Kids’ menu: beyond nuggets and fries

By David Hopkins, President of The Fifteen Group

It’s no surprise that consumer eating habits continue to evolve over time. These changes are insightful for hotels and resorts in planning their food and beverage programs in particular. One demographic that frequently flies under the radar, though, is children.

Often not top of mind in the foodservice industry, children’s eating habits and preferences are not always catered to or reflected on menus. While adults will continue to make up the majority of customers in the average restaurant, it is imperative to evaluate your offerings for younger generations, in order to provide the best possible experience for families as a whole.

A Brief History of the Children’s Menu

Kids’ menus, for the most part, have always been fairly bland and mild, modelled after the preconception that all kids are picky eaters. In the beginning, when these menus first started appearing in the early 1900s, they featured dishes like soup, toast and lamb chops. As dining out was considered much more of a luxury than it is today, fewer children ate in restaurants and therefore, much less importance was given to creating special dishes for them.

For the past few decades, with the emergence of fast food and the growing popularity of eating out, kids’ menus have focused on comfort classics, like chicken nuggets, fries and grilled cheese. These are easy options — known crowd-pleasers — but, as consumers (parents) become increasingly health-conscious, it has become more apparent that these menus need a refresh.

Some restaurants have started making strides in this direction over the last few years; many in the quick-service sector are now offering low-fat milk and water as drink options with kids’ meals, as well as healthier sides like fruits, vegetables and yogurt. But, as 91 per cent of parents in a 2016 study indicated that they took their child to eat at a fast-food restaurant in the past week, further change is needed.

Where We’re at Today

Families are dining out, especially while staying at hotels when travelling, far more than they used to. According to Statistics Canada, households spent an average of $2,272 on restaurant meals in 2017, up from $1,963 just four years previously in 2013. With the growing trends of health-conscious diets and lifestyles, consumers today are looking for healthier, more nutritious options when dining out, especially when it comes to their children. As millennials become parents, this trend will only continue to grow.

Millennials have proven to value maintaining healthy, well-balanced diets more than generations before them, and this is something that they are passing down to their children. And, in addition to parents today holding nutritious food to a higher esteem, children are becoming more adventurous eaters. A 2018 study revealed that 36 per cent of parents said that their children enjoy eating international foods.

How Hotel F&B Programs Can Upgrade Their Offerings

In family-friendly environments, keeping children top of mind when considering menus, room service or reception offerings should be a no brainer. Dining out or travelling with kids is hard enough on its own, so providing nutritious — as well as exciting — food options will go far in creating a positive customer experience for families.

Hotel restaurants should strive to level the playing field between the regular menu and kids menu, offering smaller versions of standard dishes and utilizing fresh ingredients. Another way to make your kids’ menu more consumer-friendly is by making it flexible to modifications. Kids want to be in control of what they eat, so allowing alterations (to a certain extent) is a great step — especially for picky eaters.

Dietary restrictions and allergies are another factor to consider when menu planning for children. With dietary needs on the rise, food service businesses should take strides to accommodate this in their offerings. Swapping out frozen premade products in favour of fresh, higher quality ingredients will help serve guests with these restrictions.

In terms of room service, many consumers look to this menu for classic, comfort food options. Offering healthier takes on tried-and-true dishes is a simple way to make your menu appealing to, and suit more adventurous palates for kids and adults alike. Cauliflower mac and cheese, mild curries and burgers with unique flavours, like kimchi and miso, are all great examples of how seemingly simple comfort food recipes can be easily upgraded.

Although children are a minority in terms of restaurant guests, they are an important factor to consider when strategizing for your hotel’s food and beverage program. Updating your offerings for kids across your hotel’s food and beverage program will go a long way in keeping your menu relevant and more appealing for families.

About the Author:

David Hopkins is a restaurant financial expert with more than 30 years in the hospitality industry. He is specialized in menu engineering and systems and procedures to increase restaurant profitability.

In 2001, David Hopkins launched a consulting firm dedicated to maximizing restaurant profits through effective sales generation and disciplined cost control management. Over the last nineteen years, The Fifteen Group has grown to be a leading Canadian hospitality consulting company, with offices located in Toronto and Vancouver supporting clients from owner-operated establishments to multi-unit restaurant corporations.

David has recruited industry leaders to assemble teams of Consultants, Executive Chefs, and specialized restaurant Accountants who have supported more than 950 restaurants. Under David’s leadership, The Fifteen Group team has helped clients achieve more than 20 million in increased profits during this time frame.