Yesterday, I read an article in the WSJ. which talked about how restaurants are reinvesting in their kiddie menu -- both in terms of having one and in terms of adding healthy options to those menus. The catalyst for this move? An effort to regain parents dining with their family, which results in higher ticket values.
Now as a parent, I applaud this move but honestly, if you're a restaurant owner or know one -- it's not enough. What these businesses are missing is that my decision as a parent, whether to go out to eat or eat in, is not just about a menu, it's about a cost-value equation in my head. Basically, I can project how much it's going to cost me to take the family to dinner and I can determine how much "enjoyment value" I'm going to get from that expenditure. Then I can cost-benefit my way to a decision.
For instance, if the kids want to go to a restaurant that is notoriously slow with service, I know there is going to be a fair amount of "Dad, I'm hungry" whining that will occur, which will lower my value equation and make it more likely that I'll decide that money can be spent on other activities that will be more fun. Toss in a down economy and you can see how this kind of parental analysis can quickly cut into things like eating out.
So, restaurants, and really any service oriented business... here are a few thoughts that you might want to consider.
First, if you want parents to bring kids be sure you have kid menus and preferably have something on them that is remotely healthy.
Second, create an environment that communicates that my kids are welcome. That means align your humanic (people's actions) and mechanic (things like having crayons and coloring sheets at the hostess stand) clues to ensure that when I arrive I sense that my family is welcome.
Third, design my dining experience to minimize possible pain points and maximize pleasure points. For instance, while I'm fine taking an hour to have a meal complete with properly timed appetizer, main course, dessert service, my kids are just hungry. So be sure they can be served something quickly. Maybe it's a special kids appetizer that is automatically served upon seating or a kids buffet versus a kids menu, so they can get up and serve themselves. This gives me a chance to sit, have a cocktail and review the menu without my kids hassling me about how hungry they are. See where I'm going with this?
Fourth, design a way for the end of the meal to progress quickly or better, entertain the kids while I sit and have another cocktail or a glass of wine in peace. Remember, people tend to remember the first and last thing in any sequence... so make sure my entry/exit from your dining experience is stellar. This isn't really that hard... invest in some cheap DVD players or if you have the room -- set up a "movie theater" in one of your private dining rooms and invite the kids to hang back there when they're done with their meal. Just be sure to tell them, you have a rule, no kids can watch the movie unless they finish their entire meal -- save Mom and Dad from being the heavy. The cost to do this is negligible but the value it will create is priceless. Not to mention, my wife and I may order yet another cocktail/wine or decide to actually have that dessert if our kids are entertained.
Fifth, think about the final price point of the experience. Families are expensive. Chances are, your family diners have a price point in mind when making the go/no go decision to dine out with the kids. Do a bit of research. It's pretty easy really. Buy a couple of iTouch iPods and set up a simple online survey using a free research service like Survey Monkey. Then, when you deliver the bill, give the iTouch to the family too. Ask the parents to please take a moment to fill out the brief survey (totally confidential) so that you can better deliver a quality family dining experience to them in the future. It's a great no fuss way to collect real-time data from those diners.
Lastly, as I said, while this post is written to restaurant owners, I think a lot of this stuff can apply to any business that wants to target families. Just consider your experience through their eyes and don't be afraid to get creative.
Anyone else have an idea or two for the restaurants of the world? Let me know. I'm giving a talk to the Louisiana Restaurant Association in a couple of weeks and I'd love to include your ideas alongside of mine (with proper attribution of course).