Guest experience: Don't forget your youngest diners


Guest experience: Don't forget your youngest diners

Steven Pike

For lots of restaurants, kids are an afterthought – after all, it’s their parents who are paying the bill. But when a family is deciding where to eat, the children have more of an influence over this decision than many might imagine. And I say this from experience!

So, if you’re serious about securing income from families, there are several areas to consider. If you can provide as good an experience for kids as you do your other guests, you’ll be onto a winner.

Of course, it depends on what type of venue you operate, but I believe that most restaurants would want to ensure their youngest guests are catered for and kept entertained. As well as helping to secure some repeat business, making sure kids are engaged and happy is conducive to keeping them in their seats.

While restaurants can’t directly control kids’ behaviour, they can influence it and, as a result, make the whole dining process a lot easier for parents, who will appreciate the help and feel like the effort of going out for a family meal was worth their while.

So, where do you start when it comes to making your restaurant more kid-friendly?

Cater for all ages

Some restaurants have different definitions of what a child actually is. The more enlightened ones realise that you don’t just turn from a toddler into a tween or teen overnight. In other words, crayons and colouring-in books don’t cut the mustard for 10-12 year olds.

How about having some tablets available for the older kids to play with? McDonald's is a good example of how effective tablets can be for keeping kids entertained, by allowing them to play a game or browse social media on a piece of technology that they’ve grown up with.

That’s not to say that crayons/pencils don’t still work really well for younger children – but not if they’re all broken or blunt, as is often the case, which only results in disappointment. Make it someone’s responsibility to manage the quality in the same way that you would do with food.

Encourage interactions

With all this focus on what may be of interest to a child, it’s surprising how infrequently waiting staff interact with children – almost as if they’re not there, letting the adult speak for them. Perhaps this is borne out of a fear of saying the wrong thing or not knowing how to handle an indecisive child. But make them feel more at home, and the whole experience will be easier.

Encourage your team to be as helpful as possible, starting the moment a family walks through the door. It makes such a difference to a family if they’re welcomed in a way that says they’ll be catered for – for example, by setting a highchair in place without them having to ask for one.

Keep it clean

As the parent of a young child, you’re used to seeing bits of food flung into various corners of the room. But seeing other people’s discarded food and wet wipes on chairs and tables can make some parents recoil, concluding that the cleaning standards in the restaurant aren’t up to scratch. It’s not a good first impression.

So, make sure your team put extra care and attention into the cleaning of tables, highchairs, sippy cups and any other kids’ supplies that you have to offer.

Make the most of off peak

Finally, catering for children gives you an opportunity to spread the distribution of trade. You’re used to thinking of peak trading times as being lunch and dinner. But many families, particularly at weekends, will come in during a shoulder period – maybe 4-6pm – or after school during the week.

Consider whether you have the right personnel on duty at those times, ready to welcome families with open arms – with a fun and tasty-looking kids’ menu in one hand and an age-appropriate activity in the other.

Monitor how you’re doing

Nothing beats being able to see things through their eyes. You can capture general feedback by inviting guests to complete a survey and identifying which are families. But perhaps the best way is to conduct mystery visits, gaining detailed feedback on key standards that you have defined for family experiences.To discuss options, call our team on 01225 470999 or email

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