Children’s Dining Tips for Foodservice Establishments

By TriMark R.W. Smith

Children’s nutrition is a hot topic that doesn’t seem to be losing steam. With the current emphasis on healthy eating, foodservice establishments are re-examining kid’s menus. Restaurant operators know that family dining goes beyond basic menu items. It is about the entire experience of eating out- keeping the kids happy and the parents coming back. Here are ideas to promote a successful family dining experience.

Toys & Themes
Giving out toys with kid’s meals is not a new concept. The fast food industry has been thriving off it for quite some time. Some restaurants give children a small toy with a meal purchase. Another approach is to have toys that are kept at the restaurant (sanitized daily) which are offered as an option to parents for entertaining children during the course of the meal. Fun, child-related themes are also a small change you can make to your menu. Denny’s opted for a space-themed kid’s meal selection, but any overall theme, possibly related to your business or location, will make familiar foods seem new and exciting.

Just as toys can keep kids occupied, allowing kids to feel like part of the cooking process can engage them in the meal. Easy build-your-own options for kids include pizza, hamburgers, and quesadillas. Bring all the ingredients tableside, allow the children to put it together and then bring it back out with the rest of the meal.

Age-Based Options
Taste preferences, willingness to try new types of food, and appropriate portion sizes differ among the age groups. While many restaurants have only one kid’s menu, it is important to distinguish between toddlers, school-aged kids, and tweens. Tweens are more likely to have opinions about where they eat. Because tweens can greatly influence the entire family’s restaurant choices, it is important to make them feel special and market meals specifically to them. Similarly, most toddlers cannot eat the amount of food offered in a standard kid’s meal. Some foodservice establishments offer free small plates to children under two-years-old or bring a free kids appetizer to the table to keep the little ones satisfied while the adults peruse the menu.

Grown-Up Palates for Little Mouths
One of the newest trends for children is what Phil Lempert coined in 2009: Koodies, or kid foodies. With all the cooking shows and chef competitions now broadcast on television, children are learning more about different foods, tasty ingredients and local sourcing, which help them to define their palates early. Many cities have jumped on this trend with Kid’s Restaurant Weeks showing up in areas such as Orange County, CA and Chicago, IL. Restaurants that have previously participated include Anaheim White House , Savannah Chop House, and The Melting Pot. Spotlighting children allows them to try restaurants that may have never seemed accessible before and order items that are more adventurous.

Upcoming Event
Healthier Kids Fare at NRA Show
MAY 5–8, 2012
Chicago, IL


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