Our Checklist for a Kid Friendly Restaurant
The National Restaurant Association reports that 39% of adults aren’t eating in restaurants regularly, which gives restaurateurs a great potential market. There are pros and cons of having a child-free restaurant depending on the crowd you want. Crafting a child-friendly spot can help parents looking for a place to get out with their family and take a load off, an opportunity to train their kiddos as better future patrons, and can add to your bottom line. Curious about how that might look? Our checklist for a kid-friendly restaurant can help guide you.
Give Them Something To Do
It should come as no surprise that young kids have a limited attention span and long waits for service can make for a difficult time out. Make sure that you have safe and easy to use items available to occupy children like crayons and something to color on, preferably the kid’s menu. You might provide other options like a puzzle, board book, or even kids corner as space is available, but whatever you do, make sure that it’s something that isn’t hard to keep track of, and that you can keep clean between uses.
Restaurant Paging/Waitlisting Apps
A great way to mitigate long waits is to give parents some room to maneuver. If you know it might be a reasonable wait, consider getting an affordable paging and/or waitlisting system, which allows patrons to wander away from the location. That helps with the crowd at the door, and grants parents the freedom to occupy their children while they wait.
Table Ordering/Table Pay
An example of the curb cut effect, table ordering options benefit everyone from millennials to families on the go. Relative to waitlisting, the introduction of tablet options, whether that’s a table ordering or table pay system, can expedite meal times and alleviate parental stress. This technology speeds up the service process and has proven to boost sales. For parents who will allow a little screen time, you can even program some tablets to play video games, which is a treat for patrons of all ages.
Expanded Kids Menus
Getting your children to eat anything healthy is nothing shy of a miracle. With American’s spending more out to eat and less in the grocery store, it’s more important now than ever to make sure that kids have the options that they need to stay healthy. Parents are looking for well-portioned meals and healthy choices for their children, so leaning into that trend can increase your sales. Use menu engineering to your advantage by promoting healthy and desirable options as part of your checklist for a kid-friendly restaurant.
Kids are notoriously picky eaters, so mileage will vary on what they will actually want to eat. A good first step is to avoid unnecessary sweets and when possible, to ensure that there are plenty of fruits and vegetables included alongside kid-pleasing staples like chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, or spaghetti. Consider offering cheap or reduced rate appetizer portions of apples or other fruits, which not only gives children something to do while they wait but gives them a little extra nutrition.
Approximately 32 million Americans suffer from a food allergy, with around ⅙ of that total number including children under 18. It’s worth considering menu items that are sensitive to the types of food allergies that are most common.
Get a Changing Station for Men and Women Restrooms
If you have young kids, you know that the inevitability of a trip to the bathroom is high. Unfortunately not every restaurant restroom features a changing station or even the room to find space for that. As such, many parents will consider avoiding your restaurant in exchange for one with more amenities for bathroom emergencies. In fact, some tech developers are even working on an app that helps you locate spaces with changing stations.
With the passing of the BABIES Act, new constructions are required to install baby changing stations in bathrooms. There are challenges to this requirement, including the need to ensure Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, so look for alternative solutions for installation when possible. If your bathroom is too small to support a changing station, let your patrons know in the simplest way feasible, whether that’s on a posted sign, or in other public-facing literature.
Train Your Staff on What to do with Kids
Working with younger patrons can prove a challenge to anyone without the experience. A great way to guide your staff is to make it part of your onboarding process, from the interview to training. Setting an expectation upfront lets your staff know what you need of them, and gives them the opportunity to follow up as necessary. Making it part of your employee handbook, also creates a document that you can use as a touchstone for further conversation as needed. In addition to opportunities on how your staff can best serve their youngest patrons, especially those who are a bit fussier than normal,
Prioritize Kid Meals
As mentioned above, for children, waiting is the hardest part. Many kitchen display systems feature coursing and delay routing paths designed to make sure that each guests’ food comes out fresh and at the same time. With some products, the server or other wait staff are able to use expo stations to manipulate the routing times, prioritizing your possibly impatient children before anyone else.
No Hot Plates in front of Toddlers
Safety should be a huge part of your checklist for a kid-friendly restaurant, so this should go without saying: if you are serving hot food do not place it in front of small children. Hot foods are historically a liability, so mitigating that risk is necessary. Keep in mind that children aged 5 or less may not understand or process fully the danger presented to them. Depending on where they are sitting at the table, it may prove challenging for parents to block their children from potential harm. Ask if the parent or guardian at the table if they have a preference on where the food is placed when it comes out.
Set The Mood
Kids have sensitive ears and can pick up frequencies that most adults can no longer perceive. Alongside calm lighting, keeping your restaurant sound design in mind is crucial to setting a comforting tone for your guests. Bright colors, soft sounds, and clearly marked spaces go a long way to helping parents and children alike realize their ideal dinner spot without them even realizing it. Make sure that your graphic design pops for your youngest audience, which can help them get excited about a meal.
Keeping your kids clean is the name of the game and it’s an almost non-stop function of parenting. Make sure that your placemats are fun and easy to please; if possible you may want to consider something that kids can color on, which gives them a little more room to play. Make sure that they have appropriate seating options, notably high chairs, and booster seats. In doing so, you will need to make sure that you have a space to store these items, and the time to inspect them to ensure that they remain safe for kids; straps are often a must.
If you sit down to have pancakes at breakfast, for example, you can never have too many napkins. While most parents stock up on wet naps, napkins can grow scarce throughout a meal, making it hard to keep your little ones clean. As time allows, have your waitstaff keep a general stock of what items parents may need, as children often drop utensils, straws, etc. It’s ultimately up to the parent to ensure those needs are met, but any little bit can help them feel welcome. And be prepared for a little extra cleaning at the tables. Kids are often messy in spite of their parents’ best efforts, so having a vacuum handy for post-family clean up is a quick and easy move-in curating your space.
Offer Specials for Kids
Children’s menus are often offered at an affordable rate, which offsets how little they sometimes eat; kids can be finicky! A great way to win over potential guests and boost your off night crowd is to offer specials aimed at making the kid menu even cheaper. In some cases, operators have offered deals like a free kid’s meal with every adult entree purchased. It’s not necessary to offer freebies to become a kid-friendly restaurant, but it may drive traffic on otherwise slow traffic nights.
It Takes a Village, but…
At the end of the day, it’s up to parents to navigate the world with children, but a little boost can go a long way. Bringing in family traffic by adhering to even some of this checklist for a kid-friendly restaurant can lead to a substantial gain in your bottom line. Keep in mind that for most businesses, you can have your cake and eat it too. If you have long enough viable operating hours, you can offer a counterbalance with cocktail hours or specials specifically geared towards drawing an older crowd.
Get your crayons out and be patient, and your efforts could pay off in the end.
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About the Author
Syd is a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot.