School is out for summer, which means more time out on the town with mom and dad. Over the next few months, parents will be looking for kid-friendly restaurants that welcome their hungry children. Is your restaurant prepared?
Now is the perfect time to ensure that your restaurant fits the bill. We’ve compiled a list of 7 ways you can make your restaurant more kid-friendly in time for the influx of young diners that will be occupying seats and high-chairs.
1. Make Sure You Have the Proper Equipment
This first one is pretty obvious. If you plan to serve families with young children, you will need the proper furniture and equipment. For example, all kid-friendly restaurants should be equipped with changing tables, clean high chairs, and kid-friendly cups. If you do not have sippy cups or plastic cups with lids and straws, avoid spills by serving kids’ beverages in short glasses that are less likely to tip. Providing extra napkins just in case can’t hurt either!
2. Give Kids Something to Do While They Wait
Many parents will agree that one of the most difficult parts of dining out with kids is making them sit still for the duration of the meal. To make the dining experience easier on parents—and to prevent kids from running around your dining room—offer tabletop activities to keep kids busy. Recently, some restaurants have added walls of iPads pre-loaded with educational games (perfect for keeping kids sharp over summer vacation!) However, splurging on tablets isn’t necessary. You can also keep activity books to lend to diners or give kids activity placemats complete with things like mazes and word searches. You can either customize placemats to include your kids’ menu items or purchase pre-made placemats for as little as $15 for 1000. Additionally, paper tablecloths are a huge crowd pleaser because they allow children and adults alike to doodle while they wait for their food (and make cleanup easier too!).
3. Keep Up With Food Trends
Kids these days will eat more than just chicken fingers and buttered noodles. According to the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot 2018 Culinary Forecast,” diners are increasingly interested in healthy, ethnic-inspired, and gourmet options on children’s menus. These interests are consistent with the biggest food trends of the past year (in 2017, healthy kids’ menu options ranked in the top three overall trends in full-service restaurants, 70% of diners said they were more likely to choose a restaurant with healthy menu options, and 52% of adults were looking to try a greater variety of ethnic cuisines). This means that your children’s menu does not need to stray too far from your main menu. Instead, turn dining out into a fun summer activity by offering children new, exciting dishes to try.
4. If You Don’t Have a Kids’ Menu, Make Sure There are Kid-Friendly Options on Your Main Menu
While offering a kids’ menu is an obvious way of showing potential diners that your restaurant is kid-friendly, you can also cater to young diners with your main menu. Aya Tanaka, who writes the “Kids Welcome” column for Serious Eats said that she often looks to appetizers and side dishes to build meals for her young daughter. To that end, if you’re hoping to attract more families to your restaurant, you should make sure that you have a few menu items that can easily be simplified to satisfy children’s palettes and prep your servers on kid-friendly options that they can recommend to parents if they ask.
If you choose to create a menu specifically for kids make sure to post it online. Diners with hungry children will be looking up places to eat before choosing where to go. Online menus are particularly useful for parents because they allow them to check if restaurants have menu items suitable for children. Online menus also allows parents to plan their meals ahead of time, which makes the actual restaurant experience more relaxing. If they see that you have a dedicated children's menu, or even kid-friendly options, you'll have a better chance of bringing them through your doors.
5. Make Nutritional Information Readily Available
According to Webstaurant Store, parents are more concerned about childhood obesity and what is in their kids’ food than ever before (this explains the healthy kids’ menu trend). Therefore, you can cater to health-conscious parents by making nutritional information, calorie-counts, and ingredient lists available upon request. It is also helpful for parents if you denote which dishes are suitable for diners with common allergies or dietary restrictions.
6. Bring Food Out ASAP
Kids can get impatient when they’re hungry, and slow service can make them irritable. Therefore, you should try to get food on the table as soon as possible. If you do not already offer complimentary bread, consider bringing it or another snack like cut-up vegetables (perfect for hot summer days!) out soon after families are seated.
You can also have servers ask parents if they would like their kids’ food to be brought out first instead of with the rest of the meals that could take longer to prepare. According to one commenter in a Serious Eats forum about what parents look for in kid-friendly restaurants, Southpark Seafood in Portland, Oregon offers a unique serving order that minimizes the wait time for children.
User NWcajun wrote, “Round one comes FAST; Drinks for the parents and appetizers for the kids. Second round: the main course for kids, appetizers for parents. Third round; kids get dessert while parents have the main course. This works very well and the only sacrifice is no dessert for the grownups (that may be considered another benefit).”
7. Offer Special Deals for Kids
At some restaurants, kids eat free. This is a great way to draw more families to your restaurant. If you’re not interested in offering completely free meals for children, try offering special deals during “kids’ happy hours.” Choose a block of time before peak hours when kids’ meals are half off or when kids get a free dessert. Not only will these happy hours attract new customers, they will also encourage families to visit your restaurant earlier in the day. That way, children won’t disturb other diners during your peak hours.
Summertime is an exciting few months for people everywhere - especially kids! You'll probably see an influx of younger diners in your restaurant soon, so be prepared. Use these 7 tips to help make the dining experience more kid-friendly and fun!