Make “Kids Eat Free” work for your restaurant

Editorial Team

5 min read
Family clinking glasses

“Free is magic,” as one psychology professor said. It’s seductive. It’s family-forward. It’s a no-brainer, for parents, anyway. What work-weary, wallet-conscious parent wouldn’t drift into a restaurant that offers to feed their kids—for free—just for buying a meal?

But making freebies work efficiently and effectively for restaurants isn’t easy. Do parents have to purchase two or more entrees to qualify? What if they share an entrée? Which menu items are eligible? How can restaurants make sure they’re not cheapening their product? How can they keep ingredient costs in check? All importantly, how can they track whether the “freebie” policy is actually paying off?

With a few tips and the right tools, restaurants can introduce a children-eat-free policy that’s attractive to families, manageable for their staff, and profitable. Here are 5 tips to manage free meals.

1. Make it special.

Create a special event for your freebie. Make it a limited-time offer for a day, week, or a month. This can serve to try it out before instituting it as a permanent policy. Or, you could consider offering it a specific day of the week, like these restaurants, or during specific business hours—think your slow times—to pull in more foot traffic. Even American diner franchise IHOP tested kids-eat-free meals during specific hours on specific days of specific seasons.

2. Keep it simple and social.

All things being equal, keep the freebie simple. Take the story of 110 Grill in Rochester, New Hampshire, for example. An upscale New England restaurant group, 110 Grill decided to lean into the local Rochester, NH market, ripe with schools and children, and set a goal to pull more families through the doors. They started by introducing a simple meal policy for a month: for every adult entrée purchased, a family could have a free child’s meal. How did they market the promo? Through Facebook, garnering over 30k views that month. The result? Sales ticked up a few thousand dollars per week and they saw more families with children visiting the grill.

3. Do it family style.

Two challenges of offering freebies, discounts, and promos are managing coupons (and coupon clippers) and possibly devaluing your product. One way to side-step both is to offer family-style meals. For parents, these kinds of meals can take the stress out of ordering individual meals for picky young palettes and help them minimize wasted food that little eaters may leave behind. Another upside? Family-style meals just might encourage the no-kid diner to order an extra dish, side, or even an entire meal to take home for the next day. And if you do decide you’d like to try your hand at coupons, be sure to check out Clover’s free app, Promos.

4. Experiment creatively.

Making kids-eat-free work for your restaurant means experimenting. One marketing principle to keep in mind? Test and learn creatively. Experiment to see what offering creates the greatest yield for the restaurant. If it fails, try another offer, try another day, or try a completely different idea. By testing and learning, you may uncover some golden nuggets—and yummy morsels—that your guests love and that pull in more foot traffic than you anticipated. For testing and learning, it pays to get creative with food promos.

5. Pick a tool.

One of the toughest parts of running a kitchen is staying on top of the inventory—how much inventory to stock, product to make, or when to make it—especially if you’re giving product away. That’s where Clover Insights can help. A tracking and inventory app, Insights gathers intel on what’s selling, what’s being ordered for free, and when. And it’s the only tool that pulls back the curtain on the competition—the dollars and customers they’re bringing in. What’s even better? The Service Plan is free, and Insights Standard is only $9.99 a month. Or, take these tools for a spin to help manage inventory:

  • MarketMan is a cloud-based inventory management and purchasing tool that streamlines procurement, delivery, and accounting for food and beverage businesses.
  • Recipe Keeper tracks on-hand stock for various dishes or recipes.
  • Bottle Keeper helps you determine exactly how much liquid stock you have on-hand.

Not convinced a kids-eat-free policy or any kind of child-friendly policy, for that matter, is right for your establishment? Then check out this read on why focusing on kids can increase profits and how to appeal to the traveling parent. And if you need help tracking data or inventory to make a child-friendly policy work, visit Clover’s App Market for a wealth of apps that work with your Clover POS device and make inventory tracking easier. Looking for even more ideas to keep guests coming back to your restaurant, peruse eight smart and affordable ways to deepen customer loyalty.

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