Flavor & Menu Trends

August 03, 2011

Written by: Dean Small

A lot of folks may be talking about the Pittsburgh restaurant that recently banned children under the age of six, but most operators wouldn’t even dream of dissing families with kids, particularly in this economy and with demographics being what they are. In fact, according to the latest Census data, there were an estimated 62 million children under the age of 15 in the United States as of 2009, the result of Gen Y “echo boomers” that are now grown up and having children of their own.

And that means doubling down on a kids’ menu—among other things.

A number of chains have stepped up to that plate. As part of Fazoli’s kid-friendly stance, the Italian chain designated the first week of July as Kids Week, allowing up to two kids’ meals to be purchased for 99 cents each with every adult entree purchased. Cool de Sac, where kids and their parents can “eat well and play smart” at two locations in Florida, touts a menu for children under 12 that offers not only the usual mac-and-cheese and chicken nuggets, but also quesadillas and a mini portion of the signature Churrasco steak. And Olive Garden recently rolled out a more healthful kids’ menu , which replaces french fries and milkshakes with fresh grapes and fruit smoothies.

At many independent and special-occasion restaurants, meanwhile, operators are reporting that younger customers just order off the regular menu.

Here are some tips for putting together a selection of offerings for your junior patrons:

Menu a few options that are healthier in addition to the ever-popular hot dogs and fries—from a turkey alternative to celery and carrot sticks with low-fat yogurt dip. The National Restaurant Association’s “Kids LiveWell” program has lots of other examples and ideas, as well as resources

• Offer half-portions of popular or kid-appropriate items, such as pasta, instead or in lieu of a standard children’s menu

• Items such as sliders, small plates (i.e., fruit and cheese, devilled eggs) or individual pizzas are a natural to repurpose for a kids’ selection

• Make foods fun, with concepts such as fruit-and-yogurt parfaits, decorate-your-own cookies, or vegetable sushi, which is surprisingly popular with older kids

• Add a learning component: Families dining at Primo in Orlando can visit chef Melissa Kelly’s onsite organic vegetable garden and even help pick vegetables that might end up in their dinner

• Practice “stealth health” by sneaking more whole grains and produce into foods, such as barley instead of noodles in chicken soup, or cauliflower or broccoli mixed in with macaroni and cheese

• Remember that food allergies and intolerances (wheat, dairy, nuts, etc.) are an issue with an increasing number of children—as many as 8% of the population, according to one recent study—so plan menus accordingly

Remember, too, that server training is key when dealing with children—especially younger ones—and their families, in order to improve everyone’s experience.

Want more information about menu development of training? Contact Synergy Restaurant Consultants for a free consultation.


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