Understandably some restaurants are on a smaller premises and don’t have the room for several high chairs, they may offer a high end dining experience where loud toddlers are not part of the deal or the establishment owner just simply doesn’t like children (how dare they!) Other places have this down to a T, are known for being family friendly and are happy enough to welcome little ones to the tables of their restaurant.
So how do you help your place gain more of a family vibe? How do you let parents know that they’re not intruding with their kids? Parents can be left feeling unwelcome and uncomfortable by being told the restaurant doesn’t offer a child friendly menu, that they can’t bring their toddlers buggy inside or that the single high chair the establishment has, is already in use.
There has been much debate on this topic coming from all sides. Busy waitresses don’t want to be stepping over little bodies throwing tantrums/playing on floors, but parents want to be able to eat out with their family and not be excluded. Some parents want their children to be able to try new foods, to not be picky, to eat well and not be stuck with the choice of Mcdonalds or Burger King if they want to venture outside of the home for dinner. A few tweaks to how you run your establishment can make parents feel that little bit more at ease and not feel as if they’re imposing.
- Create a child-friendly menu or offer child sized portions of some adult dishes. Some of the more simple adult sized dishes can be easily sized down to accommodate the little ones. Any pasta dishes, salads, pizzas etc can all be served in smaller portions. Just serve less on the plate. Children can be fussy eaters or have more sensitive stomachs so offering pasta with a simple tomato sauce rather than a heavy, creamy pasta dish can be a great option. Don’t stick with just “sausages and chips”, “chicken nuggets and chips”, not every parent wants their child eating food straight from a fryer. Offer different choices.
- Paper place-mats and crayons can keep kids entertained before food is served. You can get place mats printed with drawings ready to colour in or leave them blank and let the children draw their own dinner! If you have a bit more going in your budget, chalkboard place-mats are another creative way to keep kids entertained pre-food! You can buy a roll of chalkboard paper and leave it for the kids to enjoy. If you want to really send out the family friendly vibe, run competitions weekly for kids to draw their “dream dinner” and offer prizes of free dessert or free kids meals on their families return to the restaurant.
- High chairs and booster seats can be a big problem in some places. If the restaurant only has one high chair on the go, families with smaller kids are going to feel pretty problematic and unwelcome. Easy to clean plastic high chairs can be bought pretty cheaply and having a stack of them in the back of the restaurant is a good idea. Have your staff offer them rather than a family having to ask. Booster seats are also a good investment for any family friendly establishment so the younger but not so tiny ones can sit up at the table like everyone else.
- Plastic tumblers rather than glasses is always best for younger kids. Don’t fill them to the top for fear of spillages and maybe offer free refills on kids drinks. Also let parents know you can heat up their babies bottles if necessary.
- Baby changing facilities. Parents don’t want to have to prop their baby up on the sink area or change them on their lap in a cubicle. A pull down baby changing mat in both the male and female toilets will do if you can’t offer a whole extra room for these facilities.
- Train your staff so they are capable to be attentive to children. Some people can naturally interact with children and be able to have fun with them but others need a push in the right direction. Make sure your staff are just as nice and polite to families with young kids as they would be to any other customer.
The thing is, there are some diners out there that are going to be rude and not appreciate your kindness. If you completely overhaul your restaurant in to a playground and a food fight stadium, you’re going to lose other customers. By adding small bits and making little alterations to things you’re already offering you can add a whole other generation to your customer base.