In light of the recent recession, restaurant operators have been trying to bring as many customers through the door as possible. Families with children are one of the largest untapped segments, but the trend seems to be shifting. In the fourth quarter of 2010, NASDAQ numbers showed a four percent increase in family business, whereas adult-only businesses were flat, so it is becoming ever more crucial to cater to families.[i]
Most restaurants are already willing and able to accommodate children, but a more proactive approach is needed as the recession has left consumers more selective on where to spend their money. Listed below are several tips to make your restaurant more kid-friendly and to bring more family business through your door:
More space for seating
Families with young children need more space at a table than adults. Parents with smaller children typically tote along “kid supplies,” like diaper bags or any other accessories necessary for the child's care or well-being. It is common practice to give two extra seats to a family with children. For example, to properly seat a family of four the hostess would take the party to a table for six. This will give the kids and parents enough room to comfortably spread out. Learn more about dining room and seating layouts
High chairs and booster seats
A single high chair won’t cut it if you intend to have a family-friendly restaurant. One high chair and one booster seat for every three or four tables should be sufficient, depending on how many families with small children you serve. Also, be sure to have changing stations in both the men’s and women’s restrooms. Shop for Youth Seating/p>
One of the big keys to creating a family-friendly atmosphere is to provide activities to keep the kids occupied and engaged during their visit. Simple solutions include supplying coloring books or menus with puzzles and games to families with small children. More involved kid-friendly restaurants may want to dedicate a play area or arcade section with prizes.
Separate kid’s menu
A kid-specific menu will allow youngsters to feel grown-up while making it easier for mom and dad to locate items of suitable portion sizes and tastes for their children. If older kids want to order from the adult menu, have smaller portions of the grown-up’s menu items available, too. Be sure to allow flexibility with any menu option, too, because a lot of kids are picky eaters. Learn more about creating a kids' menu
Offer healthful food options
Many kid’s menus have standard chicken strips, cheeseburgers and French fries as their only options, but with the increasing concern over childhood obesity, parents are looking for more healthful menu options. Fruits and vegetables as sides and grilled chicken as opposed to fried chicken are some examples. However, since some kids want chicken strips and French fries, don’t remove those items from the menu altogether. Learn more about marketing a healthy menu
Patience is one of the most important skills you can teach your servers when working with children. Beyond that, train your servers to be kind and attentive and not get annoyed while serving children. The kids may not detect their annoyance, but the parents surely will. It may help to hire staff servers who have experience with or enjoy working with kids. Learn more about how to deliver quality and service in your restaurant
Plastic tumblers and melamine dinnerware are your best bets for kid-proof dinnerware. Also, for kids who are too young to drink out of an open-top cup, have plenty of disposable cups with lids and straws on hand so the parents don’t have to bring their own sippy-cup.
Get the food out fast
Younger kids tend to get cranky and difficult to manage when their blood sugar drops. In order to keep the kids occupied and give parents time to help their kids get set up to eat, consider bringing the kids’ meals out first. And remember to deliver the kids’ drinks right away and give them a packet of crackers or some bread to occupy their hungry tummies until the order is ready. Learn more about server training
Make the adults comfortable
You don’t want to forget mom and dad when creating a family-friendly atmosphere. Presumably, if you make the kids happy, the parents will be content as well, but make sure your servers go the extra mile to make sure the adults are cared for as much as their children.
How to Market Your Kid-Friendliness
Word of mouth is usually the best tactic, in this arena. If parents learn that your restaurant is kid-friendly, word will spread like wildfire. Here are some additional methods for getting more families through the door:
- Advertise your kid-friendliness. Some good old-fashioned advertising is the best way to let families know that you welcome their kids. You can add a “Kid Friendly” line to all of your marketing campaigns or check the “Good for Kids” box on your restaurant’s Yelp page, for starters.
- Have a “kids eat free” day. A popular children's menu pricing method is to offer one day of the week where children within a specific age range can eat free. Select a day of the week that is typically slow for your restaurant and attract families for a night out.
- Give the kids a special prize with their dinner. McDonald’s has the right idea for attracting kids, and that is by offering a free toy with a happy meal, but a free balloon, coloring book or chance to win prizes by playing games will attract and entertain kids.
- Partner with other kid-friendly businesses. Offer discounts to families who visit other kid-friendly businesses. Team up with libraries, toy stores and youth clothing stores in a marketing campaign that will benefit group commerce. If you have a takeout or catering business, you can also cater school picnics or other events to help spread the word about your business.
In lieu of the recession, family business has become a hot commodity among restaurant owners. As long as you create a family-friendly environment and let customers know that you welcome kids, then your restaurant should have no trouble bringing in the youngsters, and their parents.
[i] “Families May Be Dining Out More, But They’re Ordering Less,” NASDAQ, Accessed April 25, 2011, http://www.nasdaq.com/aspx/stock-market-news-story.aspx?storyid=201104131313dowjonesdjonline000490&title=families-may-be-dining-out-more-but-theyre-ordering-less
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