The Pros and Cons of a Child-Free Restaurant
Imagine you’ve gathered at your table, a spread of glistening apps and entrees before you, with your friends and loved ones all around. It’s one of those social meals, less about the food itself and more about the experience. The discussions flow, the air is thick with merriment and then suddenly, you all hear it. It slices through the warmth and merrymaking like a cold, cruel blade, stinging everyone back into reality: a child’s shriek.
You want to ignore it, you all do, but instinctively you turn towards the origin of the noise. You see a four-top table, with visibly exhausted parents seated at each end. On one side, a child wails in a highchair, bespattered with flecks of disregarded entree. Another child, seemingly part of the same group runs laps around the table, while a helpless waiter stands idly amidst the chaos. It’s an unpleasant sight, one that assaults the senses and any chance for a calm evening and it’s one that many restaurants are choosing to deal with head-on.
If you’ve gone anywhere in a public setting, you’ve likely experienced this to some degree. Children who, despite the efforts of parents, manage to throw tantrums, cause scenes and ultimately, ruin the atmosphere. It’s why many restaurants are opting for an “adults-only” model, one which prohibits children from their establishment altogether.
Why Child-Free Restaurants?
Culturally, the decision to make one’s restaurant child-free can be controversial (we’ll get to that later), but it’s still taking hold. One reason is a shift in cultural values and timelines between millennials and the preceding baby-boomer generation. Millenials wait to have children at later ages than baby-boomers did, meaning many millennial stay childfree well into their thirties. As a result, the idea of child-free establishments doesn’t impede their lifestyle.
Additionally, children can be a liability to restaurant operators and staff, as no matter their attentiveness and quality, they still have limited jurisdiction over how to deal with a screaming child. One famous example is of Caruso’s Restaurant in North Carolina, who after a spate of incidents involving misbehaving children and parents who couldn’t calm them down, decided to ban them altogether.
Finally, Yelp culture increases transparency into restaurants more than ever before, and many operators seek to “stack the deck,” removing as much “mood dampening” potential as possible. Removing the very possibility of a pre-pubescent guest’s meltdown lends many operators just a tad more peace of mind in their frenetic occupation.
To be clear, we aren’t advocating any position. It’s a highly debated issue that speaks to social and cultural values and can stoke a variety of emotions in people. However, if you’re an operator pondering the prospect of making your restaurant child-free, this guide should give you a list of the major pros and cons of the decision.
The Pros of a Child-Free Restaurant
A New Audience and Niche
If you make your restaurant child-free, you’ll automatically align yourself with a new niche. As a result, you’ll endear yourself to a new audience, especially those who are particularly impatient towards children. They might see you as their new “go-to” for a safe experience, unsullied by incidents. Keep in mind this applies to parents looking to “escape,” as well.
Remember that in as much as you can make your restaurant more appealing by going child-free, you should take note of some factors in your area like the culture of your location. Some areas tend to be more “progressive” while others are more rooted in tradition. Particularly conservative or traditional areas may not regard a child-free restaurant in the same light as a coastal city might.
Additionally, you should have a good sense of your strength as a restaurant. If you’re just getting started, you may find that a move towards child-free could be too drastic right out of the gate. Ensure you’ve already established yourself before risking potential alienation (discussed below).
Improve and Ensure your Ambiance
When you prohibit children from your restaurant, you remove many of the liabilities that can ruin another guest’s experience. You also avail yourself more freedom in crafting your ambiance.
Maybe you could go for a subdued atmosphere, one that’s more of a lounge style. You’re free to play whatever music you choose, opt for lower lighting and can make the decor as swanky as you like. There’s far less chance of errant food-stuffs be-speckling your carpet.
We’ve stated it a few times already in this article, but in a metaphorical sense: you needn’t worry about putting out any fires if they have no place to spark. By keeping children out of your restaurant, you completely remove the possibility of child-centric complaints. You have more control of your environment and can rest assured knowing that you won’t have to navigate the murky waters of child/parent discipline.
It’s important to note, though, that taking children out of the equation won’t make things perfect. That’s the uncertain part of owning a restaurant. You still risk the possibility of a customer complaint, a kitchen disaster or a staff no-show. However, you do remove the risk of children raining on proverbial parades, and for many operators, that’s enough.
If you aren’t catering to children, it means you don’t have to invest in children’s menus. You don’t need to provide highchairs, sippy lids and can entirely cut certain entrees (maybe you don’t WANT to have chicken nuggets on your menu anyway). Going child-free leaves an entire subsection of restaurant supplies in which you won’t need to spend a dime, which can be very attractive for cost-conscious operators.
Improve Sales and Increase Reservations
If you choose to create an adults-only space, appealing to a new audience could create an influx of new reservations. It’s not uncommon for restaurants to re-invigorate customer interests with something perceived as a “rebrand.” Furthermore, Flynn’s restaurant in Australia reported their highest weekend revenue in company history, the week after they announced a child ban in their restaurant.
The Cons of a Child-Free Restaurant
Alienating your Audience
Here lies the other side of the child-free coin: as much potential as you have to appeal to customers, you also risk alienating them too. It’s inevitable, as some will find a child-free rule as offensive. Perhaps they feel targeted, unjustly prohibited from your restaurant because of their children. It also means they might see you as less convenient, as you will not be able to serve them during the day when they’re out and about with their children in tow.
To be clear, any decision you make will offend some people. For many operators, this segment is negligible. It all comes down to knowing your area, your niche and the strength of your menu.
Again, depending on the cultural climate of your area, a child-free move could hurt your sales. There’s a considerable portion of paying customers you’re essentially walling off, encouraging to spend money elsewhere.
Furthermore, when you’re not catering to children you may encourage smaller party sizes, and in turn, smaller checks. However, you also stand to make more on higher profit items like alcohol, if you are only serving adults. It’s not an exact science, but specific streams of restaurant data, like revenue stats and average party sizes, can give you some insight into these areas.
An Unsavory Critical Focus
Yelp culture makes restaurant critics of everyone, and if you make your restaurant child-free, you can make yourself a lightning rod for controversy and negative reviews. A child-free policy might elicit feelings of coldness or a lack of empathy towards children.
The negative attention may become such a focus that it crowds out the relevant parts of your restaurant, like your food. You could become “that place that bans kids” instead of “that place with those amazing cheesy wontons.” Again, many operators may choose to weather the storm of critical backlash, seeing a greater good. It all depends on your particular circumstances.
A Happy Child-Free Medium
Operators looking to try out a child-free concept may opt to create specific child-free hours, instead of banning them outright. These exclusive hours develop a sort of “sweet spot” which means they can still serve both audience, families during the day, and adults at night.
It also still serves to create a child-free “safe space” for those who need it, without alienating anyone. Operators can experiment with their decor and lighting since they don’t have to cater to a child audience. They can also tweak their specific hours and see if it creates any success for them, either in repeat customers or higher revenue.
The decision to make your restaurant child-free is a significant one. Most of it comes down to understanding your audience and your restaurant branding on a deep level. While it can help you avoid certain calamities, it can also disincentivize certain people from attending your restaurant, and create a reputation that outweighs your quality.
Your goal as a restaurant operator is to provide optimal food and dining experiences while maintaining costs. Your decision to go child-free should always lead back to those goals, and should never outweigh them.
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About the Author
Dylan Chadwick is a Content Marketing Specialist at QSR Automations. He graduated from Brigham Young University with an English degree and journalism focus and loves to write about technology. When left to his own devices, he enjoys loud music, adorable dogs and documentaries about the aforementioned.