Consumer Trends

4 new ways to attract families to your restaurant

These promotion ideas offer a more sophisticated take on “kids eat free”.

Kids today have increasingly sophisticated palates—and their parents correspondingly expect more from kids’ menus than just chicken tenders, hot dogs or grilled cheese. In order to snag more dining dollars from parents and families, restaurants need to consider new ways to make the kids’ menu exciting, as well as how to make the overall family dining experience an enjoyable one—for everyone.

Value promotions have long been an effective way to get families in the door. Offering a “kids eat free” deal has been standard for many restaurants for a long time. But with more millennials becoming parents, families are looking for more sophisticated ways to engage with restaurants, leading operators to change up their marketing strategies. Check out these ways to revamp family value promotions.

1. Offer a parents’ night

Rather than focusing on the kids, restaurants can win families over and differentiate themselves from competition by offering perks to parents—such as free babysitting. Olive Garden, in 2015, offered just that, by partnering with 150 My Gym locations across the country and offering a free night of childcare. To participate, parents simply had to reserve a space at a My Gym location, dine child-free at Olive Garden, then show their receipt when picking up their children to have their deposit refunded.

Similarly, instead of offering a “kids eat free” promotion, try offering a “parents eat free” option. Moe’s Southwest Grill recently ran a promotion where adults received a free entree (up to an $8 value) with the purchase of a kids’ meal. Options such as these allow parents to save a few dollars more, since kids’ meals are typically priced lower than full-size menu items.

2. Create kid-friendly “flights”

At breweries, getting a flight of four or five craft beer samples gives consumers a chance to try several options at an affordable price. This strategy can easily translate to kids’ menus to let younger diners join in on the fun. For instance, offering flights of ice cream or sides can be a creative way to involve kids (and parents, who will undoubtedly share with the kids).

At Bruster’s Real Ice Cream, a nationwide chain, Waffle Bowl Ice Cream Flights were offered as an LTO during the month of March 2019. The option allowed customers to choose up to four flavors of ice cream, perfect for families with multiple kids—and perfect for helping to teach kids how to share.

Restaurants can also offer flights of French fries, waffle fries or puffed potatoes for a similar experience. As a bonus, these items can be served with a choice of dipping sauces for a customizable and interactive experience for young diners.

Allowing kids to customize their meals can mean big things for restaurants. According to a 2018 survey from Y-Pulse, a Chicago-based food-focused youth marketing research firm, 87% of kids like restaurants that let them customize their meals. By offering flights or customizable meals, restaurants are appealing to kids’ desire to choose their own (culinary) adventure—and when the kids are happy, everyone’s happy.

3. Build promotions for sports team celebrations

Family dining isn’t always limited to just one family. When kids are on sports teams, it’s not uncommon for groups to go out after a game or after a tough practice. Restaurants can set themselves apart and cash in on this opportunity by offering a 10% discount or a free beverage for families whose kids come in wearing their sports uniform.

Restaurants can also opt to sponsor a local team, which can involve posting banners at games, purchasing the team’s jerseys (and including the restaurant’s logo) or offering a raffle or giveaway during games. By positioning the brand as family-friendly and community-driven, restaurants can show parents there’s a place to go that’s fun for the whole family.

4. Expand on social media to gain attention of young families

According to a recent study from the McCarthy Group, 84% of millennials stated that they not only didn’t like traditional marketing, but also that they didn’t trust it. Ads on television or the radio aren’t going to resonate with them the way they did with older generations. To reach younger consumers, expanding promotions to social media is key.

Instagram and social media are today’s version of word-of-mouth advertising, so it pays for restaurants to hone their social media tactics, such as creating geotagged ads that can be sent to users who are in the area or using custom hashtags on marketing materials—hashtags that customers can post to their profiles (or search and view when they’re elsewhere). Operators could also look at partnering with social-media influencers to generate excitement.

By reaching out to millennial parents through channels they engage with, restaurants can feel confident they’re reaching their target market. And by updating family promotions to focus on kids’ lifestyles, as well as parents’ needs, operators can enjoy increased engagement and customer loyalty from young families.

This post is sponsored by Campbell's Foodservice


Exclusive Content


Red Lobster needs a buyer. How does Darden sound?

Reality Check: The casual dining giant sold Red Lobster in a cloud of controversy a decade ago. Here's why a return to the fold may not be as crazy as it sounds.


KFC goes portable and poppable to grab the snacking generation

Behind the Menu: Bite-size Apple Pie Poppers, created to target customers' sweet spot, lend themselves to line extensions to expand the chain’s snack selections.

Emerging Brands

5 pre-emerging restaurant brands ready for takeoff

These small concepts are still proving out their ideas, but each shows promise as a potential candidate for the next generation of emerging chains.