Family matters

Some concepts are designed around kids. A brand like Chuck E. Cheese’s will always have an uphill climb trying to convince adults it is a place they’ll enjoy after decades of marketing kids parties. Winning with the family is no easy task. For every day occasions, people with kids have a simple concern that most brands can address, but few do well.

Kids are little people. People have opinions. This causes stress during family dinners. Not the opinions themselves, but the way those opinions differ from the adults. And the “conversations” that come from those disagreements.

Restaurant brands that make a family comfortable during their visits will win the next one. This is critical to sustaining sales growth because obviously, a family visit accounts for more seats and a higher average check. So winning with the family is becoming less and less optional. Here are three ways to ensure the next family visit is a good one from beginning to end.

The challenge is to give a family a chance to enjoy a meal together, without creating a separate experience in each seat at the table.

1. Menu planning

The first thing a parent does when they’re seated with their kids is to look at the kid’s menu. The best ones have some familiar items and one or two ‘experimental’ dishes. Most kids have a wheelhouse of a few items they love. When a parent doesn’t see anything, they fear the whole family will suffer.

Reading this, the basic items should be clear: chicken fingers, mac and cheese, pizza. The basics. The other side of the coin is finding a way to tie those basic items into your concept and make them your own. Red Robin does a great job of offering a variety of kids dishes with a spin on them. The kids are happy and the adults feel like they are giving them a treat.

2. Balance the kids and the adults

As always, the trickiest part comes with operations. Having a solid kids menu is important, but executing is more important. Train staff to read the table. If the parents appear to be anxious, chances are it is about the kids. There are simple ways to address this. For example, the server might offer to take the kids’ orders early, as with an appetizer course. Getting the kids fed tends to take some stress off of the parents. This simple practice is surprisingly rare.

Skewing too far towards making the kids happy is another way to lose the adults. Don’t forget that the kids aren’t paying the check. A little focus on easing the family into their meal is great, but too much can make a restaurant feel like a carnival, something adults want to avoid. Brands don’t have to ignore the grown-ups to provide an experience kids will enjoy.

3. Let us entertain you

The main idea is to provide some distraction for the kids. Places like Chevys Fresh Mex give kids fresh tortilla dough and crayons to entertain them. This pleases the kids AND reinforces the promise of freshly prepared food. Red Robin has added interesting games and activities that a family can bring back to the table to enjoy separately or together.

Buffalo Wild Wings takes the concept a step further by offering game tablets for the kids. It’s only fair since the adults are provided with dozens of televisions. The balance with entertainment is to give a family a chance to enjoy a meal together, without creating a separate experience in each seat at the table.

Do these steps solve every challenge in pleasing the family guest? Admittedly, no. But surprisingly, many restaurant brands underserve the family and surrender their share of higher count table occasions.