A few months ago, there were several national restaurant chains that found themselves in the media spot light for reasons they would have preferred to avoid: serving alcohol to kids by accident. Last year a North Carolina restaurant posted a sign that read “screaming children will not be tolerated.” Just this week a Pennsylvania restaurant announced his ban for any children under the age of 6.
When the alcohol incidents occured, I refrained from comment – I used to work in restaurants and understand how it can happen. Although they were terrible accidents, they served as long-overdue wake up calls for some places to change their operational procedures. Then when the North Carolina restaurant posted their sign, I quietly provided my opinion on the matter. However, with the latest publicity from poor handling of situations with customers with kids, it’s time I weighed in.
As a kid-friendly restaurant consultant, I work with restaurants to help them realize the value of the family consumer, what it means to the bottom line and how easy it really is to serve this customer and make their employees and other customers all happy at the same time. I’m not trying to sell anything, it’s just the way it is and I know so from many years of research and conversation with parents who take kids out to eat as well as the restaurants that serve them. So as The Restaurant Mom, industry consultant, a voice for the consumer, and mom of 2, I see both sides of the idea of banning kids from restaurants.
On MyKidsPlate we fully recognize that there are kid-friendly restaurants, there are restaurants better for what we call grown ups night out, and there are restaurants that are a hybrid of both. Patronage of restaurants is determined by consumers on many things including the food, the atmosphere, and the location. Some restaurants are located in areas that have higher demographics of seniors, for example. Some restaurants are pretty clearly, by their branding and atmosphere, not geared for dining with young kids and that’s ok too. Different strokes for different folks, right?
To some extent I agree with the Pennsylvania restaurant owner that some parents have become ‘too selfish’ and think this is their world and the rest of us are living in it. I’ve seen those parents myself who let their kids run all over the place, scream and holler, and the like. However, I am getting really tired of hearing people from the non-kid population put all parents with kids into this proverbable bucket that all kids act in such a way. The reality is that it’s not all parents with kids that go out to eat and in fact, it’s less than you would think. But because the ones that are so loud or out of control are so noticeable, it seems bigger than it really is.
Restaurants have a dual role when it comes to serving the public: it’s providing good food but in an environment that the people eating it want to be served in. Consumers today are more individualistic than they’ve ever been, putting themselves into their own social groups. This can be seen clearly through social media especially on Facebook and tools like Meetup. The point is that restaurants have been slow to change their marketing strategies to be geared more specifically to the consumers they want in their restaurants. These different consumer groups have different hot buttons about where they want to eat, what they want to eat, and how they want to enjoy it.
In many cases of kids being loud or running around, it’s because they’re bored. If some of these restaurant experiences weren’t so boring, you wouldn’t see as many kids distracting the other guests through their noise or behavior. You hear it all the time, we are in a media overloaded world. Is there really any doubt as to why going out to eat at a boring restaurant can be boring for today’s kid? If restaurants don’t want kids running around and ‘being loud’ than turn up the volume, literally and figuratively. Restaurants that want families as customers (they do spend more than diners without kids) should be doing certain easy things to enhance the experience for the kids which ultimately makes it better for everyone else. Activity sheets are a good place to start but if they are lame, it’s pointless. Sports bar themed restaurant are popular because they are noisy. But if a restaurant doesn’t want families with kids, then it’s the restaurant’s responsibility to create that environment within the restaurant. A ban based on age for an entire population is inappropriate and over the top. Ultimately it is a punishment for those parents who do their job in teaching their kids how to behave and act appropriately.
Last year I was contacted by a mom who said she was banned from a Chicago area restaurant because her kid was crying. When I contacted the restaurant to get more information, I ultimately heard the “two sides” of the story. In this case, the restaurant manager asked the mom to step outside with the crying child because she was getting complaints from other people in the restaurant. That is how it should be handled and done so with dignity and respect. Each restaurant should have a policy for how they will handle those situations and be consistent with it, not discriminatory. Banning people, based on age or for any other reason is a slippery slope we should not go back down. Seniors can’t be banned based on their age. Do we really need to go there with kids? Personally, I think there is a better approach.
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June 16th, 2011The Restaurant Mom
Rather than reading text this week, I wanted to get creative and try something that hopefully would save me some time. It didn’t quite save me time but it was fun. My pick of the week for this week is
June 16th, 2011The Restaurant Mom
The Tijuana Taxi Company is a fun tex-mex place. The colors are bright and the servers are sweet. Tijuana Taxi Company’s dining room is filled with treasures that will keep the kids entertained while you eat. There’s a real VW beetle hanging in the dining room along with dancing Mariachi’s and life size hot sauce bottles! On Sundays, Bobby the Balloon Guy entertains with AMAZING balloon figures and DJ Rockin’ Rich keeps it jumpin on the patio with music for their weekly car show. They’ve got food for everyone: authentic Mexican cuisine to good ole’ fashioned cheeseburgers and fries. Stop by anytime for great food and family friendly fun!
