Anyone who has ever sat near restless children in a fine-dining restaurant knows that when kids aren’t happy, everyone hears about it. Chris Kuehn, chief marketing officer for the Raleigh, N.C.-based Golden Corral  buffet chain, says the key to keeping kids happy is to give them what they want: control of their own meals and the freedom to act like kids. While giving kids a looser rein can cause operational challenges for a concept, Kuehn says that appealing to kids is essential to Golden Corral’s family-oriented concept.
How important is the kid vote to Golden Corral’s success?
It’s critical. At the root, we are absolutely a family concept. That’s really how people use our restaurants. The core equities of our business are built around family and hardworking people looking for a great value. So we really cater to families quite a bit.
How do you appeal to kids and families?
It’s something that’s in the DNA of the concept. The buffet dining experience is really driven around variety, abundance and choice. And kids love to be in control of their dining experience.BONUS POINT
“It’s parents that drive kids to the restaurant, but it’s the kids that drive parents to the restaurant. Realistically, one is driving the car, but it’s the kid in the back seat telling them where to go. If you know that a restaurant is a good choice, you’re always willing to give in as a parent because you feel guilty that you’re not at home cooking them a homemade meal.”—Darren Tristano, executive vice president, Technomic Information Services, Chicago
From a psychological standpoint, kids are always being told what to do, when to go to bed and what to wear. Golden Corral lets children really be in control of their dining experience. Families like it because they feel comfortable bringing their kids in, and they can be kids and kind of have free run on the buffet. It provides some operational challenges, but for the most part we handle it really well.
What kind of operational challenges come up?
Well, with the kids we try to have guidelines. Like, if you’re under 10 you have to be accompanied by an adult. We just want to make sure that for our other guests who are without children it’s a good dining experience for them as well.
What kind of food appeals to kids?
Certainly, the macaroni and cheese is a real favorite, and the fried chicken and pizza. But kids are becoming more and more sophisticated from a flavor standpoint, so they’re going for the bold flavors like habanero and chile and things of that nature. The palates of young folks seem to be much more sophisticated than when I was 12 or 14. We also have kids taking our Bourbon Street chicken or our lemon butter tilapia. — [email protected] 
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