Among the many things that families love to do together, stepping out of the house for a treat is the most exciting. A handful of restaurants are making a conscious effort to create an enjoyable experience for families. But they are strikingly outnumbered by the delicious places we are forced to overlook.
If you are a restaurant owner, then this is an open letter addressed to you. We would love to make sweet memories at your place too. That doesn’t mean you need to hire a new consultant or fire your current staff. A few thoughtful adjustments–things we’ve felt the need for, firsthand–could turn your restaurant into a delectable paradise for families with kids.
Dear restaurant owners,
As parents, when it comes to eating out with our little ones, we’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. One where we couldn’t wait to finish our meals and scoot; and another where we’ve relished the food as well as the time spent at your restaurant.
If your restaurant is unconcerned by the parent+child demographic, we respect your business decision. We realize that some of your existing customers dislike the sight and sound of kids. And we’re absolutely fine visiting as a couple, rather than a family.
But if you want parents to choose your restaurant with their kids in tow, sensitising your staff could easily put you on top of a parent’s list of kid-friendly restaurants.
Let’s start with how quickly we can pacify growling little tummies.
It’s faster to tame a pack of wolves than it is to get an entire household ready to leave on time. Nine out of ten times, a family walks into a restaurant when the kids’ hunger pangs are on the brink of going wild.
So what can you do?
1. Attend to kids first
There’s a thin line between happy & kicking and hungry & cranky. It’s hard to console or control the kids once they’re past that line. So, attending to them rather than asking the father about his beer will definitely keep you in the mother’s good books.
2. Handover the kids’ menu
You’ve now reduced the decision making effort ten thousand times! The dishes on the kids’ menu should be smaller in portion and sensitive to their taste buds. Instead of fried appetizers, bring on the freshly-cut cucumber, carrots or healthy finger foods to start them off. A bread basket is a nice gesture but it also fills them up leaving no space for their main meal.
No kids’ menu? No problem. You can suggest combinations from the main course and side dishes that parents can convert into main meals for their kids.
3. Distract them
While we choose from the menu and wait for the food, the kids need to be kept busy. A few coloured crayons and a blank sheet of paper could do the trick. If you’d like to go a step further, get them cracking on activity table-mats. You’ll find these designs on the internet in abundance.
Must-haves to cut it as a kid friendly restaurant
4. Highchair or booster cushions to tuck in toddlers
This is the minimum requirement if you want to be tagged as kid-friendly. For one, it helps to keep the child in one place, which is a big relief to parents. It also helps parents to have their hands free. They can feed their little ones with less effort and enjoy their meal peacefully without yielding into a game of catch and cook.
Even other customers wouldn’t get disturbed by kids running around. We understand that some places boot out parents if the children run around. There’s no need to go down this unpleasant road, when the solution is far simpler.
5. Family sized seating in a safe area
Families appreciate having some extra space for those bags and for the child. This not only helps us in keeping things away from the kids, but also benefits you by avoiding any unnecessary spills or damages.
If you have multiple levels, seating a family with kids near a staircase is bad news. It’s a tried-and-tested recipe to excite a child and get parents anxious.
6. Facility to change diapers in the washroom
We’ve always struggled with this. Sometimes we have to lie them on a tiny little space next to the wash-basin. Having a platform or a foldable changing table would be a huge blessing and please, one in the men’s restroom too – dads change diapers all the time, give us mums a break!
7. High standards of hygiene
Hygienic restrooms are a basic need. But when we come with our kids, it becomes more important as they are vulnerable to infections. Looking into simple things go a long way in keeping kids healthy, such as functional jet sprays, sinks, a clean soap dispenser, well kept tissues, fixing leaking taps that wet the entire bathroom floor and keeping toilet seats clean and dry.
8. Kid-friendly crockery because kids are fidgety
It would be great if you could have unbreakable and light glasses, bowls, plates, spoons and forks. It will not only relieve parents from worrying about any unnecessary accidents, but also reduce stress for your staff.
If this is not an option, then as you seat the child at his or her table, I’d recommend you remove cutlery such as the tablespoons, forks and knifes from the table and replace it with a single teaspoon, which is not only safer but also more appropriate for a child.
9. Parking facilities can make or break a deal
No one likes to go around in circles finding a parking spot. A dedicated parking facility takes a huge load off. Like I mentioned earlier, usually the kids are hungry before they enter the restaurant. Searching for a parking spot could just aggravate the situation. Very often, out of desperate need to get to a restaurant quickly, we’ve avoided places with no parking slots. True story.
In case parking facility is not available, a valet service or a tip of where else one could park would be helpful.
10. Early hours are the true happy hours for families
Parents are most happy dining with their kids earlier. There’s nothing better than getting kids back at the standard bedtime. Introducing an “Early hour” for families is a win-win for everyone involved. For us, it’s a great incentive to dine at your restaurant and you get to keep your kid-averse customer-base happy.
Pro-tips for the staff
- Pouring water to the brim of the glass is a disaster waiting to happen. Please remember, our little tots have tiny little hands, a glass full of water is bound to topple off. Pour in just enough at a time, I’m sure you’ll agree that it is easier to refill the glass than to clean up the mess.
- A little gentle and interactive attention to our kids could work wonders. We always like to go back to places where the staff is equally warm to our children as they are to us.
It has been a joy to dine at restaurants that have gone out of the way to make us as comfortable as possible. We realise that it’s not possible to implement all the suggestions. But it’s always the little things that count.
P.S: If you’re already doing something special for the family demographic do get in touch with us. We’re always on the look out for places that make our children feel welcome.
Parents, watch this space. We’re compiling a list of our favourite kid-friendly restaurants which we’ll be sharing soon.
Update – We’ve published the list of kid-friendly restaurants