5 top tips on looking after your littlest diners

5 top tips on looking after your littlest diners

Mother and child dining

Modern family life can be busy to say the least. A poll of 2,000 parents, conducted last year by Hollywood Bowl, found that the average British family manages to squeeze in just 38 minutes of quality time together on the average weekday.

It's little wonder then that a recent report by French restaurant chain, Le Bistro Pierre, found that 75% of families are choosing to eat out together more frequently than they were five years ago, getting away from the distractions of home to spend some bonding time as a family.

And as anyone who knows children will understand, happy dining kids make for happy dining adults. How can your business make this happen? Here are a few of our top tips on looking after your littlest diners:

1. Speed is of the essence

Children can have a short attention span, so leaving too much waiting time before getting the family seated, providing entertainment such as activity packs, or serving up food and drinks means you run the risk of little ones getting distracted, disruptive or bored. Ensure that the procedure runs like a well-oiled machine, from the welcome all the way through to an efficient bill payment. To stop children getting bored during the adult's starters, offer small, healthy starters that won't ruin appetites, or give parents the option to share their starter by suggesting an empty plate. "Shorter waiting times" and "prompt food arrival" were both mentioned by our diners when they were asked how pubs could appeal to families.

2. Think practically

Providing the correct apparatus and equipment for little diners will make life a lot easier for both children and parents. Just as with any guest experience, it is both the basics and the little details that convey a sense of hospitality and comfort for children. Ensure that smaller sized cutlery is available as well as beakers and high chairs whilst finishing touches such as colourful straws are both visually appealing, fun to use, and practical for little ones. Encourage families to come to the restaurant at quieter times before the normal peak hours, when they can get quicker service and have more space.

3. Smaller people often have smaller appetites

We are seeing more creative children's menus begin to appear on the British high street, thanks to initiatives such as last year's 'Culinary Kids' Campaign', run by Bookatable. However, it is worth noting that we also see venues offer meal deals that are a little too much for small appetites to handle. A three course kids' menu, inclusive of drinks and dessert, might make a good option for older children, however offering flexibility and the option of picking apart the deal makes for a much more personalised experience for those that don't need quite as much to eat. This could also avoid parents choosing to purchase one set meal for children to share.

4. Give children space

Give some consideration to the appropriate location of family seating. A separate dining area for families is a popular way to please, according to a recent survey of ours, when 26% of respondents citing it as the best way to appeal to families. Businesses without that much space can still demonstrate their family friendly nature by ensuring the area is easily accessible for push-chairs and prams. Consider where to seat families; ideally somewhere with softer lighting, not in the path of the kitchen or the toilets. You can also avoid situating playful children near to tables for two, where couples might be enjoying a romantic date. It's also a good idea to clear plates as soon as possible to give children space to play with age-appropriate toys, such as colouring books and crayons for a younger child, and small table top games like Top Trumps or Dominoes for older children.

5. Include everyone in the conversation

A common statement from our diners is how lovely it is when restaurant staff stop to talk directly to their children or ask them personally what they like to eat. Allowing children to participate in the event of eating out by discussing menu options and explaining dishes will help them to fully engage and enjoy their restaurant experience.

And of course, never forget that the people who best know how to look after little diners will be their parents. Chat with guests on arrival to establish how quick they'd like the service to be, and whether there's anything they need to know, like the WiFi password or where the toilets are. Ask at the end of the meal if they'd be happy to give feedback on their family's experience, to help with future menu development and staff training. Make sure the process is simple, and don't expect families with children to sit and fill out forms there and then - instead, give them a website address they can access later, or take an email address or phone number if you'd like to speak at their convenience.

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