Now ages 22 to 37, more and more millennials are getting married and having kids each year. More than 1 million millennials are becoming moms annually, according to the National Center for Health Statistics data, with U.S. Census figures confirming that nearly half of millennial women are mothers.
And that means a shift in this demographic’s habits. When it comes to dining out with kids, millennials often have different priorities than previous generations, according to Technomic’s Generational Consumer Trend Report. While sustainable sourcing, clean ingredients and unique menu items matter to millennials, once they become parents, they begin to seek family-friendly amenities and innovative family combo meals as well. Healthier, more diverse kids menus are a consideration, too, but so is a kid-friendly ambiance and attentive service.
Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics survey reveals that millennial parents put more emphasis on some of these variables than others when choosing a kid-friendly restaurant for lunch or dinner. These 13 chains, ranked from last to first, are their favorites.
13. Which Wich Superior Sandwiches
A total of 53.3% of millennial parents patronize Which Wich for the variety of its kids menu, and 53.7% for the sandwich chain’s healthier options. Respondents to the Consumer Brand Metrics survey also were very positive about Which Wich’s service and attention paid to families. “The staff was very friendly and helpful, and the food is amazing,” one mom said. Another said, “Everything was great, the area was clean, but what really pushed it to the top rating was how awesome the people [were] that worked that day. They were super-friendly and happy and really put in effort to make sure all our sandwich needs were met.”
12. Newk’s Eatery
Deli-style fast casuals offering fresh, high-quality food score well with millennial parents, with 54.7% favoring Newk’s for a family meal and 57.3% in favor of the menu’s variety. Newk’s better-for-you items also appeal to 54.2% of respondents. As one father said, “It’s an easy dinner during the week with my wife and kids. The food is great and reasonably priced.” Another dad remarked about the helpfulness of the staff: “The food was very flavorful and the service was quick. Staff went out of the way to help when our son dropped his meal. They replaced it without question.”
11. Perkins Restaurant & Bakery
This family chain menus Kid Perks meals, an attribute favored by 55.2% of millennial parents. Comfort food favorites such as pancakes and burgers make for kid-friendly choices. But it’s not the healthfulness or menu variety winning parents over—these characteristics ranked lower.
10. McAlister’s Deli
A varied and reasonably priced kids menu earned McAlister’s Deli high marks from 55.6% of millennial parents. More than 58% of this age group also values the chain’s healthy kids’ options. One mom said, “Love their pickles, their tea, lemonade and kids meal prices!” Another female consumer said, “I especially love that kids eat for 99 cents.” And according to one parent, “The food is excellent … and the atmosphere is clean. It’s a good place for my family to sit and eat.”
9. Captain D’s Seafood Kitchen
A little more than 56% of millennial parents favor this seafood QSR as a dining destination with kids. Although Captain D’s came in ninth overall, it ranked 9.2% higher with guests who visit with young children than with other customers. Parents also rated the chain higher for the availability of healthy options on the kids menu.
8. Joe’s Crab Shack
Although full-service Joe’s Crab Shack is more expensive than the fast casuals on this list, 57.2% of parents go for its kid-friendly ambiance and 55.8% appreciate the restaurant’s varied menu. In addition to its Small Frys menu for children 10 and under, Joe’s offers kid-size steampots featuring snow crab, shrimp, sausage, corn on the cob and potatoes, and a kid-size portion of snow crab. There’s also the ability to mix and match sides, and there’s a build-your-own sundae sandwich for dessert.
7. Marco’s Pizza
Marco’s came in as a top pizza choice over Domino’s, Blaze Pizza and California Pizza Kitchen, earning a positive rating from 57.1% of millennial parents. This demographic group scored the chain 11.8 points higher for kid-friendliness than customers of other ages, pointing to the menu variety as a prime attribute.
6. Texas Roadhouse
Millennials gave Texas Roadhouse a score of 57.8% for its kid-friendly atmosphere and almost as high a rating—56.9%—for the availability of healthy options on the menu. One mother said, “Every time my family and I go in and dine, it always feels like home. The food is wonderful and the service is great. Five stars to them.” Another millennial mom agreed: “Texas Roadhouse always allows my family and I to have a good time. Good food and a good atmosphere. We have never left a meal without saying that it was the best meal ever. Always good service too!”
3. Cracker Barrel
Almost 60% of millennial respondents ranked Cracker Barrel as a favorite family-dining destination, although older consumers favored it slightly more, giving it a score of 61.7%. The chain offers child-size portions of some of its signatures, such as buttermilk pancakes for breakfast and chicken and dumplings for lunch and dinner.
The only buffet concept to land on the list, Cicis scored points with 63.2% of millennial parents. Every Tuesday, the chain offers a 99-cent Kid’s Buffet with the purchase of an adult buffet. The Kid’s Night deal no doubt appeals to families with children, offering unlimited pizza, pasta, salad and dessert for less than a buck.
Coming in at No. 1 and more than five points ahead of second-place Cicis is Chick-fil-A, with 68.6% of millennial parents finding it a kid-friendly chain. What does this group love about Chick-fil-A for family meals? “The food is always hot and fresh. Employees give outstanding customer service and the environment is kid-friendly,” one mother said. “Chick-fil-A always has great service, great food, providing a great experience every time I go,” a dad said. Another mom summed it up succinctly: “Quality food, playplace, freebies and service.”