Follow the link above for the location nearest you and to download a coupon for $.99 Kids Meals and $5 Off any $25 Order.
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June 1st, 2011The Restaurant Mom
What a pleasant surprise CRAVE turned out to be. I have been to this restaurant a few times and it certainly has appeal as both a kid-friendly restaurant and one for grown ups night out, depending on when you go – of course. From the outside and from their website it almost seems to chic to go there with kids but the variety on both menus (adults and kids) may serve to change your mind. The appetizer menu includes a range of items with a twist like tempura chicken nuggets, kogi beef tacos, and seafood flatbread. Then their entrees include everything from a surf & turf, to grilled ahi tuna and a chicken stir-fry. Let’s not forget the pasta. We shared the Lobster Macaroni and the Baked Cheese Penne both of which exploded a fireworks display of flavor before melting off into the sunset of my belly. Next time I go back I’m having flatbread and sushi.
Kids at CRAVE. Sunday nights are kids eat free, one per paying adult and CRAVE offers a wider variety of kids menu items than most casual dining restaurants I’ve seen. Sure, they have the traditional favorites of chicken tenders, pizza, and mac-n-cheese but have you ever seen a Sushi Cone (cooked snow crab, sushi rice, and sweet soy reduction in a crepe cone), Shrimp Guppies (cooked shrimp, sushi rice, and sweet soy reduction) or Smelt Roe Sailboats (smelt roe served in a cucumber sailboat)?
If you haven’t been to a CRAVE yet, give it a try. I hope you will be as pleasantly surprised as I was. Check out their listings on MyKidsPlate.com to see their kid-friendly listings, a video and directions. If you’ve been to any of these locations, you can also rate them on these pages.
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Last Thursday I didn’t feel like cooking. It had been a long day at work and I picked up my kids late from after-school care so I bribed good behavior with a trip to a restaurant I had been meaning to take them to for a long time. I sure wish I had found it before now!
About six months ago I was contacted by the owner of a new restaurant called The Flying Pizza Company. After plenty of missed visits and follow-up phone calls to the owner, I made a secret shop visit to this little treasure on East Colonial Drive in Orlando. I had no idea what I was in for but boy! am I glad I finally visited this mom-and-dad-owned restaurant.
Upon walking through the front door, we were greeted by a friendly employee who told us we could sit where we wanted. I quickly noticed the restaurant was decked out in flying decor – hence the name The Flying Pizza Company. There were planes hanging from the ceiling, planes for kids to play with, and many Squadron badges tagged to the walls. As a former Air Force Reserves brat, I was loving it and knew my dad would appreciate it even more.
Immediately after choosing our table we noticed a flat screen TV in our booth; in fact, there was one at every booth. Before even asking us what we wanted to drink, the ever attentive server asked my kids what channel they wanted her to put the TV on. They asked for the Disney channel and while the server was gone noticed the kid at the table next to us had their TV on Nickelodeon. Without missing a beat, the server realized what was going on as she approached the table and told my daughter she would be right back. Suddenly our TV was on Nickelodeon. My daughter didn’t even get her sentence out and the server was already fixing the “problem.” The beam of happiness from my daughter melted away my bad day. It was as though Cinderella herself had just arrived at dinner.
When the server came back she asked us if we had ever been there before. We told her that we had not and she asked my kids if they knew how to write their name. Pointing to the paper on the top of the table, she asked them to write their name, which they did, with pride spewing from every pore of their body. After they did, she read their names out loud and then said “My name is R-O-N-N-I-E” as she spelled it and pronounced it for us. She then told my kids “if you need anything just ask me.” I almost fell out of my seat. Am I getting punked? Where are the hidden cameras?
I ordered my kids a small pizza to share which only turned out to be $6! - $5 for the pizza and $1 for the sausage on one side that my son likes. That’s cheaper than McDonalds. As we waited for their pizza to cook and the hubby to arrive, my kids enjoyed the play area at the back of the restaurant. It had table-sized checkers, more airplanes, books about airplanes, and an array of other games to keep them busy. Then my kids came back to take a sip of their half fruit punch/half water drink. When they did, Ronnie, almost on cue, brought over gummie candy slices of pizza to bribe the kids with. She showed them the candy as though she was going to give them to them and smartly handed them to me saying, “I’m giving these to your mom for later because I’m sure she wants you to eat your dinner first!” WHAT? Where did Ronnie the server goddess come from? My kids have never been so excited about cleaning their plate and that was even with all of the the fun distractions to entertain them in the restaurant! It’s pretty rare that I’m speachless and this was one of those rare moments.
