When I’m out with the family and we’re looking for somewhere to eat the quality of the kids menu can be the deciding factor in where we choose to eat.
I argue that getting children’s menus right makes good business sense as often the party consists of all the children, grand parents etc, so good business.
Speed of service!
This is absolutely key to parents surviving lunch with their sanity. Children waiting 40 mins for a meal can seem like an eternity for them. It is possible, of course, to take iPads, colouring books and reading books to keep them happy. This can be tricky though, if they are going to sit there on a Nintendo rather than talk to everyone else. I always try and book a table near the beginning of service (around 12 o’clock) as hopefully you should be able to get ahead of the table of 10 that may be booked in before you if you have a 12.30 reservation!
A smoothly run kitchen and efficient waiting staff are also key. Ask for recommendations on your local Facebook groups which are specifically for Mum’s as they will understand how speed of service is important. An efficient kitchen and servery system in a restaurant/café will ensure children are not waiting too long. I would recommend The Shamble Café and Bistro in North Walsham if you are in Norfolk. North Walsham is my home town and it was great to see such a high quality café/bistro open there. They have a great childrens menu including pizza and pasta and child size portions for most things on the menu. A brilliantly fitted out place using commercial catering equipment designed and supplied by Elite Food Service Design who are a Commercial Kitchen Design Consultancy.
Do you need a children’s menu at all?
It depends on your menu but often having a clear policy on your menu explaining that you’ll happily do half or third portions or customise dishes for children can be a good solution. This will be fine in most cases but do make sure that the menu has some simpler food that’s not to hot and spicy for little ones.
Don’t put anything on the kids menu that you would be embarrassed to have a restaurant critic review. For example most kids love chicken nuggets, beans and chips. This can be done really badly at the lowest cost by buying in frozen nuggets, beans and chips but you probably wouldn’t want to eat this yourself. On the other hand you can execute this dish really well with freshly breaded chicken, hand cut herby Tuscan diced potatoes, freshly made baked beans or creamy coleslaw and salad. Done well you should be proud scaling the dish up to an adult portion size and giving it to an adult restaurant critic.
Five ideas for a kids menu
- Sausage, chips and beans: This can be done well with a good quality high meat content sausage, roast potato wedges instead of chips and good quality low sugar / low salt baked beans.
- Meat balls in tomato sauce: This can again be done well using fresh unprocessed meat. Lamb, beaf or turkey are ideal. This avoid the high sodium and phosphate content that can be found in processed meat. Homemade tomato sauce can also be great. Mix this with wholemeal pasta and a side salad. This is also easily scaled up or down depending on the age of the child.
- Salmon and new potatoes in a bag: Small cuts of Salmon in a restaurant can be quite economic. Cook in a foil bag with baby new potatoes, homemade tomato sauce and green beans. This can be served with a small side salad and some potatoes wedges.
- Sausage and seasonal mash: Source a good quality high meat content sausage. I suggest you avoid anything too strongly spiced or with too many herbs. The mash can be mostly potatoes but you can mix in other seasonal veg. This can be made interesting for children by marbling or making patterns on the plate with the different types of mash.
- Jacket Potato: With a choice of fillings.
The other problem with children’s menus is variety. I would urge every chef to have at least one seasonal item on the children’s menu. This may be best done by switching in a seasonal fruit or vegetable.
Keeping children entertained while their food is being prepared.
Parents won’t return to a restaurant with their kids if they don’t perceive it to be family friendly. If you want parents to bring their children back to a restaurant time and time again you need to find ways to make the whole thing as friendly, stress free and uneventful as possible.
Some places do this well with children’s packs containing colouring pencils, sheets etc. It’s always helpful if the waiter can make it clear how long the wait is likely to be. This gives the parents time to get the children to the toilet, hands washed and settled down before the food arrives.
It’s always nice when the restaurant brings out some nibbles to keep the children (and adults) entertained while waiting for their food. Good quality, freshly prepared mini bread rolls with butter and/or dips is great. You can also bring out some tasters of some of the other food on the menu. It’s a great way to introduce children (and adults) to some of the other tastes and options on the menu for their next visit.
Children’s drinks menu
Good restaurants will put a jug of fresh tap water on the table. As most parents will know children will probably drink whatever you give them within seconds of it arriving on the table and well before their food arrives.
I look for a good selection of fruit juices that can be mixed with the jug of water at the table. This lets the parents dilute to taste for the child and also reduces the acidity levels on young teeth.
Whatever you do make sure you have low sugar and naturally sweet drinks. Try and avoid sugary fizzy drinks.
It’s also worth having a good hot chocolate on the menu so that the children don’t feel left out after a meal while the adults have a coffee. Possibly also one scoop of ice cream or a child’s size brownie. I notice a real difference to a ‘child size’ portion 2021 to the 1980’s when I was a child. I little treat is one thing, a mound of ice cream is another.