Kid cuisine seems to be a hot topic every year as parents continue to question the foods their children consume and the nutritional value paired with each bite. From the $1.99 kid’s meal at the local fast food chain, to the half-sized portion of a “big person” plate served at a sit-down restaurant, it seems every season sheds new light on how disappointing traditional options are. Simply put, parents these days want the most for their money, without feeling like they’re slowly poisoning their kids with processed foods. This, fortunately, puts today’s fast, casual establishments in prime position to pick up the slack where fast food and slim pickings have fallen short.
Margo Wootan, Director of Nutrition Policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (nonprofit), explained in a 2012 Chicago Tribune article, “Kids are getting about one-third of their calories from eating out.” One-third of their calories, whether it’s obesity-inducing fast food or a new restaurant each week, is a frightening figure to some and a deal-breaker on eating out for others… that’s a roundabout way of saying a tweak to your menu, paired with health-conscious (yet still appealing) options for the whole family, may be just what you need to grow your customer base, while providing parents with an alternative to the greasy burger and fries options.
Targeting a Younger Audience
Catering to a younger demographic, or at least having separate/unique offerings available, is an excellent way to widen that net you’ve been throwing out to pull in customers. Where the family motto for eating out used to be “cheap and easy” we’ve seen the change to an all-encompassing manifesto of “cheap, easy, healthy, atmosphere, options” and the list continues to grow. This means parents are often ditching the kid’s meal and searching for family-friendly restaurants just like yours.
- Kids are developing more sophisticated palates
- Society is instilling a desire to seem more mature at a younger age
- While healthy foods aren’t always purchased, parents still want to see those options on the menu
- Tweens/teens are looking for their own transitional menu items
- Child obesity is on the rise and the public is taking notice
So what’s the tried-and-true restaurant to do when faced with younger customers and well-informed parents? Evolve, plain and simple.
There are countless resources detailing the detriments of sugar-rich meals packed with saturated fat, and there are just as many resources explaining how to avoid those while staying creative in the kitchen. It’s your responsibility as a restaurant owner/operator to tap into these resources and apply the information to your cooking, but healthy foods aren’t the end-all to roping in the younger crowd and those who oversee them.
Dining Room – If you’re not equipped to seat and serve a family with small children you’re already missing out on that market. Youth seating, like high chairs and booster seats, are a must – as are child-centric cups and utensils. Making a family feel comfortable and welcome can mean the difference between seating five… and watching them pass you by for a quick drive-thru meal.
Entertainment, on some level, is also a smart decision. Most kid’s meals offer small toys, and for good reason. A happy, playing child is not a screaming, unruly child. Even having a placemat that can be colored or Wikki Stix can keep small hands busy.
Menu Design – Redesigning one’s menu is a daunting task, especially if the same menu has been used for years. Fortunately, a good menu redesign does wonders for business. When giving those few pages a makeover, moving more profitable/popular items to better positions, make sure to evaluate whether a child or teen specific section should be added.
Most parents would like to avoid wading through full-sized meals to find something suitable for their kids, and having a corner (or even a page) dedicated to younger patrons can be a godsend. Jazz it up, make it easy to read, and include nutritional information – parents will thank you for it.
To Go Options – For the family that still wants to bring food home (as opposed to dining out), having to go options that rival the traditional drive-thru experience can make your restaurant the go-to eatery for after school snacks or family dinner.
This goes hand-in-hand with a comprehensive and accessible menu. If all a mother of three has to do is check the kids section of your online menu, place the call, and pick up food 10-15 minutes later you’re positioning yourself as a fast-food vs. fast-casual crossover. When a freshly made bowl of pasta and accompanying carton of milk can be picked up just as easily as a handful of fast food kid’s meals, you’re in good shape.
Granted, it takes work and dedication to turn your adults-only establishment into an all-are-welcome hub for families and the tween/teen demographic; however, the benefits inherent in opening up your doors to more potential customers are worth the effort. A new year brings with it a renewed vigor to reach more customers, please more people, and beat out the competition without compromising quality: tapping the kid-friendly market – and all it entails – may be all you need to do just that!