A look at menu and marketing strategies aimed at making chains more family friendly
As parents spend more time with their children during the summer, restaurants have the chance to help families grab dinner during vacation or celebrate a Little League victory, but recent trends show that eateries could capitalize on the opportunities if they respond to kids’ and parents’ evolving needs.
“Kids are different today than they were a decade ago,” said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant analyst for consumer market research firm The NPD Group, in a May report. “They want to grow up fast and don’t want to be thought of as kids. Moms are also more concerned with the foods that their kids are eating. Restaurant operators and foodservice manufacturers understand this and are offering more varied options on kids’ menus, downsized portions and healthy alternatives.”
Of the restaurants featured in the Top 75 Kid-Friendly Restaurants list published last month by OpenTable.com, chains featuring a varied American-fare menu as well as specialty cuisine garnered top ratings as a suitable choice for families. Japanese concept Benihana made the list, for example, and Italian chain Buca di Beppo did particularly well, with 25 of its 86 U.S. locations making the list. Not Your Average Joe’s had six of its 17 restaurants make the top 75 as well. The brand’s kids’ menu has standard choices like fingers, pizza, and mac and cheese, but also more grown-up options like sirloin tips and balsamic-glazed salmon.
Take a look at some more chains that are successfully catering to kids with their menus, as well as chains that have retooled their marketing to become more family friendly.
Continued from page 1
Raising the bar on the kids’ meal
In order to fit maturing tastes among young consumers and to push back against criticism from nutrition activists, McDonald’s has updated the contents of its Happy Meal. The standard offering in Happy Meals now includes apple slices, a smaller portion of French fries and low-fat milk.
Other chains have also worked toward more healthful versions of their kids’ meal items, such as Chick-fil-A and Uno Restaurant Group, which began offering children grilled chicken nuggets and applesauce and white whole-grain pizza, respectively, this year.
Chick-fil-A joined the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell initiative this past May during the NRA Show in Chicago, along with Applebee’s, Mimi’s Café, First Watch and Which Wich. Other restaurant brands like Au Bon Pain, Burger King, Chili’s, Cracker Barrel and Outback Steakhouse were among the first to join the NRA’s program.
Separately, Chuck E. Cheese’s and Domino’s Pizza have rolled out pizzas with gluten-free crust to address not only the need for more healthful items but also to accommodate young diners with gluten intolerance.
Continued from page 2
Refreshing the marketing message
Chuck E. Cheese’s had advertised itself for years as the restaurant “where a kid can be a kid,” but the restaurant has made several changes to its marketing to appear fresher to children — and their parents. This spring the chain began shifting ad dollars away from TV and toward radio and digital campaigns, to capture kids’ attention on new platforms and pitch its food and experience to parents, rather than rely on the children to pester their folks to take them for pizza. In addition, the brand gave its eponymous and a hip makeover and featured him in new "Chuck E. rocks" commercials that launched in early July.
Last March, Rita’s Italian Ice represented a different type of cool in its first TV campaign ever. The commercials introduced kids and their parents to the Cool Treats Gang characters representing its products, from Italian ice and frozen custard to the Misto and Blendini beverages.
Unlike Chuck E. Cheese's and Rita's, McDonald’s is shying away from emphasizing a mascot in TV commercials these days. In March, McDonald’s said all marketing campaigns aimed at children would include active-lifestyle messaging. The brand’s current campaign toward kids is Champions of Play, which promotes active lifestyles and features swimmer Dara Torres as a tie-in to McDonald’s sponsorship of the Summer Olympics. The chain is adamant, however, that Ronald McDonald remains an “ambassador for good” and is central to the company’s Ronald McDonald House Charities for sick children.
And declaring itself the “Unofficial Sponsor of Summer,” Boston Market is also seeking to encourage active lifestyles among kids this month by offering a free dessert to any child visiting its restaurants wearing a uniform of a team sport.