kids is smart, since they make up about half the population. According to The Restaurant Mom, a marketing consultant for kid-friendly restaurants, parents who are satisfied with their family experience at your restaurant will talk you up to their friends or social networks. And scoring that word-of-mouth promotion is easier than you think. Follow these tips to become the dinnertime superhero for families in your neighborhood.
- Be clean. From the highchairs to the bathrooms and, of course, the restaurant tables themselves, germ-phobic moms are looking for a safe, tidy environment to serve their kids meals.
- Appreciate dads, too. Are there changing tables in the men’s bathroom, or do you have a family restroom? Consider what you can do to make it easier on a mom or a dad dining out with young kids.
- Seat quickly. Minimize wait times, but when there is a line at the door, find ways to keep families occupied until their table is ready.
- Provide kid-friendly seating. Have a supply of highchairs and booster seats, and consider a few anchored restaurant booths against a wall, where adults can corral their little ones. Some family restaurants even have a play area with children’s furniture.
- Talk to everyone. Sure, you want to make Mom and Dad feel like family, but don’t forget the tots. Your waitstaff should be making eye contact and directly interacting with everyone at the table – even those whose feet don’t reach the floor.
- Entertain the kiddos. Have a supply of games (Cracker Barrel has a peg game on every table) or books to keep youngsters occupied. If you pass out crayons and an activity sheet, you should change your activity sheet every other week so families who come in regularly always get a new sheet to complete. QR codes placed on the sheet linking to branded kid-friendly content, games, or apps are often a hit, because kids love a reason to use their parent’s smartphone (and families may download your app for use when they’re not at your restaurant!) Many pizzerias will allow kids to play with pizza dough as they wait for their pies to bake. What’s the best entertainment you can offer kid guests?
- Serve kids first. Not only should you deliver drinks and a snack immediately (e.g., dinner rolls, fruit, or crackers for each child), but you should ask the parents if they want the kids’ meals (which usually take less time to prepare) to come out first.
- Give a treat. Offer a free cookie or scoop of ice cream to kids after their meal (just ask the parents first to make sure it’s OK!)
- Discount for good behavior. Some restaurants actually frown on youngsters dining in their establishment, but you are smart enough to know that kids who have been seated quickly, entertained, and well fed are going to act like princes and princesses when they come into your place. Thank the parents for allowing you to serve their family meal with a surprise discount on their receipt for good behavior when the visit has been exceptionally pleasing for the family, your staff, and other restaurant patrons.
Creating a Children’s Menu
If you think kids just want hot dogs and chicken tenders, you’re stuck in 1989. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re creating a kid-approved menu.
- Hot dogs, chicken nuggets alone won’t cut it anymore. Sure, those are basic staples to any kids’ menu, but today’s parents are exposing their children to a wider palette of tastes. Many children don’t mind eating salads, shrimp, steaks, or even ethnic favorites. Consider adding junior-sized portions of your best-selling menu items; kids will feel mature eating the same foods Mom and Dad do, and you won’t need to add more ingredients to your inventory.
- Healthy options aren’t an option for you. Parents don’t want to feel guilty about feeding their kids “junk” for dinner just because they don’t have the time to prepare a home-cooked meal, so offering healthful choices is really important. But those items have to taste yummy, too! Try incorporating healthfully-prepared entrees with sides of fruit, yogurt, or string cheese.
- Be allergen-free, gluten-free friendly. If a child has a special diet, it’s really hard for his or her parent to trust restaurants to prepare a safe meal. Build trust by making it clear on the menu that you’re willing to offer a reasonable amount of substitutions and specially-prepared meals. Stock soy milk and gluten-free breads, and include a list of those items on your website and/or menu.
- Minimize portion size – even more. Parents with two kids under the age of five often order one kids’ meal for their tots to share, according to The Restaurant Mom. Perhaps you should offer a tier of portions to serve kids of all ages better.
- Add in some fun. Some kids are picky eaters, but all kids like to play. Find creative ways to display kids’ meals (search Pinterest for some great ideas) and experiment with exciting ingredients (O’Charley’s serves their Shirley Temples with cotton candy!)
Now that you’ve got a family friendly restaurant strategy in place, you can look forward to happy little smiles and the sighs of relief from your community’s parents.