How to attract families to your independent restaurant by engaging with kids (and making parents happy!)

Feb 14, 2024

Food service is a high stakes industry with plenty of restaurants competing for business in the same community. Knowing this, attracting families can be a game-changer for restaurants. One effective strategy is to appeal specifically to parents and their kids—yes, the kids themselves!—who will ask to come back to your establishment time and time again.

With Family Day coming up this weekend, we’ve got family dining on the brain—and you should, too. In this blog post, we’ll explore creative ways to attract families to your restaurant, including a special promotion in collaboration with Morton Food Service. For more information or personalized support, please contact us. Our skilled, dedicated team of food service experts is here to help and would be glad to hear from you.

Create a Kid-Friendly Menu

Start by crafting a menu that caters to younger taste buds. Include a variety of healthy, fun, and interactive meal options (for example, tacos they can assemble themselves or mini pizzas with a variety of toppings to choose from). Chicken tenders or pasta with cheese may be a must, but you can also have fun with kid-sized versions of fish and chips, grilled salmon, turkey burgers and other family-friendly dinner options. It’s also important to consider common childhood allergies and make your ingredient and exposure list clear for parents—this will be helpful and offer peace of mind. Remember, a happy child means a happy parent, and a happy parent is more likely to return to your restaurant.

Engage younger customers with fun activities

Want to help parents have a calm, enjoyable dining experience in your independent restaurant? Help them keep their kids busy at the table! Providing simple but engaging activities like colouring pages, word searches or look-and-find sheets can be incredibly helpful. In addition to these activities, consider offering some classic tabletop games such as checkers or tic-tac-toe. These games can be played as a family and encourages fun, quality time (which is a lot more pleasant than wrangling antsy kids at a table). You can even offer a selection of booths with retro Nintendo consoles or other video games built into the wall, or an area with old-school pinball, foosball and other games. (Just make sure there’s a low volume setting on any electronics so this feature doesn’t disturb other patrons.) If you’re catering to older kids, consider having an indoor basketball game or air hockey in one corner of the restaurant. A lot of parents will get up to play, too!

Organize awesome themed events

Ask any kid about their favourite superhero, movie character or cartoon and we bet they have an enthusiastic answer! By tapping in to what’s popular, you can attract families to your restaurant and help keep their children entertained. This may involve hosting themed family events that include special activities and menu items related to popular kids’ movies, characters, or holidays. For example: a superhero dinner or princess brunch with themed decor, food and entertainment such as a live-action character who visits each table. Promoting this type of entertainment is a great way to get families to book a table!

Create a family-friendly environment

This advice may seem obvious, but it’s easy to overlook if you don’t have young kids yourself. Ensure your restaurant is welcoming to families from the menu to the facilities and everything in between. This includes having high chairs and booster seats available in the dining room, and adequate changing facilities in every washroom. If you’re in an urban setting where many customers walk to your restaurant, ensure that strollers can access the entrance safely and easily. Creating a kid-positive space may also mean installing a small play area where kids can be entertained while waiting for their meals, or creating a lending library where parents can grab books and games to use at the table. Consider the needs of your customers and determine what works best for your restaurant!

Help families celebrate birthdays in style

A birthday is a big deal—especially when you’re a kid! Offer to celebrate birthdays or other milestones with a special treat at the table. While some restaurants will have their servers sing to the birthday kiddo, others will bring a slice of cake with a sparkler candle—anything goes, as long as it feels thoughtful and fun! Personal touches like these make children feel special and encourage repeat visits. If your restaurant has a private dining area that’s family-friendly, consider promoting birthday parties in your establishment. This works best if you can offer a set price for kids meals, a birthday dessert and some tabletop entertainment (colouring pages, birthday hats, etc).

Train your staff to be family-friendly

Your staff should be friendly and welcoming to every customer, but it’s important to make sure they know how to speak to kids. Remind them to be friendly, use age-appropriate language and be ready to take cues from each child (engaging positively with a chatty child, not pushing a shy child to talk, etc). They should be ready to offer any colouring pages or other kid-friendly items your restaurant provides as soon as the family is seated, and to bring any apps or meals over as quickly as possible. This will go a long way with parents, too!

Connect with parents on social media

Parents often use Instagram and other platforms on a daily basis—so make sure you are, too! Use your social media platforms to showcase your family-friendly environment. Post pictures of kid-friendly dishes, family events, and the winners of the colouring page competition.

You may also want to consider partnering with local parenting influencers to promote your restaurant. They can share their dining experiences with their followers, providing authentic testimonials that resonate with other parents.

Partner with local schools and sports teams

There are plenty of opportunities to partner with local schools, youth organizations and sports teams, whether that means donating a prize to their school raffle, sponsoring a team for the season or offering a standing discount to families associated with specific schools or youth organizations. Our reps can offer advice on what will attract families and offer maximum return on investment. Not only do these relationships build community with local families, they demonstrate your commitment to giving back. It’s a good thing for everyone involved!

Develop a loyalty program for families

Parents love a good deal! Consider creating a loyalty program specifically for families in your community. This could include rewards like a free kid’s meal after a certain number of visits, special discounts on children’s birthdays, or exclusive family-friendly event invitations. Your independent restaurant can also offer specially priced family meal deals and bundles as a great way to attract parents looking for value.

Seek feedback and use it to improve

Once you’ve implemented some of these strategies, your team should actively seek feedback from families to understand what is working and what can be improved. Not only will this boost customer engagement and offer valuable feedback, these questions show that you value customer input and are committed to providing a great experience for the whole family.

Partner with Morton to give out a $200 gift card to Toys R Us

Are you interested in a giveaway from Morton Food Service? We’d be pleased to help you set up a colouring page competition that gives your customers the opportunity to win a $200 Toys R Us gift card.

Attracting families to your restaurant can significantly boost your business and is worth the planning and effort required. By focusing on what children enjoy and providing value to their parents, you create a win-win situation. The Morton Food Service colouring page promotion is a perfect example of how a simple, engaging activity can draw families to your restaurant and turn them into return customers, and we’d be more than happy to arrange this for your independent restaurant. Please contact your local Morton rep if you’d like personalized recommendations or help implementing these strategies. We’d be glad to hear from you and are always here to help.