Tips for child-friendly dining

by John Jones | Feb 02, 2023

Parents with children are increasingly looking to spend their quality time on family-inclusive activities, including eating out at restaurants. For restaurateurs, there’s a great opportunity here to generate more business, provided they have done their homework and built-in what kids and parents want.

In this short blog, we’ll have a quick look at five things guaranteed to make the family happy.


Children can have pretty low attention spans, which is when they can get a little – how shall we put this? - loud. Inattentive, bored children can quickly be judged as “badly behaved” by other diners and that’s a tag that restaurateurs don’t want attached to their business or in online reviews. Food fights and tantrums are hardly the stuff of dreams for mum & dad’s family night out, either.

The answer lays in providing some kind of entertainment to occupy the children in those moments. We’re not suggesting you dress as a clown and start juggling at the table – you’re far too busy for that – but simple things kept nearby, such as felt-tip pens and paper, some safe toys or even cartoon-ready (and drop-proof) tablets, will do wonders.

Prep the staff

Some staff will be naturally “good” with children, others not so. The trick here is to operate a no-surprise regime, which is exactly what it suggests. If the family with children have visited previously, general observations and kids’ preferences will have been recorded in the restaurant’s reservation software, in line with all applicable data protection and safeguarding rules, obviously. By looking back at this data, staff will be able to better plan for their needs this time around.

It does make sense to allocate the family table to staff with a natural flair for dealing with kids, but even if that isn’t possible restaurateurs can take some simple steps to mitigate against children kicking off, such as asking the parents if the kids need high chairs or booster cushions, speaking directly with the kids and not making a fuss if they spill blackcurrant cordial on your white table linen. Train staff to anticipate what might happen, and be ready with solutions beforehand such as knowing where the above mentioned toys, games and pens are kept.

Child-proof tableware

If the kids have indeed soaked your best table linen with blackcurrant cordial, this bit of advice is rather late for you – but you need cups or glasses with spill-proof lids. Okay, one of these ingenious devices hurled across the table is still going to make quite a mess (and a spectacle to be remembered for years to come) but a smart lid will reduce much of the damage. It’s not just about table cloths, either, because such incidents do have a habit of causing disruption to service and the other diners in general. Get some lids.

Plates and cutlery need to be unbreakable, too. Bamboo is a much better material than plastic and will earn restaurant owners extra points from green-friendly diners when they come to review their meal online, and it goes without saying that glassware is a no-no. Cutlery, too, should be right for little people, so make it small and light (and blunt).

Child-proof everything else

In order to get a great reputation in the world of family, and more specifically, child-friendly dining restaurants need to have thought of everything. There’s nothing more annoying for parents nor embarrassing for restaurant personnel than not having an essential piece of child-friendly kit. If a request for a high chair is met with an “er, I think we might have one in the cellar” followed by the appearance of an tennis umpire’s perch, something is awry. Kids are consummate consumers of food, too, so they want to be comfortable and content during their meal, which means they need the same creature comforts as adults but in miniature.

Restaurants need to think about the availability of chairs, cushions, bibs & napkins, changing areas and cleaning materials, too (the latter by the bucket load).

Cater for kids

As an avid foodies and restaurant-cum-software people ourselves, we sometimes cringe at the kids’ menus often found on the high street, simply because they are so unreflective of modern thinking. Sure, children will always make a bee-line for chicken nuggets and fries (and why is that, we ask?) and a little bit of what they fancy ill do them good in moderation. But restaurateurs who believe that carb and fat-heavy foods constitute an acceptable kids’ menu are missing the point, because (a) it doesn’t and (b) it shows the parents how out of touch the restaurant actually is. Cue two great opportunities for reputational damage, poor reviews and no repeat business.

First off, restaurants should offer their well-crafted menu online, so parents can pre-select what their kids will eat. If an online booking arrives and includes kids, what’s not to like about the parents receiving an email or call asking the obvious question: what do your children like to eat?

Second, menus need to be satisfying, nutritious and healthy but at the same time, fun. With a pre-set, pre-agreed and pre-ordered menu, chef can plan for the preparation of healthy and engaging dishes which children will love. And what chef doesn’t like making smiley faces in their food?

Coming back to what goes on the menu, a great mid-point between fast food and healthy food can be obtained by swapping out unhealthy ingredients for healthy ones. Turkey burgers with roasted sweet potato fries, anyone?

Finally, don’t forget to make portion sizes appropriate for small mouths. We’re not just talking about specially created child dishes such as the one mentioned above, either. Increasingly parents like to encourage their kids to eat what mum (or mom, for our US readers) and dad eat, so providing scaled down but nonetheless adult dishes can be a great idea.

Wrapping up

If a restaurant owner wants to build their business with family dining in mind, they need to think carefully about catering for children. What is obviously a well designed and thought-through child offer – from equipment to menus to well trained staff - will do wonders for reputation and repeat business and reviews. A little bit of restaurant technology will help, too.

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