Are you really doing all you could to keep your tiniest customer happy? Even though they might not be the ones footing the bill, in many families, toddlers have the most power in deciding which restaurant will earn the family’s patronage. If they are not happy (and therefore screaming or causing a scene), then neither is the rest of the family, the restaurant staff or the other patrons.
The Child Development Institute, a California organization whose mission is to be a clearinghouse for “information, products and services related to child development”, created a list of seven ways to keep toddlers busy and entertained in a restaurant. We’ve grouped these ‘parent tips’ into two categories so we can look at how your family restaurant win over the toddler crowd.
Maintain the Family Environment
The CDI’s first suggestion tells their readers to ‘choose a family-friendly restaurant‘ – a place where a moderate amount of family noise and activity is expected. If you want to be a family restaurant, show your customers that you welcome the whole family. Create a wholesome looking exterior and interior free of questionable decor. How about your seating arrangements? Many parents will judge your ‘family environment’ by the type and quality of your children s seating. Do you offer the basic plastic booster seat, or have you invested in a more upscale option like the Kidsitter that we profiled in June? Don’t forget your restroom. What’s your baby changing option? You don’t want to think of the alternative.
How about your children’s menu? The CDI tells parents to choose restaurants that serve simple food options that toddlers will enjoy. While “fast food” type meals are not always the healthiest – they admit that for the occasional dinner out, finger foods like chicken nuggets and hot dogs will usually ensure their toddler will enjoy themselves.
The next tip tells parents to order their children’s meal at the same time the adults order their drinks. Toddlers sometimes have problems dealing with the down time before their food arrives. By ordering their food early, the toddler will be occupied with eating while the rest of the family is waiting for their meals. Do your servers offer this option?
Keep them Entertained
Still, there will be dead time before and after the meal, and the toddlers will insist on attention. The CDI provides several tips to parents on ways to keep them entertained. If space allows, a family restaurant could consider investing in some play equipment. A full-fledged McDonald’s PlayPlace is not necessary. The CDI says to look for restaurants that offer something as simple as an area with “blocks or other toys for children to play with.” Central even offers a selection of child-height activity tables that can be placed in a corner or waiting area.
No space for toys? The CDI suggests a simple walk around the restaurant to burn off some toddler energy. Is your dining room layout too cramped for a little exercise?
The last two suggestions offer ways to keep toddlers entertained at the table. From little ‘bags of toys’ like crayons and coloring books to educational place-mats, these are little items that can keep children of all ages content and occupied.
Pulling It All Together
Of course, even after providing the right dining environment and offering all the child amenities, the task of keeping a toddler occupied and content at your restaurant lies with the parents and there may be times when you or your staff need to get involved on behalf of your other customers. Remember to approach the situation calmly and look for ways to smooth the situation. Offer additional activities or ask parental permission to serve the child a complementary scoop of ice cream or other treat to keep them happy. Even with a temperamental toddler, there is still opportunity to earn a repeat customer.