A longtime observer of the restaurant industry, I have a hard time turning off my radar when I eat out. A recent family vacation in southwest Florida proved no exception. Instead of sitting back and sipping piña coladas, I enlisted the help of my daughters and husband to conduct an informal survey of kids’ menus.
Over the course of a week, we visited a variety of restaurants representing myriad cuisines and price points, collecting kids’ menus along the way. We designed our own rating system, assigning crayons in lieu of stars, from one for lukewarm to five for outstanding. Here are some key findings from our less-than-scientific study:
Kids’ menus are increasingly creative — just as my children are outgrowing them. We were amazed at the variety of offerings and presentations we found. From black and white printed lists (Note to operators: These only warranted one crayon) to those crammed with educational information. Did you know that on the moon you would weigh one-sixth of what you weigh on Earth?
A menu from a private club titled “The Little Buggers $6 Food Menu” won a coveted five crayons from the entire family for its humor. Among its options: “All meals served with all-you-can-eat vegetables. We’re kidding, but we thought we’d try.”
The menu options don’t really matter — at least to the kids. In keeping with consumers’ growing health consciousness, one kids’ menu gave tykes the opportunity to choose from five food groups: proteins, vegetables, grains, fruit and dairy. Among proteins, along with the more standard chicken and hamburger, were salmon, fresh fish and steak. Vegetables included the expected carrots and the less expected cucumbers and tomato. My husband and I were quite impressed, bestowing the menu with five crayons. My youngest daughter ordered pasta with butter and Parmesan cheese.
Parents and children rarely agree. I know that you veteran parents are thinking, “Shocking!” But I gave five crayons to the innovative “A Young Diner’s Guide and Under Sea Adventure” created by the Ritz-Carlton, Naples.
The menu, on a colorful, weighty paper stock, is cut in the shape of a sea turtle and unfolds into three circles — one with legs and head — boasting food items, a maze, educational tidbits and pictures to color. Kids are encouraged to order by circling their favorite meal photo. My daughter circled pasta with butter and Parmesan cheese.
While the menu’s cleverness did not escape my youngest — she gave it four crayons — her big winner was the “Tour of Italy Passport to Fun” from Olive Garden.
That menu comes in the size of a passport and unfolds into a placemat with more than a dozen games and activities, such as tic-tac-toe, quick hits of Italian culture, mazes and questions to encourage family interaction.
For food, children create their own pasta, choosing a noodle type, sauce and protein, plus sides and drinks. We all enjoyed playing the “Mad Libs”-style “Sing a Song of Naples.”
And my youngest ordered pasta with butter and Parmesan cheese.