Missed Manners

Children wield power in family-dining decisions, but restaurants could exert some friendly influence.

The night before I received an email titled “Summer Camps to Teach Children Restaurant Etiquette,” my husband and I had dinner at an upscale-casual Italian restaurant.

A family of four at the table beside ours was celebrating the dad’s birthday. Dressed up for the occasion, the two children—who looked to be between 7 and 10—had come prepared, armed with their e-tablets.

In theory, those devices were for quiet-time entertainment. (Really, who needs dinner conversation?)

Quiet was certainly not part of the game plan, as the little girl refused to turn off the sound on her device—so each time she scored points, we were all treated to a victory jingle. She was clearly an experienced gamer, making for a very long dinner.

The concept of teaching children restaurant etiquette sounded long overdue the next morning when I read that email.

Families with young children are a key demographic for most casual-dining restaurants, and increasingly, families with young children visit upscale-casual restaurants.

A recent study conducted by Y-Pulse validates the influence children wield in family-dining decisions. After surveying 500 boys and girls, ages 8 to 13, Y-Pulse determined that 41 percent of children say their parents choose where to dine out. However, 36 percent say the family either makes the decision together or takes turns letting different family members, children included, pick the restaurant.

As for what appeals to children, there were some surprises. For instance, when asked to name their favorite beverages, children ranked soda and milk almost equal at 16 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Ironically, if they named drinks by brand, Coke was a favorite among 11 percent, but Pepsi was named by only 4 percent.

Pizza, preferred by 34 percent of children, was the favorite food, followed by chicken, at 18 percent, and burgers, at 15 percent. Of course, these preferences could be a reflection of what exists on kids’ menus, not necessarily what children would like to have on their menus.

However, the survey also indicated children are not adventuresome diners. Forty-three percent say they will sometimes try new dishes but most often they stick with their well-known favorites, and 33 percent say they only order their favorite dishes.

What this means for restaurants is that operators who pay attention to children’s likes and dislikes stand a better chance of attracting families, and those who find ways to engage the family will enjoy even greater success.

No self-respecting 10-year-old would willingly embrace a camp about restaurant etiquette, but perhaps learning appropriate table manners could occur unobtrusively with other promotions: Feature a child-size portion of a more-daring adult entrée on the kids’ menu, and reward children who branch out beyond the kid-friendly favorites. Offer a contest for kids to suggest new menu items. Host family-oriented Trivia games in early evening or weekend hours.

By giving families more reasons to enjoy the dining-out experience, you may turn the tables on annoying behaviors.

read more