With the lucrative family market offering an appealing way to keep your restaurant busy throughout the daytime and early evening, the issue of child-friendly restaurant food is one that you need to consider.
Of course, if you are not trying to appeal to the family market, you do not need to adopt these ideas, but many restaurant owners are moving more towards using their restaurants in different ways at different times of the day in order to maximise profits. For example, restaurants are increasingly offering light bites and cakes in the afternoon and mid-morning in order to win business from people that do not want to order a full meal, or introducing express lunches at a set price.
Child-friendly restaurant food is gaining greater awareness among restaurant owners because families tend to eat earlier in the evening, giving the restaurants a valuable ‘two-sitting’ income stream that does not disrupt the later diners (that often spend more on alcohol) with noisy children. By offering food that appeals to children and their parents at set times, such as between 11am and 7pm, you are giving a new target market a choice and maintaining your evening business.
Say No to Chicken Nuggets!
The most often cited annoyance for parents trying to choose food for their children from a restaurant menu is the ubiquitous chicken nuggets! Even when a restaurant takes pride in its fresh home cooking, it seems as though the children’s options are no more adventurous than ‘something with chips’, and usually something processed too.
In order to win the family business and enjoy repeat custom, explore the idea of introducing some healthier options to the children’s menu. A simple way to do this that is particularly popular with parents (who chose the restaurant and pay the bill!) is to offer small sized portions of the adult menu and offer to split full portions between two plates for children to share.
If you want to offer a separate children’s menu, why not appeal to the parents and the children by devising a ‘hidden vegetable’ pasta sauce, or doing oven-baked wedges instead of chips. Many children prefer to pick at a few items instead of having a whole plateful in front of them, especially as many young children go through a phase of not wanting different foods to touch each other, or have different colours of food on the plate at the same time. Children often find certain textures unpleasant too, such as the ‘slipperiness’ of mushrooms or the ‘squishiness’ of cooked tomatoes.
Healthy platters of pita bread, olives and crudités with hummus and salsa go down well with both parents and children. Think of a mixed platter that compliments your restaurant style. A Mexican restaurant may offer tortilla chips with little bowls of not-too-spicy chilli, or a traditional British restaurant could suggest mini roast potatoes with oven-baked sausages and pieces of carrot. Work with your adult menu instead of coming up with something completely different for the children and you will find it easy to reduce wastage and cut costs, too.
Baby Feeding Facilities
You don’t need to offer free nappies and huge piles of Lego to make your restaurant family friendly, but you do need to consider the little extras you can provide that will appeal to families. Make it clear on your menu that you will heat up baby food or bottles for free. Make the bathrooms easy to use for families needing to change nappies or clean up older children – just having them big enough is a start, although plenty of towels and wet wipes are a good addition for very little outlay. Remember that many families have a baby and an older toddler or two, so by having wipe down tables with high chairs, some crayons and paper placemats and child-friendly menus, you’re likely to appeal.
Many young families, or grandparents with children, are keen to take their children out to teach them about restaurant manners and enjoy an outing together, but with very few places that are not ‘fast food’ offering family-friendly environments, those restaurants that do get it right (without alienating their child-free customers) are likely to enjoy repeat business and excellent referrals.
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