Beyond cups and crayons: How restaurants need to rethink the family experience

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For restaurants to stand out in a crowded marketplace, they need to consider how their brand resonates with families. As more millennials become parents and have young children to take into consideration when making dining decisions, restaurants must keep up with their needs. According to 2017 data from Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics, families have a 30% to 40% percent higher guest check than those dining without children. Kids cups, crayons, and coloring sheets are the cost of entry when it comes to enticing families—Millennial parents and their families want to enjoy a complete experience at a restaurant, which includes the environment, service, and an appealing menu.

“It’s important not to view your kids program through the lens of short-term commodity costs, but as a long-term, brand affinity strategy,” says Bob Heckert, president and founder of SPIRIT, a brand experience and product development agency whose mission is connecting brands with families. “Brands that make families a priority are establishing lifelong customers through repeat positive interactions.” Kid and family programs can offer a huge boon to a restaurant’s bottom line but are often put on the back burner by brand managers with many competing priorities. Heckert, a veteran of the retail and restaurant industries, launched SPIRIT over a decade ago to help fill that gap. The agency works as an extension of their clients’ marketing and operations teams and is dedicated to developing the comprehensive experience that helps capture increasingly elusive family traffic.

Embracing the Entire Family Experience

Technomic’s 2018 Generational Consumer Trend Report finds that 67% of consumers say visiting restaurants is a form of entertainment for them, and this is especially true of Millennials. “Experience is vital to capturing family traffic but shouldn’t be limited to just the meal itself. All brand touchpoints are important,” recommends Heckert.

Brands should start by defining their position in the market through research of their primary customer base and the competitive landscape. This will help them define their key differentiating attributes, whether they are unique menu items, attentive customer service or other qualities. These learnings should inform the kids’ program strategy and all of the tactical elements, from collateral to guest experience and advertising. Initiatives such as kid-focused local store marketing and limited-time offers can also help individual operators stand out in the market.

More Than Chicken Tenders

“Kids are savvy consumers—they sense very quickly if they’re an afterthought in the restaurant space. You’ve spent time and money developing a dynamic adult brand experience, but how does it translate to them?” asks SPIRIT’s executive creative director, Chris Evans. “It’s not just about creating kid-friendly collateral—it must be strategic, on-brand and above all, memorable. We strive to ensure that all of our products have a positive impact on kids. They’re going to remember a brand that not only entertained them but made them feel good about themselves.”  

“Traditional family-friendly collateral such as crayons, cups and activity books are always needed, but restaurants might also want to consider thinking outside the traditional paper placemat”, says Heckert. SPIRIT worked with McAlister’s Deli to develop a 16-page activity book, stickers, and crayons in a zippered pack that can be easily thrown in a purse or backpack. This unique approach extends the McAlister’s experience to the car, doctor’s office, soccer game, and anywhere else kids need to be kept busy.

A Reason to Believe

Millennials are savvy observers of corporate responsibility and according to a report from Give.org, 61% of parents encourage their children to get involved with a cause. This points to the importance of cause-based marketing partnerships. A cause partnership with a reputable kid- or family-focused organization can help develop customer loyalty and provide a variety of touchpoints throughout the year.

“Taking a holistic, investment-focused view of your family program is the key to your long-term relevance and success,” Heckert says. “Just like how we encourage our kids to be proud of what makes them unique, so should restaurant brands.”

This post is sponsored by SPIRIT!

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