Trends in Kids’ Dining: Secrets to Winning Parents

If you’re looking for increased loyalty, higher check averages and repeat business, you need to woo Mom & Dad

How do you attract families and keep them coming back? You have to win over the parents. Parents have purchasing power—families with kids made 1 billion fewer visits to U.S. restaurants over the past six years. Restaurant visits by families, which represent a whopping $83.7 billion, or 20 percent of total restaurant sales, have dropped across all segments and meal periods, with supper hit especially hard.1 The opportunity lies in figuring out how to capture that business. The key? Better kids’ menus, customer service and value perception.

We tapped Julie Casey, aka the Restaurant Mom, for her insights on what motivates parents when choosing restaurants. She’s a consultant, working with restaurants and hospitality groups on their family marketing strategies, and she’s been identifying parent dining hot buttons since 2007.

1 NPD Group, 2014

Julie Casey’s FOUR Strategies on How to Attract Mom

Although it’s important to appeal to both Mom and Dad, Casey underlines the urgency of answering Mom’s needs.

“In addition to her purchasing power is her influencing power,” says Casey. “When kids are given choices of where they want to go, it depends on which parent is also going.” If it’s just Dad, she says, then they tend to choose the more indulgent

options. “If it’s Mom, the kids tend to choose the restaurant they know makes Mom happier. For Mom, going out to eat serves a nutritional purpose.” So how do you get Mom to spend the money with you? Here are four fixes to consider:

1 Offer Better Kids’ Menus

Make your kids’ menu a priority. “How many people have a kids’ menu that you would order from?” asks Casey. “ Please do something about your kids’ menu. It’s no longer just adding grilled chicken as an option because now Mom just thinks you’re lazy. Now she thinks you don’t care. Kids are more culinarily advanced than we have ever seen. They’re doing spicy. They’re doing Asian. They’re doing Mexican. Take advantage of that and get those butts back in your place. Get rid of the chicken nuggets—especially if you don’t even have fried chicken on your menu. Kids are eating sushi, and they’re starting as young as 3 and 4.”

2 Be Nice to Her and the Kids

It’s astonishing that this needs to be addressed. After all, customer service is all about being nice, is it not? Though according to Casey, Mom feels undervalued and underserved. “She doesn’t want to deal with how she’s treated by the servers. She doesn’t want the hassle—that’s another reason visits are down: Because for her it’s a hassle. Just be nice. If you provide good service and good food to her kids, not only will she come back more often, but you are on her short list because all of your competitors are not doing that.”

3 Give Her Good Value

Parents respond to strong value propositions, and they view value as fair pricing for quality food. “Value for the money is another component to this,” says Casey. “It’s different for a mom of younger kids versus a mom of older kids. What we know is that kids around 7 are starting to trade off of the kids’ menu—they want to order from Mom and Dad’s menu. Mom and Dad say, ‘You can’t. It’s so much more expensive. The portion sizes are too big.’ There’s a huge value gap between trying to feed kids that want the bigger stuff and feeding them the younger kids’ food. And there’s a huge opportunity to create a two-tier kids’ menu. That’s part of the value story: What are you offering? What’s included? What’s the portion size? How many choices do I have? Because choices drive value.”

4 Give Her Quality

It’s not all about price for parents. In fact, if you offer quality kids’ menu items, parents are willing to pay more—and they’ll likely order more. “We asked, ‘What are you willing to pay for a kid’s meal that includes a side and a drink?’ In 2007, Mom’s answer was $3 to $4. Now it’s $5 to $6,” says Casey. “She’s willing to pay for quality. The parents that we talk to say, ‘If I’m having a good time, and my kids are chill and the service is good, I’m ordering a dessert, I’m ordering an extra glass of wine.’”

build check average


Seventy percent of families say when they go out to eat, they invite another family with kids to join them,” says Casey. “You’ve just taken a group of three or four and turned it into seven or eight. How do you get those check averages up? Right there.”

Stop the Drive-By

How far are moms willing to drive to a kid-friendly restaurant? When Casey asked this question, the most common response was between 10 and 15 miles. “They are driving past 15 to 20 restaurants to get to the one that’s kid-friendly,” she says. “Mom wants an experience worth remembering. She wants to feel special, but she feels the least special out of all the guests coming into your restaurants.”