Restaurant Visits Decline by Families with Kids

Restaurant visits by families with kids declined by 2 billion during the recession, and full-service units were hit hardest.
Restaurant visits by families with kids declined by 2 billion during the recession, and full-service units were hit hardest. thinkstock

Restaurant visits by families with kids, defined as familes with children under age 13, are trending downward, finds a new report from The NPD Group. According to “Parties with Kids: Motivating More Visits,” families with kids made 1 billion fewer visits to U.S. restaurants over the past six years, while visits by adult-only parties dropped by just 306 million.

Full-service restaurants experienced the majority of the losses of family visits, accounting for 70 percent of all declines from 2008-2013. Traffic losses were observed for both lower- and higher-income households.

Restaurant visits by families, which represent $83.7 billion or 20 percent of total restaurant sales, have dropped across all segments and meal periods, with supper hit especially hard. Specifically, in 2008, at the start of the recession, families with kids made 16.6 billion visits to restaurants. That number plummeted to 14.5 billion as the recession wore on, leveling off in 2010.

“[It’s] a loss of over 2 billion visits,” Riggs says. “We lost considerable volume.”

Families say the main reason they are staying away is they are watching what they spend, and it costs too much to go out with the family. During the recession, families became accustomed to eating at home more, Riggs says, adding, “It takes a lot to get them out of the home and back into the restaurant.”

The question restaurateurs need to look at is “how do we re-attract families with kids,” Riggs says. “The competition is no longer just other restaurants down the street; families with kids increasingly use retail supermarkets for convenient, ready-to-eat meal solutions.”

Restaurant owners also have to take note of the influence the youngest members of the family have on choosing where to eat; the older they get, the more influence they have on the type of restaurant they go to, Riggs says.

According to the report, children want different menu options as they age. While the kids’ menu in a full-service restaurant is okay for the youngest set, children six and older aren’t interested in the kids’ menu. Instead, they want to order from the regular menu.

Six percent of children 2-5 years of age order from the regular menu, compared to 22 percent of children 6-10 years old and 43 percent of children 11-12 years old. Mom and dad, however, don’t want to spend upwards of $10 on a meal for an 8-year-old.

“This presents a challenge, and an opportunity, for full-service restaurants,” Riggs says.

The report, which provides data as well as strategies and tactics restaurants can implement, indicates that families want value for the money they are spending. They want a kid-friendly environment, where their children feel especially welcome. They are looking for convenience. And they are looking for menu offerings that work for the entire family. 

To bring families back to the restaurants, and not just for special occasions, “restaurateurs have to re-engineer the menu—they have to make it work for all age groups,” Riggs says.

By Joann Whitcher

News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by FSR, Food News Media, or Journalistic, Inc.


I recently saw an article about a restaurant in Calgary, Alberta that offered a 10% discount to families who brought in "well behaved" children. Granted, there aren't that many today, that are well behaved, but it might start a trend!

Too many "children friendly" restaurants are more like "unstructured play areas that serve food". IMHO :-)

Restaurants need to be more responsive to the rising number of food allergies in children. Those allergies severely limit restaurant options as so few places accommodate them consistently. When these families find a place that is welcoming they are loyal and regular customers and recommend it to others.

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