An inviting children’s menu can be the difference between frequent family diners and parents who limit their visits to nights the babysitter is available. In an era of health-conscious dining and mindful spending, we looked at how the innovators in the industry are enticing the younger crowd.
Ruby Tuesday Inc.
Offering better-for-you food is a primary objective at Ruby Tuesday Inc. Andy Scoggins, vice president of culinary and beverage at the Maryville, Tennessee-based restaurant company, works with his team to create dishes that not only give kids a wide variety of foods to choose from, but also, he says, are “balanced and have a good selection of fruits and vegetables, along with proteins they can feel good about eating.”
Their menu still includes longtime favorite chicken tenders, but french fries are no longer listed as a side option (they’re available on request). “We’d rather just list the things we believe are a little bit better for our kids to eat,” Scoggins says. He reports favorable feedback from younger diners on the healthier fare and says he’s seeing more of them go for the pastas, grilled chicken, fruits, and veggies.
Ted’s Montana Grill
The bison meatloaf on the kids’ menu at Atlanta-based Ted’s Montana Grill is “awesome,” says Chris Raucci, the company’s corporate executive chef. Bison aren’t routinely treated with the hormones and antibiotics that cows often receive, and it contains less cholesterol than all but the leanest ground beef.
At Ted’s, the meatloaf is paired with mashed potatoes and squash casserole to create comfort food that’s tasty and still good for the kiddos. “It’s something hopefully they get at home, and then we’re doing it a little better, a little healthier,” he says.
Embracing more wholesome choices, such as providing apple slices or a fruit cocktail in place of fried foods, is something Raucci sees as an evolving trend within the industry. The same thinking applies to the beverage options at Ted’s. “We try to stay away from soft drinks,” Raucci says. “We’d rather give them a glass of water, fresh-squeezed lemonade, or milk.”
George McKerrow, co-founder and CEO of Ted’s, maintains that kids enjoy eating like adults, especially when they go out. “A kid would rather have a really nice piece of salmon or a crab cake or fresh-made food that is healthy, nutritious, and well-balanced much more often than people give them credit for,” he says.
Not only do kids appreciate the tasty, somewhat exotic fare at Ted’s, but McKerrow says the children’s menu has also received immense approval from parents.
“I have watched our guest satisfaction ratings go skyrocketing over that issue,” he says. It’s worth noting there’s one children’s menu staple that Ted’s just hasn’t been able to shake: the chicken tender. “We tried to take the chicken tenders off,” McKerrow confirms. The result, he says, was “mass rebellion and a major loss of guest satisfaction.” The tenders remain on the menu.
The Kids LiveWell program, a collaborative effort of Healthy Dining and the National Restaurant Association, provides a set of nutritional criteria restaurants can follow to create menu items that qualify for the program. Anita Jones-Mueller, president of San Diego-based Healthy Dining, says an increasing number of restaurants are shifting their children’s menus toward healthier foods, typically by “including more fruits and veggies, whole grains, and lean protein, plus cutting calories and portion control.”