To raise a new generation of restaurant-loving customers, entertainingly educational initiatives might be more effective than the banishment of younger patrons.
— Angelica Frey
The juxtaposition of the words “children” and “restaurants” usually goes hand-in-hand with provocatory headlines about businesses banning young customers from a certain hour onwards or willingly failing to provide accommodations such as high chairs, with the owners claiming that business thrives because of these policies.
Maybe it does for some. But the restaurant industry is far from being a child-averse environment — and we’re not talking about places catering to kids specifically. In fact, there are plenty of family-inclusive establishments that do great business for everyone. The key: creating an environment where both families and child-free diners feel comfortable.
Perlot in Portland, OR, which offers global-inspired fare, has a distinct restaurant and lounge area, both comparable in size. Children are allowed in both spaces, with some exceptions. “We do offer live jazz music in the lounge on Fridays and Saturdays, during which children are not allowed in the lounge, but are allowed in the courtyard, which is opened up during good weather,” says co-owner Eric Schindele, “[It’] s just as easy to enjoy viewing and hearing the music as in the lounge.”
His restaurant gradually evolved into a family-friendly location: while children were always welcome in the restaurant area, the lounge was for adults-only at first. “We then realized that the family demographic was more important to build our business model around,” he explained, due to the fact that their neighborhood is strongly family-based. “The family demographic is a strong foundation of our business.”
Voltaire, a French-American bistro in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, has a similar disposition: they’re happy to fit strollers in their space when occupancy allows it and have four high chairs available. They’re in the process of rolling out a program consisting of movies in the backyard and small bites on Tuesdays afternoons.
“It’s that weird time of day parents talk about, between 4 and 6 pm, as in, ‘What do I do with kids at that time?'” Voltaire co-owner Rob Morton told Skift Table.
Accommodating families shouldn’t come at the risk of the rest of your clientele, he cautioned. “If you actively pursue families, you’re turning away another portion of the crowd,” he said, referring to the neighborhood’s mix of young professionals and families. “As of right now we have a good balance.”
It would be wrong to think that this is a prerogative only of neighborhood restaurants in family-friendly metropolitan areas. The Williamsburg Hotel, for example, offers a high-tea service (so far, the only in Brooklyn). “When my children were young we would go have high tea at the Plaza Hotel. Tea has always been about slowing down and making time to connect, an important part of family time, which becomes increasingly challenging in our fast-paced world,” said Toby Moskovitz, who owns the Williamsburg Hotel. “We have brought High Tea to Brooklyn to allow families and children to savor the elegance of tea service while enjoying the company of family.”
The New ‘Kid Food’
Beyond an accommodating environment and entertaining experiences, though, restaurants are also striving to appeal to younger crowds when it comes to food offerings, the main reasons being a general refinement of the average American palate and the growing tendency of families to have their spawn in restaurants.
“We are starting to see less of a differentiation between “kid” and “adult” palates,” says Joey Worley, the director of food and beverage at Windsor Court Hotel’s The Grill room. “If the adults have sophisticated palates, generally speaking, their kids will as well. Not to say that kids are feasting on foie gras and lobster, but there is a good chance that if mom and dad are enjoying items such as those, the kids will likely be enjoying a medium-rare steak or nicely cooked piece of fish.
At Del Frisco’s Grille, the sister brand of the more formal Double-Eagle Steakhouse, the environment is family friendly, even without a dedicated children’s menu. Children are fond of the lollipop chicken wings served buffalo style with blue cheese crumbles and house-made avocado ranch dressing and truffled mac and cheese.
“Although American cuisine is at the center of the Grille concept, we made sure to incorporate elevated, fresh ingredients and creative twists into our kid-friendly dishes to appeal to both kids and their parents,” said concept chef Shawn Quinn.
At Galley in Hilton West Palm Beach, the kids’ menu consists of dishes that children already recognize, such as pizza, but garnished with upscale ingredients, such as artisanal cheeses and lobster. The restaurant’s best seller? The “Lobster Thermidor” Pizza, topped with with crème, arugula, and blend of Mozzarella, Boursin, parmesan cheese, and Maine lobster.
Those initiatives are not limited to food only. Michelin-starred restaurant Plume in Washington, D.C. also decided to introduce children to the pleasure of pairing food with beverages, by rolling out a child-friendly cocktail cart.
“The concept of the cart originated from the growth in young diners at Plume,” said restaurant manager Sean Mulligan. “As they tag along with their parents and elders, kids with access to the cart feel like they’re part of the complete, Michelin-starred Plume experience.” If they choose a crudité dish, for example, they’re offered the so-called Cuvée No. 25, a sparkling juice with organic sloe plums, aronia berries, pears and currants.
“Having the cart and sitting next to the dressed-up adults helps them feel respected, breaks the ice and encourages them to continue the experience throughout the rest of dinner.”
Angelica Frey is a writer living in Brooklyn by way of Milan. Twitter: @angelica_frey