Restaurants’ kid-friendly accommodations are getting the millennial treatment. As the demographic ages, the industry is innovating to appeal to 24- to 39-year-olds, who are aging into parenthood and value kid-friendliness more than any other generation, according to Technomic’s Generational Consumer Trend Report. Beyond a carton of crayons and toys, operators have found new ways to provide contemporary family-friendly atmospheres through research, design, small touches and partnerships.
Each new Chick-fil-A design is parent-tested, says Amy Wells, senior manager of kids and family marketing. The chain builds a prototype in its innovation center in Atlanta and invites moms and dads to approve the space with kids in tow. They walk through the unit as if they were really visiting. “If we realize a stroller can’t fit through the line at the counter or through the aisles in the dining room, we adjust the design,” Wells says. Smaller features also make juggling children and chicken sandwiches a bit easier. For instance, plastic place mats stick to the table, so that parents can cut food and serve it on a clean surface. Wells says parents also appreciate that they can keep track of kids at the glass-enclosed playground.
Some concepts, though, have special kid-friendly spots built into the design. For instance, Los Angeles-based Mendocino Farms has a communal place for kids to color. A dedicated area in each restaurant is full of small chairs, and it has chalk for children to draw on the blackboard hung low on the wall.
Beyond the dining room, operators are paying attention to other spaces. Brunch cafe The Coop in NYC stocks its family restroom not only with changing tables and toddler seats, but wipes as well.
The new swag
Operators are stepping outside traditional kids meal frills to engage kids during mealtime. While parents enjoy a cocktail at new American restaurant Firefly in Washington, D.C., kids are busy decorating cookies, which will be baked in time for dessert. Servers at Park Hyatt’s restaurant Living Room in New York City bring along a cart of complimentary food-focused books that kids can “order” with their appetizer, entree and dessert. “It provides intellectual stimulation that’s not an iPad and gets everyone back around the dinner table,” says Markus Puereschitz, senior director of food and beverage. Living Room partners with a publishing company that provides the books, such as “Can I Eat That” by Joshua David Stein.
While posting kids’ art isn’t unusual, Cooks St. Paul in St. Paul, Minn., takes it a step further. Every three months, drawings is selected from the entries and the artists’ names are put in the menu’s word search. To play up other partnerships, along with the winners’ names, the restaurant includes the names of local suppliers that send branded hats and mugs for Cooks to offer as prizes.