For families tightening their budget, dining out may go from being a regular occurrence to being only a special treat. It’s important to think about how you can make your dining experience more family friendly, since it’s been proven that families are good for business. It isn’t just about catering to children, either. Family structures include parents and grandparents that might have special needs, or hoards of cousins looking for a place to hang out and catch up. Demonstrating that your restaurant can meet the needs of various types of families (including families of choice) can make your establishment a desirable destination for large groups of differing compositions.
You don’t have to reinvent your business or invite kids to eat free in order to become a more family-friendly restaurant. A few smart steps can help drive traffic and delight eaters of all ages. Winning over children can boost customer loyalty, too. We all know who calls the shots when the spaghetti hits the floor. Here’s how to make sure families keep coming back.
Families can be, well… trickier than your average 2-person table, especially if those groups include children. Train your staff with best practices for serving families—addressing kids directly but deferring to parents, giving families space in case of a tantrum, and making sure they have everything necessary to dine comfortably. If there’s someone celebrating a special event, say a 70th birthday, a wedding anniversary, or a graduation, make sure that all staff is aware of the guest(s) of honor so they can offer their personal greetings and congratulations.
There are lots of things that can make your restaurant more family-friendly. Think about serveware for family-style entrees and drinks that will fill the table without making it feel overcrowded. Consider turntables for larger tables so that all members of the family can reach the food without having to pass heavy platters.
You don’t have to go overboard child-proofing, but be mindful of where you’ll seat families with young children and make sure the space is suitable. Is there room to park a stroller? Any low-hanging decor within arm’s reach? Designate areas most befitting your smallest patrons. Shop smart for booster seats and high chairs (with attention to the latest safety guidelines) and install changing tables in bathrooms for moms and dads. Sippy cups and bibs are optional accessories, as most families will bring their own.
It goes without saying that you should have a kids’ menu. If you already do, stick with what works. Consider emphasizing healthy options so dining out seems less like an indulgence. Kids sometimes have more adventurous palettes than many menus give them credit for. Start with spiced ketchup or mayo and experiment with branching out. Think about this when building a prix-fixe menu, too. Often, special menus offer only the simplest dishes to appeal to the masses. But aunts and grandpas can have a wild streak, too. Toss in a signature dish that might be a little spicy or unusual and it might just be the thing that people talk about long after the meal.
Consider tableside prep for shareable dishes and appetizers, like guacamole or specialty salads. Turning any dish into a show makes it more special and is sure to make groups more curious to try it. If it’s tough to talk with your second cousin twice removed, having some activity at the table might jumpstart a conversation.
Go a step further and try offering interactive dishes like fondue, a chocolate fountain for dessert, or build-your-own tableside sundaes. Just be sure any heating elements are out of reach of small children, and minimize the potential for mess by laying down table covers or making extra napkins or towels easy to reach.
Crayons and paper tablecloths are classic, but also consider more creative games that connect families to your space. Think visual scavenger hunts that kids can easily play from the table, or special menus and placemats with puzzles and trivia for school-aged kids. Clover app Fun and Games can customize coloring sheets with your restaurant theme or logo. But games aren’t just for kids. If you have puzzles or activities for adults, it can help unite a family that may not always have that opportunity.
If you have space for kids to roam around, a break from wrangling can be a relief for parents. Be sure it’s safe and comfortable, and make it clear to parents whether you have staff keeping an eye out or parents should still be on deck. If there will be food or drinks in the area, think about stain-proof materials, or easily wipeable surfaces.
Consider hosting events with live entertainment, creative classes, or simply setting aside time especially for families. This could be a good way to fill the lull between lunch and dinner when some large groups are looking for activities and places to socialize.
Family-friendly can go way beyond kid-friendly if you are creative. As the holidays approach, large groups are often looking for places to congregate, socialize, and dine so they don’t have to be responsible for the prep or the cleanup. Offer prix fixe menus if you are open on the major holidays, and advertise your specials on your website and through social media to get the word out. Remember, families are rarely going to stumble into your establishment. They’ll do their research first.