By Lori Zanteson
“If Mom’s happy, everybody’s happy,” may rule at the family dinner table, but dining out with kids is a game changer. In restaurants, it may be more correct to say that if the kids aren’t happy, nobody—from the wait staff to every last diner, including the mommas—is happy.
While there will always be the tyke who turns on the fuss just after ordering—call it restaurant radar—and the parent who refuses to soothe the child outside diners’ earshot, restaurants can step up their whole-family appeal by incorporating strategies that are sure to make dining out truly enjoyable for all.
Make it Healthy
Healthful kids’ meals and children’s nutrition landed third and fifth, respectively, on the Top 20 Trends of the 2013 Chef Survey, conducted by the National Restaurant Association. Aware that parents want healthy menu options for their kids, many restaurants have joined the NRA’s Kids LiveWell program, which helps families find restaurants online and via mobile app with healthy kids’ menus and nutrition information. Online menus, nutrition and allergen information is always a plus for families who need or prefer to make selections in advance.
Make it a Deal
A money-saving deal is a definite draw when it comes to treating the entire family. A survey earlier this year from Restaurant.com, a company connecting restaurants and diners nationwide, found that 96 percent of respondents have used a coupon or a deal when dining out with kids. Accounting for the often unpredictable appetites and food preferences of young’uns, cost-cutting makes sense. Whether it’s a kids eat free promotion or discounted kids’ meals, families respond.
Revamp the Kids’ Menu
Kids don’t ask for a lot when it comes to food. Give them choice—but not too much—a little innovation, and great taste, and they’re satisfied. The yawn-inducing kids’ meal standards—mac n cheese, corndog, grilled cheese—need a re-do. Baked versions of otherwise fried items is a good place to start. Replace chicken nuggets with bite-sized or skewered chicken cutlets served with healthy, flavorful dips like a yogurt sauce, hummus or salsa, and a side of cut fruit. Smaller portioned adult menu items is a huge hit with kids who crave more options or who are more adventurous.
Hands-On is In
Build-your-own is one of the biggest kid-friendly trends out there. Put the kids in control and they’ll create their very own, one of a kind meal. What’s not to like? Pizza, always a kid pleaser, is a natural for build-your-own. At San Diego-based Flippin’ Pizza, kids not only create their own pie, they get a piece of pizza dough to play with and shape while they wait. Texas-based Which Wich? Superior Sandwiches offers the Kidswich, a totally customizable sandwich, bowl or salad that comes with a drink and a snack. Kids like to be involved and they love the hands-on experience.
Families are dining out more than ever before—59 percent do so at least once a week, according to the Restaurant.com survey—which makes it a great time for restaurants to get family-centric. A little personalization detailed toward every family member is a recipe for a satisfying dining experience and long-time customers.