Kids and restaurants don’t often have the easiest of relationships. It seems like every second week a restaurateur comes under fire in the court of social media for objecting to a crying child, and some restaurants have taken the bold step of banning children completely. However, children are a key factor when a family decides to dine out, and restaurant owners ignore the younger generation at their peril.
According to research from US-based firm NPD, children are beginning to choose what they want to eat at restaurants as early as age five. Fifty percent of children under ten order their own meals, but what is more important is the impact that children can have on choosing a restaurant in the first place.
“Kids are so influential in where families eat,” explained NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs. “With consumers having more money in their pocket, now’s the time to try to make the most of these visits. If you want kids in your restaurant, go a step above what you’ve done in the past.”
NPD research found that 86 percent of respondents named menu offerings as the most important factor for choosing a restaurant for kids. Price and value were most important for 80 percent of consumers, with health and nutrition coming in at fifth with only 70 percent of respondents deciding it was the most important.
“Kids today are not like kids 10 years ago,” said Riggs. “Doing the usual, the same, may not be as compelling as it once was.”
Restaurants all across the country are taking steps to shake up the offerings for children.
FIDDLESTICKS BAR, CHRISTCHURCH
Fiddlesticks offers the ever-popular options of fish and chips and fried chicken, but also offers options for kids who are keen to try something new. Garlic crostini with beetroot hummus, a mushroom and bacon risotto and a BBQ lamb sandwich are among the kid’s options for lunch, and brunch options are effectively smaller portions of adult menu items – bacon and scrambled eggs on toasted ciabatta and a ‘kids benny junior’.
THE GROUNDS, AUCKLAND
The Grounds is a modern family eatery located within an urban park in Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges. Head chef Mike Shatura got on board following his daughter’s cancer diagnosis, and he has put special effort into making the children’s menu simple yet exciting. Bolognese with handmade pasta and organic beef, soy and sesame dumplings and teriyaki chicken with steamed rice accompany hot dogs and toasties for kids to enjoy while they make the most of Whoa! Studios’ playground and puppet show. The sharing style of other dishes means that children can also take part in a communal dining experience with the rest of the family if they want.
As you’d expect for a restaurant named by the child of the owner, Giraffe caters well to children. Simon Gault decided to tackle the problem of picky eaters (a problem with which he was familiar with a three-year-old daughter) by presenting a series of options in a TV dinner format. The tray has a selection of food spanning a range of tastes and can also encourage less adventurous eaters to step outside their comfort zone. Furthermore, certain items on the menu are marked with a ‘K’ in the same way that others are GF or V. The K means that reduced portions are available for children, furthering opening up the menu and especially the vegetarian and vegan options which may not always be present on a standard kid’s menu.
SOUTHERN CROSS GARDEN BAR AND RESTAURANT, WELLINGTON
‘The Cross’ makes a point of looking after everyone who dines in, little ones included. Once again it covers off the classics – bacon and eggs, hotdogs, waffles and fish and chips – but also goes one step further. The Kids Buddha Bowl is a vegan offering, with corn nuggets, rice pilaf, spinach, toasted chickpeas, roasted carrots and an almond dressing. The Dragon Bowl is chicken, sticky rice, carrot noodles, green leaves and peanut satay dressing, a gluten-free option that can also be made vegetarian or vegan upon request. Fluffies are also free for children. Outside of the menu, a dedicated activity table is set up with free face painting and colouring, as well as a variety of board games and the occasional puppet show. As an added incentive for parents, The Cross offers an in-house massage therapist on Tuesday mornings.
Baduzzi’s ‘little meals for important little people’ treat children like small adults – a trending theme in kids meals. Baduzzi offers hand-buttered pasta, herbs and parmesan, veal and bacon grilled meatballs and chicken schnitzel, as well as fresh gelato and Italian chocolate cake for dessert. The menu is interactive, with colouring pages puzzles, all accompanied by a character called ‘Mr Meatball.’ With Silo Park just down the road, Baduzzi has made an effort to cater to the family market with a series of carefully thought out adaptations of larger menu items. By having the kids’ menu imitate the adult menu, restaurants can build brand loyalty from the high-chair.