Picture this: A busy brunch at a petite French cafe. Small, round tables are set up bistro style and patrons are enjoying fresh mimosas, pancakes piled high on plates, and all kinds of eggs. The music is hip, and the place is alive with chatter. And screaming.
In the midst of the restaurant there’s a very unhappy 5 year old throwing his waffles, fingers sticky with syrup, trying to squeeze under the table where his father can’t reach him because the stroller is in the way. The servers are attempting to carry trays of drinks and plates of food, but dad’s now kneeling under the table and blocking the footpath, causing a bottleneck. Mom decides it’s time to go, and asks for the bill, but it’s busy so it might take a few minutes. Patrons are shaking their heads and the staff are losing their patience.
No one in this situation is having fun. And that’s a problem. It’s clear that the expectations of everyone involved are not being met. The child, parents, servers, and other patrons all need different things.
Optimize your restaurant for kids and parents by incorporating the following considerations:
Eating at a restaurant can be a fun experience for some children, and an exercise in boredom for others. Offering coloring pages and crayons, or tabletop toys and activities, can keep little ones occupied while they wait for their dinner. Many parents these days bring iPads along with them to entertain their kids, so providing iPad charging could be helpful too.
They might be the smallest of humans, but they sure can take up a lot of room. Strollers, diaper bags and all of the other kid accoutrements take up space at, and around a table. Setting aside a designated area for stroller parking, and coats and bags, keeps the dining area clear and unencumbered. Change tables in both male and female restrooms mean either parent can take care of business if necessary and show that you’ve anticipated family needs.
A kids menu doesn’t have to be an afterthought. Chicken fingers and plain pasta are classic kid favorites, but it doesn’t hurt to offer smaller sizes of grown-up meals for tots with more developed taste buds. Or, consider introducing them to fun and healthy flavors that they can get excited about. Think a side of watermelon with chicken nuggets, or animal pasta with sugar snap peas.
Squeezing a family of three into a table for two might not seem like a big deal, if one of them is a baby, but Mom and Dad’s comfort shouldn’t be sacrificed. Make sure that there is space for baby carriers between table and chair or for mom and baby to sit comfortably together. Offer cozy booster seats or high chairs for the little ones, making sure they are cleaned after each use. The more comfortable the parents, the more relaxed the kids, and the more positive the experience for all.
Small details make for big impressions. Providing Wet-Naps for messy fingers will help mom and dad keep things tidy, and also keep your menus from becoming sticky or messy. Modern tech, like a mobile POS that is used for tableside ordering, speeds up ordering and checking out. Think of ways your restaurant can go the extra mile to welcome and serve your young guests and their parents.
And as always, encourage your staff to be welcoming, accepting and understanding, while at the same time empowering them to know when and how to deal with lackadaisical parents that might be letting their child run amok and disturb other patrons. Understanding that a child might have a temper tantrum is one thing, but recklessness and negligence are another, and your staff should know when it’s okay to say something.
By planning for children, you can create a space where guests of all ages feel comfortable, and position your restaurant as a great place for kids and adults to dine.