Bringing Families to Your Restaurant


Families love to eat out, and they typically account for about 56% of food service sales.1 Getting families to eat at your restaurant involves a tricky balance between providing children with what they want and making their parents happy at the same time.

While at first pleasing the parents may seem more important, in fact kids’ opinions have a strong influence on their parents’ decision-making. According to a recent study, more than 75% of parents consider their children’s preference as an important factor when selecting a restaurant.2 That puts a lot of market influence in the hands of children, who helped decide how to spend more than $110 billion of their parents’ money at restaurants in 2001.3

Creating an Atmosphere for Families

Before you can develop a kids menu or promotions for kids, you should make sure that you have established a family-friendly atmosphere. There are two ways to do this:

Create a kid-focused atmosphere. Like a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, you can provide entertainment and designs that are geared toward attracting kids. This could include providing an arcade, games and prizes, as well as decorating with bright colors and pictures. Chuck E. Cheese makes 25% of its profits from selling tokens.4 Other forms of entertainment you can provide include aquariums, outdoor recreation and play rooms. Parents will come so their kids will be distracted and entertained by the fun, but if you design your atmosphere for kids, do not expect to attract the business of adults without children.

Make the adults comfortable. If you do not want to go to the extreme and create a kid-focused concept, you can still do everything in your power to make parents feel comfortable with bringing their kids to your restaurant. You can try the following:

  • Train servers to be polite and patient with children.
  • Make sure changing stations, high chairs, sippy cups and bibs are readily available.
  • Provide children with toys, crayons and paper at the table, but only after asking permission from the parents.
  • Give families an oversized table to allow them enough room to spread out. For example, if a family of four comes in, seat them at the table for six.

Creating a kid-friendly environment involves making both the kids and the parents happy. Servers and hosts should do everything in their power to help keep children entertained and ease some of the stress factors for the parents. If you want to run a family-oriented restaurant, hire servers who can demonstrate patience and friendliness with patrons of all ages.

Kids Cuisine

Many kids like to have their own menu and order food on their own. Almost 90% of full service restaurants and 75% of limited-service restaurants choose to develop a separate menu for young children. Any restaurant that hopes to attract families should create a kids menu. For younger children, you should offer typical “kids’ cuisine,” which includes simple comfort foods like macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, pizza and chicken strips. You should also consider offering several healthy options for families who are health-aware and concerned about nutrition.

Give older kids more options. “I don’t want to grow up” may be the Toys ‘R Us slogan, but it is not always accurate. In fact, most older kids want to “grow up” as fast as possible and be treated like adults. Many kids over the age of eight want to order off the adult menu. Consider offering older children a “half size” or “small size” portion off of your regular menu at a slightly lower price.

Extras and Promotions

The classic example of a kids restaurant promotion would be Pizza Hut’s “Book It” reading incentive program. Kids like it because they get a free Personal Pan Pizza®. Parents like it because it encourages kids to read. And Pizza Hut likes it because it attracts business; when kids redeem their free personal pizza, the parents often buy a pizza, too. Good examples of extras and promotions for kids include the following:

Report card awards. Children that get a certain number of A’s on their report cards receive a free toy, balloon or food item with their meal.

Package extras. The traditional example of a “packaging promotion” would be McDonald’s happy meals, which always include a free toy. Limited-service restaurants should consider offering free toys with its children’s meals or puzzles on the packaging. Full service restaurants could offer free lollipops or stickers to their youngest customers.

“Kids eat free” day. These promotions are great at attracting value-oriented parents to your business, especially on slow days, like a Monday. It is especially effective for buffet-style dining, since the kids will feel like they can pick and choose whatever they want, but are unlikely to eat as much as adults.

Promotions, atmosphere and kids menus should make both children and parents happy. This is the key to any successful marketing strategy that targets families. It is easy to make the mistake of giving “special treatment” to the parents and ignoring the kids, but remember that if the kids are unhappy, the parents will be, too. Find the right balance to satisfy both young and old, and you will see the effect in your profits.

1 Patti J. Shock, John T. Bowen and John M. Stefanelli. Restaurant Marketing for Owners and Managers. (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, 2004).
2 Pat Dando. “Kids Menus: Restaurants Retool for Children.” Stagnito’s New Products Magazine 4, no. 10 (2004): 16-19.
3 Restaurant Marketing for Owners and Managers, op cit.
4 Susie Stephenson. “How to Do Kids.” Restaurants & Institutions 106, no. 15 (1996): 90-93.

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