Instead of handing pint-sized patrons some crayons and a menu to color, many restaurants are now using creative ways to keep children entertained while they and their parents are dining.

When Firefly Restaurant in Washington, D.C. began providing an activity to keep young diners busy and expanded its children’s menu, revenue increased.

“We have really grown our family dining segment and are now filling seats at earlier dining times which previously sat empty,” says executive chef Daniel Bortnick.

Here are three ways to entertain young diners:

Give the kids a space to play

Keep children happy with play area in your restaurant. Moe's Original Bar B Que in Eagle, Colorado,has a toddler play area inside the restaurant that’s complete with a play kitchen and other toys.

Older children can often be found climbing in a tree outside where their parents can watch them as they finish their meal.

When kids are done eating at Home Team BBQ on Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, they can head outside to the fenced area behind the restaurant. Owner Aaron Siegel hung up chalkboards in an unused outside area for kids and provided plenty of sidewalk chalk. “Parents come here because they can watch a game while their children play outside with other kids,” Siegel says.

Let them play with their food

When children sit down at Firefly Restaurant, their server gives them an unbaked gingerbread cookie and a ramekin of chocolate sprinkles.

While waiting for the food to be prepared, the children decorate their cookie and then the kitchen bakes it for the child to enjoy after his or her meal.

If you serve pizza at your restaurant, you can give kids a ball of dough and toppings so they can make their own pizza. You could also set up a dessert decorating station, such as the cupcake bar that Jsix Restaurant in San Diego offers for holidays and special events.

Entertain with technology

A surefire way to keep kids happy is to put a video game in their hands. Some restaurants that use iPads let children borrow the tablets while they are waiting. Other restaurants, such as Mellow Mushroom at Ballantyne in Charlotte, North Carolina, have select tables with video games and internet built in for families to watch YouTubevideos and play games together.

On most evenings, you can find kids happily playing Connect Four and other games on one of the 10 video screens on the sushi bar at the Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar in Charlotte, North Carolina.

One of the games lets kids and adults create their own fish character, which then swims on the video screen for the whole restaurant to see.

“Parents and kids alike love it. Some parents will play the games with their children while others will have a bit of adult conversation while their children are entertained,” says owner Marcus Hall.

By Jennifer Gregory

Industry News