Katy Moses, MD at KAM, reflects on the findings from KAM’s latest research into the family dining opportunity for hospitality and why we don’t see kid’s meals on Instagram… (As seen in Propel Friday Opinion.)

“‘Beige’ is how many parents describe the current options for kid’s food in hospitality venues. ‘Boring’ comes a close second. Not two words I often hear associated with an outstanding customer experience in our wonderful sector.

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting some brand-spanking new KAM research at the 2022 RMI European Summit. The research, part of our 2022 Family Dining Report focussed on the evolution of the family meal and what both parents and kids want from pubs and restaurants when they go out to eat.

The family eating occasion has changed. Previous research carried out by Caterer.com tells us that families are eating out TWICE as much as 30 years ago, in fact, pre-pandemic, they made up 57% of restaurants’ revenue. 

There are 7 million households in the UK with kids between 0-14 years old and they eat out (as a family) 2.1 times per week, spending just under £40 each time on average. This equates to nearly £4,500 on family dining per household, per year. That makes them an incredibly valuable customer group!

Why don’t we see kid’s meals on Insta?

So does the standard children’s menu need a re-think? 65% of parents and 88% of restaurants admit it needs a shake-up. To re-iterate, 88% of operators… so we know there’s a problem, but we’re ignoring it? Perhaps we should be putting some of the hospitality industry on the naughty step.

To me, the kid’s offering doesn’t need a re-think. It needs a drastic change in order to keep this valuable group of people in our venues- not to mention to “woo” the customers of the future- neither of which will be achieved with dry chicken nuggets and chips.

Why do I rarely see kid’s food on Instagram? Simply because, generally speaking, it’s not good enough.

It may come as a surprise to many out there that, when asked why they liked eating out in pubs and restaurants, kids primarily mentioned ‘choice’ and… being with their family (no, really!) So why are we limiting their choice to “beige food”, why aren’t we taking the stress out of family dining to make it a great family experience?

“51% would like more nutritional food to be available”

39% of the parents we spoke to want the adult menus to be available to kids in smaller portions. I know there are margin challenges here, but I also know it’s possible. 51% would like more nutritional food to be available- we’re not talking a plate of greens, I’m a realist, not a sadist, but if we can manage to “hide” the goodness in kid’s food (vegetables blended into sauces etc) whilst still making it attractive to them, wouldn’t that be a step-up from where we are currently?

Do kids want a grown-up experience?

At RMI, the family dining topic certainly sparked some debate- and there were many questions that I didn’t get to answer, so I’ve answered a few below.

I was asked whether we have found that children prefer a more “grown-up” experience. Yes, absolutely- they don’t have a lot of autonomy in their day to day lives, so choice is important- and if they’re given a menu that just includes what I call “shut up” food- food that Mum/Dad chuck in the oven when they’re short of time, where’s the “experience” in that? Imagine being excited to eat out with your family and being given a tiny boring menu of XXX with chips and only being given a glass of water (40% of parents only allow their kids to have tap water when out as they don’t think there are enough ‘healthy’ kids drink options)- doesn’t sound like much fun to me, I’D probably be the one on the floor crying and banging my fists.

Is price an issue?

There was general discussion as to whether there’s any concern about creeping prices- what I want to stress here is that value is more important than price. And value ISN’T price, value is “was the experience worth what I paid for it”- parents want to eat good food, have a drink (or two), feed their kids decent quality, nutritional food that’s tasty and have a peaceful, fun couple of hours. No parent that we spoke to put price as a primary concern- so we, in the industry shouldn’t be- we should be ensuring “value”.

Help kids fall in love with eating and drinking out

With kids being more online-savvy, we believe that they’ll influence choice of venue more as time goes on- at the moment the decision to eat out, and where to go is predominantly controlled by the parent- though kids seem to have far more choice when it comes to choosing food/drinks once in venue. Staff service needs to be child focussed- make the kid feel like they matter, like their experience is just as important as their parents- after all, they may just suggest your venue next time the little darlings get to go out to eat!

I truly believe that improving family dining is a huge opportunity for our industry. Surely the 7 million households that are spending nearly £4,500 a year on eating out with their offspring deserve more than a plate of dry, flavourless nuggets!”

Katy Moses, MD, KAM

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