No matter the main demographic of your restaurant, you should always anticipate the occasional young family coming in to dine with you. Whether it’s their one special night out or a lunch break in the middle of errands, adult diners dining alongside their children just want one thing — for the meal to go smoothly. And you want the meal to go smoothly, too. And not just for this particular table, but for the guests at surrounding tables as well.
Even if you aren’t marketing your business as a “family restaurant,” you still want to be accommodating to small children coming into your establishment. And when it comes to serving small children, the devil is really in the details. They might not seem like much, but taking these steps now can prepare you to best accommodate future young guests … and their very appreciative parents.
Have high chairs on hand.
High chairs and booster seats are a must for any restaurant anticipating children. Frankly, even if your restaurant rarely has parents bringing their kids to eat, have some high chairs stored away just in case. Keeping high chairs on hand should be the bare minimum of accommodation when it comes to families in your restaurant. It keeps very young children safe and secure during the dine out, and allows the parents to have their hands free and better enjoy their meal.
Put together kid-friendly meals – with a kids’ menu.
One of the best ways to make your restaurant kid-friendly is to make kid-friendly versions of favorites on your menu. Kids’ menu items can (and should) fit the flavors and cuisine of your main menu – for example, burgers, pizzas, and pasta dishes you’re already making for adults can be adapted into smaller, simpler dishes for younger palates.
Just remember to avoid spicy ingredients, reduce the portion, and focus on the kinds of foods kids already know and love. Kids are picky, and you need to think about balancing what’s in their eating comfort zones with food that’s still exciting like the rest of your dishes.
But don’t forget that the parents are looking at the kids’ menu, too. While you can get away with some fried component in each dish (whether that’s fried fish as the protein or French fries as a side), lean towards healthy choices and always include kid-friendly veggie options to keep the parents happy.
While you can certainly include the kid choices on your main menu, why not create a separate kids’ menu on a smaller size paper, but featuring a larger font? The kids will feel special getting their very own menu to read over, and you can avoid having to reprint your main menu if you’re adding on kids’ options while you’re already in business.
Just make sure you laminate your kids’ menus, even if you don’t laminate your main menus – paper menus will not last long when placed in the hands of children.
Offer kid-friendly appetizers.
Outside of the kids’ menu, there should be at least a few appetizers that parents could consider kid-friendly. They don’t need to be labelled as such, but think about the adults wanting to share an appetizer with the entire table before the main meal – they need to make sure everyone at the table will enjoy it or it won’t be ordered.
Giving moms and dads easy go-tos like mozzarella sticks, quesadillas, mini meatballs, potato skins, chips and (mild) salsa, garlic bread, etc. makes ordering for the whole family so much easier.
And frankly, there are plenty adults who want to see simple, reliable appetizer choices, too, so including these dependable favorites among bolder choices is already a smart idea. Just make sure any basic appetizers still fit within the flavors on the rest of your menu.
Put your full menu (including kid-friendly fare) online.
When parents are deciding where to take their kids to eat, you better believe they’re looking up menus online. After all, if they try out a restaurant on a whim and there’s nothing on the menu their child will eat, the special trip out can turn into a disaster! Make sure to put your full menu online, including the kids’ menu, so your guests with children know exactly what they can expect from the experience.
Train your kitchen staff, your servers, and your hosts
Even if parents don’t show up with their kids to eat at your restaurant very often, you should train your entire staff to know what to do to accommodate such tables. The kitchen staff should know how to prepare every part of the kids’ menu. Servers should be aware of the differences when taking kids’ orders compared to adults (and should know the kids’ menu well enough that if the parents have any questions about ingredients, they can be answered).
Hosts should coordinate table seating carefully when it comes to families. It’s a good idea to offer family groups a larger table to make sure the kids are comfortable and to allow parents to keep salt shakers and other tabletop items out of grabby hands.
Hosts should also do their best to seat different family groups apart from one another … this will ensure that one child crying won’t trigger those around them and bother the other tables. There might not be a perfect seating arrangement available for every family coming in to eat, but preparing your host for such these situations can help everyone have a better time.
Add changing stations in every restroom.
Remember, moms and dads both change diapers. Whether you have gender-specific restrooms or one family one, installing diaper changing stations in all restrooms can be a lifesaver for the parent on their own with the kid for the day.
Restrooms without changing stations are far more likely to have diaper-related disasters left for your employees to clean up – it’s far better to avoid since messes altogether. If you can manage it in your space and budget, also consider including a mother’s sitting room area in your next restroom renovation. Having that space can be a godsend for mothers who are nursing.
You’ll notice that many of these changes and adjustments to your restaurant above are small and subtle … most guests won’t even notice you keep kids’ menus next to the regular ones, or have changing stations in the restrooms. But for the stressed out parents who just want to take their family out for a nice experience, these little touches could mean the world to them.
Looking to broaden your restaurant’s appeal as sales slow down? Check out our free eBook “5 Ways to Market Your Restaurant During Slow Times” for ideas on how to expand your reach.