Looking for new customers? Making your restaurant more kid-friendly can be a great way to branch out and draw in families. Whether you’re looking to become a full-out kiddie haven or just want to keep kids happy while the grownups are enjoying their meal, we have some suggestions to get you started.
As much as we all like a night out with our significant other or friends, it can be difficult for parents to find time to find one without bringing their kids along. But going out as a family is better than just taking the L and staying in. Dining at a sit-down restaurant can be a great break from cooking at home! For parents who want a night out with the whole family, restaurants that keep kids entertained will be preferable to stuffy ones with no options for little ones.
Before you make any kid-friendly additions to your restaurant, consider what your goals and constraints are. How many resources are you willing to put into making your establishment more kid-friendly? Are you willing to rework the interior of your building and spend a good deal of money? Or are you more hoping to make a few changes without spending too much time and cash?
Another aspect of kid-ifying your restaurant to keep in mind is how it will affect your pre-existing customer base. If you already have a good deal of couples coming in and out for date nights, you probably won’t want to turn your establishment into a dine-in playground. A.k.a. putting a jungle-gym in the corner by the booths is not necessarily the best way to draw in new customers while keeping old ones.
If you’re looking to draw in families without changing the overall vibe of your restaurant, you’re going to want to make just a few minor, relatively inexpensive additions to your operations.
What better way to keep kids engaged than with some good old-fashioned coloring? By purchasing table covers and crayons in bulk, you’ll have a simple and inexpensive way to keep little ones in their seats and engaged. As a bonus, the paper provides an extra shield against spills. Messes are extra likely to occur with younger customers at the table. After each family finishes their meal, just toss the table cover in the recycling and lay down a new one. If you want to keep tables sophisticated for other customers or save money on paper, limit table covers to a specific restaurant section, ideally at one end of the room. This will double to keep families from disrupting other parties at your restaurant.
Offering a separate selection of meals for children will appeal to families for several reasons. Dishes like chicken nuggets and mac ‘n’ cheese with a side of applesauce are more likely to appeal to picky eaters than complex ones like chicken marsala. Plus, reducing kid’s portions will allow you to make prices cheaper for parents than those on the regular menu. If you want to hit two birds with one stone, print your kid’s menu (rather than simply putting it at the bottom of your regular menu) on paper placemats alongside some activities for little ones to do while waiting for their food. The time flies when you’re trying to solve a maze or word search! A good age limit for the kid’s menu is 11 or 12. If you’re unsure how old a child is, a safe bet is to just ask the family if they want a kid’s menu. On the other hand, if a family requests a kid’s menu and clearly has children nowhere close to sixth-grader age, explain your age limit and offer them a regular menu instead.
In the same vein as kid’s menus that double as placemats are childproof cups and utensils. When setting the table for small children, don’t give them sharp utensils or breakable drink glasses. We recommend keeping some tot-friendly dishware around for occasions like these. For children young enough to qualify for the kid’s menu, bring out colorful plastic cups with lids and straws. They’re super fun, spill-proof, and available for purchase anywhere that sells restaurant supplies. An eco-friendly alternative to a plastic cup is a lightweight metal tumblers with a reusable lid and metal straw. This will save you money as well as plastic waste — you can use extra tumblers to serve mixed drinks for adults!
One last kind of equipment to invest in is seating for little ones if you want to make your restaurant kid-friendly. All kinds of companies, including Walmart, sell high chairs for $50 to $100 each. In addition to two or three highchairs, depending on your restaurant’s size, we recommend purchasing a few booster seats for around the same price per unit. These are best for kids old enough to eat without being strapped in but small enough to need some extra help reaching the table for their food.
Some of us are better with kids than others. No need to get upset over it! If you want to ensure that your wait staff interacts well with customers of all ages, provide some extra training at orientation. Here are some topics to cover.
Waiters should NEVER treat a middle schooler the same as they would a six-year-old. Baby-talking a pre-teen or giving a teenager a kids menu is bound to come off as condescending and possibly a little weird. Simultaneously, treating little kids like you would adults is bound to make them bored and impatient. Worst case scenario, refrain from making assumptions and ask basic questions (like our “would you like a kid’s menu” suggestion, not “Is your child a boy or a girl?”) to guide your interactions.
We’ve already mentioned that kids can be messy. Train your wait staff to prevent mishaps by placing sharp knives and water pitchers away from little ones and bringing extra napkins for groups with small children. Emphasize the importance of quick service, too. Children tend to get squirmier when they’re waiting for a long time.
Serving children is not for the faint of heart. Part of family-focused customer service is learning to keep a smile on your face even when you’re screaming on the inside. You’d probably ask an adult to leave if they started screaming and crying in your restaurant, but kids throw tantrums all the time. If you’re fed up with a younger customer, imagine how their parents must feel. Take a deep breath and head over to the table to ask if there’s anything you can do to help. If things get terrible, gently suggest that someone from the party step out with the kid until they’ve calmed down a little.
If you’re looking to go above and beyond the basic table cover and crayons, there are several ways you can make your restaurant a family destination rather than just a kid-friendly option. The methods you can use generally fall into two categories — interior decorating and events.
Think about the sit-down restaurants you loved as a child. Maybe you liked Rainforest Cafe for its immersive jungle environment. Or perhaps it was that McDonald’s with the jungle gym in the corner. Whatever the case, think of what these locations had in common — interior features with the ability to engage kids for long periods of time.
If you have a generous budget for making your restaurant kid-friendly, invest in a space that can occupy kids safely while their parents eat and chat. It doesn’t have to take up the whole restaurant. A simple arcade game or activity table might be all you need. Just make sure to have someone supervising any interactive features (from a distance is fine) when used and sanitizing used equipment each night.
If you don’t want a full-time play area in your restaurant, you can set aside designated times to focus on kids. Consider organizing a family night with live entertainment and discounts for customers with kids. Offering kids programming once a month can help you gain exposure among parents and kids who might come back for meals on regular nights. Regardless of whether you want to schedule full-on family nights, we recommend that you at least offer discounts for kid’s meals every now and then. This is a way to guarantee business from families with parents who pay full price for their own food.
Kids can be difficult to have in restaurants. However, they can also be super fun with the right attitude and options. Remember to have patience when making your business more kid-friendly. Always be willing to make adjustments as you learn what works and what doesn’t!
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