I'm starting a cafe in NYC and would like to have a creative kids' menu that is more than just mac and cheese.
– Claire Nugent, New York, NY
It's a good strategy to focus on your children's menu for competitive advantage. People sometimes underestimate the power of children in making family dining decisions.* For example, in casual dining, kids influence where their family eats at least half the time. Couple that power with increased interest in child nutrition and you have good reason to give this topic some attention.
Cricket Azima, a children's cooking expert and author of Everybody Eats Lunch recommends even small steps like "[taking] classic children's menu items and adding vegetables."
I recommend a few strategies for winning kids' menus:
- Make it an activity. Provide entertainment along with a menu choice. For example, a pizza toppings bar, fresh fruit dipped in chocolate fondue, or a muddled and shaken mocktail make a memorable impression and help keep kids occupied and well behaved.
- Gross out desserts and fun shapes. A cookie cutter to turn a grilled cheese sandwich into a princess castle or a few gummy worms and a crumbled cookie to turn chocolate pudding into a "cup of dirt" are small steps to let kids and their parents know their business is important to you.
- Healthier versions of kid favorites. Parents increasingly appreciate healthy gestures on menus and many kids are used to them from home—whole wheat spaghetti with turkey meatballs, baked sweet potato wedges as an alternative to French fries, or low-fat frozen yogurt are cost-conscious menu items that please both parents and kids.
Finally, Don't baby them. Azima advises, "Most kids' palates can think outside of the ‘Kids Menu Box' and would enjoy many menu items served on the adult menu. Simply give dishes playful names that will appeal to the young diner and serve a smaller portion."
*Labrecque and Ricard, "Children's influence on family decision-making: a restaurant study," Journal of Business Research, Volume 54, Issue 2, November 2001, Pages 173-176.