They’ve been called narcissists, entitled and the me-me-me generation, but when it comes to eating out, Millennials with kids are putting their children first. And, according to officials from market research firm The NPD Group, restaurants that wish to attract them should do the same.
According to a recent report from Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD, families with kids made 1.2 billion fewer visits to restaurants in 2014 than they did in 2008. For millennial families, those cutbacks are in part due to dissatisfaction with the menu choices for children. In the year ended September 2014, 28 percent of younger millennials (those aged 18 to 24) and 14 percent of older millennials (those aged 25 to 34), cited “not kid friendly” among their reasons for visiting restaurants with their children less often. Other top reasons for their continued cutbacks included “prefer home cooking,” “watching what I spend,” “bad economy” and “too expensive.”
What’s more, the majority of millennial families either let their children decide or decided as a family which restaurant to visit. Eighteen percent of younger millennial households with kids, and 16 percent of older millennial households with kids let the children lead the decision of which restaurant to visit. In 44 percent of younger millennial households with kids and 42 percent of older millennial households with kids, the decision was made jointly between adults and children.
What’s on (or not on) menus is a large part of the problem, NPD found. Only a third of millennial families say they are satisfied with the menu offerings for kids. While millennial families said their children predominately order from the kids’ section, they are looking for more options.
“Millennial households with kids want more options on menus that are not a kids menu stuck in a box in a corner of the menu,” said NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs. “Kids don’t want to order from the corner. There’s an opportunity here.”
When asked what section of the menu they’d like to see more options, millennial families overwhelmingly cited the “healthy section.” They also said they’d like to see more choices, such as small-, medium- and large- sized kids meals, combo meals and a la carte items.
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To bring families with kids back to the restaurant table, operators need to discover and deliver what these households want from their visits. Famous Toastery and Family Meal, two small but growing chains, share ways they’ve found to give families of all kinds more reasons to choose them.
The Famous Toastery (formerly Toast Cafe), a five-unit breakfast and lunch spot based in Charlotte, N.C., will do just about anything to accommodate its guests, 25 percent of whom are millennial families with kids.
Two years ago, in response to families repeatedly requesting reduced portions of main menu items, the small chain modified its children’s menu. They added a customizable breakfast combo to its menu of standard items, such as grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, burgers and silver dollar pancakes. The single flapjack, one slice of bacon and one egg combo is the most popular combo, while silver dollar pancakes are the best-selling kids item overall. Kids who prefer ordering from the main menu still can, and Famous Toastery will downsize both the portion and the price.
But at the Toastery, pleasing families with kids is about more than what is on the menu. The restaurant offers a variety of booster sizes for kids of all ages, coloring pages and crayons, plays family-friendly music and lets families know it’s okay for little ones to make a mess.
"It's not just about the food, it's about the experience, the service, the atmosphere,” said Robert Maynard, CEO and co-founder of the Famous Toastery. “We make everyone feel comfortable to just come and not worry about a thing."
Toastery’s family friendly approach adjustments seem to be a hit with diners, and the chain will open a several new locations in the coming months and has several more in the works.
At Family Meal, which has two locations in Maryland, chef and owner Bryan Voltaggio has created a concept dedicated to family dining that especially appeal to millennial parents and kids.
Voltaggio’s eclectic menu keeps the family meal in mind with sharable items, various culinary influences and familiar, but “better-for-you kids” dishes. By putting a Southern twist on some dishes, a sophisticated global touch on others and consistently rotating seasonal, local ingredients, Voltaggio has crafted a menu to please the palates of both parents and kids. Familiar classics, such as green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese and fried potatoes with dipping sauces, are among the selections specifically designed to share. And the “Happy Campers” section for kids 10 and under features kid–favorites such as spaghetti and meatballs, cheeseburgers and grilled cheese, served with healthy sides that millennial parents say they want.
Diners have taken to the concept so much that Voltaggio is opening two additional locations this year: one in Ashburn, Va. and another in Richmond, Va.