The kid’s pizza came out shortly thereafter and it was served very hot. In most restaurants I would ding them on this but since The Flying Pizza Company has so much to do, it worked out great. I told them to entertain themselves while the pizza was cooling off and then it was time to eat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my six-year-old eat that much pizza in one sitting. She even ate her brother’s with sausage on it and she never does that.
In addition to being TOTALLY KID-FRIENDLY, The Flying Pizza Company is a great value too. We ordered 2 pizzas, a large and a small, adult drinks and an appetizer and got out for under $40! Hello!!!! I would have paid $20 alone for the service. I can’t say enough about The Flying Pizza Company and neither can my kids. They have asked me every day since “when are we going back.” The answer finally I have for them: “tomorrow!”
The Flying Pizza Company 13212 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando, FL 407-380-6664
Tell them The Restaurant Mom sent you.
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There are so many of them out there now: Ale House (Miller’s and Carolina), Buffalo Wild Wings, Buffalo Wings & Rings, Bru’s Room, Duffy’s, Beef O’Brady’s, and Scotty’s Brewhouse, just to name a few. Sure they have a bar but can they also be kid-friendly? The Restaurant Mom says “yes!”
What’s so appealing about this type of restaurant for a family? Well, a number of things.
To begin with, just like ANY restaurant, sports themed or not, they have to provide good service. Parents everywhere are really tired of going out to eat with their kids, mostly well-behaved, spending about $50 of their hard-earned money with each visit, and getting bad service. What gives? Why can’t a server talk to my 6 year old and ask HER what she wants to eat? She can talk and we’ve most likely already discussed what she’s allowed to have or not have by the time the server takes the order anyway. I am telling servers now, “if you just speak with my kids and treat them as human beings instead of a disease I just brought in your restaurant, I will tip you more- for that one action!” We ate at a Big Boy recently and although the food was barely edible, the server was FANTASTIC!!!! You know why? She engaged my kids by speaking to them! Even with bad food we tipped her 30%.
By design, sports-themed restaurants have advantages over some other restaurants:
- The TV’s – kids of all ages like to look at TV’s. Notice that I said look and not watch. Sure they like to watch but they will look at a TV just for the sake of looking as it is an activity for their eyes which can correlate to 5 minutes that mom or dad get to eat hot food. And seeing something on that TV may even spark an impromptu conversation between parent and child. My three-year old son thinks he is a sports fanatic, already. While eating at one of the above mentioned restaurants, he noticed that someone scored a basket during the Magic game and proclaimed it so loud that I think even patrons at the restaurant next door heard him. This event prompted a conversation about sports between my husband and our son that may not have otherwise happened if we hadn’t been eating there at that moment. A memory!
- The noise – most parents are timid about taking their kids out to eat to restaurants where there is not a decent level of noise. When the kids act up or get noisy themselves, it is the parent who is embarrased when the restaurant is too quite. At a nice noisy sports themed restaurant, I don’t have to worry about that as much and it relieves some anxiety about going out. Remember the basket my son celebrated? It didn’t matter that he was so loud and celebrating because he blended in with the environment.
- The bar – I am not in any way endorsing excessive parental drinking out at an establishment with their children. However, the reality is that many parents like to have a beer or glass of wine with their dinner, especially while dining out with kids. At a sports-themed restaurant, we don’t look like some creep trying to get our drink on because we blend in with the environment of other patrons having one with dinner.
- The video games – for the most part, many restaurants have provided a few of the more “rated G” video games in their sports-themed restaurant. If you are one of these restaurants and you do not have some “rated G” games, you are missing the boat. Focusing on your adult patrons for video game usage is a mistake as most are more likely there to enjoy a sporting event. When parents take their kids to your establishment they are hoping you have something decent the kids can play. If you do, and you place it where I can still see my kids while I sit down, then I’m droppin several dollars into that machine and more importantly I’m potentially leaving happy because I got a couple minutes of peace to eat my food.
- The menu – sports-themed restaurants tend to have one of the broadest menus around; there is usually something on it that will make every member of the family happy. And smart sports-themed restaurants even have a couple of healthier options choose from. However, they better be good. As a mom who makes the decisions about where we go out to eat, if I order something healthy from your menu and it was bad, I’m going to your competitor that offers better healthy menu selections. Healthy can taste good, I promise!
With all these advantages that specifically target the hot buttons of family diners, why do these types of restaurants not want families to eat there? I wish I knew. What I do know is that it doesn’t take much to make my family and I happy when we go out to eat and if restaurants started treating families with a little bit more respect, I know that increases in revenues and repeat visits would be the end result.
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