July 15, 1997
Can you cater to kids without alienating adults? Maybe - if you
pitch to families, rather than children exclusively.
By NANCY BRUMBACK
are a powerful part of the dining decision, not only for fast-food
restaurants, but also for casual-dining chains that appeal particularly
to families. The lengths to which restaurant operators go to win
the kids' vote range from a limited children's menu and a coloring
placemat all the way to ShowBiz Pizza Time's Chuck E. Cheese's playground-with-restaurant
for the preschool set.
The decision to appeal to children can be a profitable
one, as Arctic Circle Restaurants in Midvale, UT, discovered. The 47- year-old
chain with 90 restaurants serves burgers, sandwiches, and salads, plus
milkshakes and malts. It claims to be the first chain to offer a kid's meal
package as such, but, notes Gary Roberts, president and CEO, "we did not
have heavy usership among families with younger children, instead appealing
more to the 32-45 crowd."
After a customer survey with store remodeling in mind,
Arctic Circle decided to try a direct appeal to those younger families. About a
year ago, the chain added a glass-enclosed playground area running about 750
sq. ft. to two stores it was remodeling.
The results have prompted Arctic Circle to plan such
playgrounds for all new stores and remodels. "Average sales in those two
stores are up 36%-over the first
nine months the sales increases ranged from 32-50%," Roberts says.
Attracting the family crowd has also produced sales increases closer to 50% in
dinner daypart business and on Sundays.
"Sundays were 40% of a normal day for us. In the
playground stores, Sunday business is up 70-80% from the normal business,"
"Before January 1996, kids' meals were about 4% of
sales, now they're 6.5- 7%, and went up to 14% during an Easter
promotion," he says.
did cut the price on its kids' meals, from $2.59-2.99 to $1.99,
causing some concern among its franchisees "since a $1.99 kid's
meal is a very high food cost," he acknowledges.
But, Roberts points out to franchisees, the company's
research shows "the average ring with a kid's meal is $13.50. Without a
kid's meal, it's $6.50. If you get a kid, you've got a family."
The equipment, purchased from a supplier to school
playgrounds for durability, costs about $30,000, plus the addition of the
700-1,000-sq.-ft. area to the 3,000-sq.-ft. typical Arctic Circle.
To Roberts' surprise, adding the playgrounds did not
significantly affect insurance costs. "The liability is based on the
square footage," and insurance for the playground area costs the same per
square foot as the rest of the restaurant.
Arctic Circle added playgrounds at two more restaurants
this spring and expects to have 10 remodeled by year-end. "All new stores
will have them," he adds.
MAKING A RESTURANT
appealing to children obviously will attract their parents as well.
At the Rainforest Cafe, "16-18% of the menu items ordered are
off the children's menu," says Jean Golden, director of marketing
and public relations for the Hopkins, MN, company. Families with
children are a big part of the company's business.
notes Ron Pal, president of Technomic, the Chicago consulting firm,
"is to do it without alienating the customer who would rather
not be around children, maybe with a separate family area."
Restaurant operators also
need to consider what age group they are trying to attract, says
Paul. "It's a moving target, with perhaps video games for older
kids and game rooms for younger ones."
Sid Good, president
of Good Marketing, a Cleveland consulting firm specializing in marketing
to children, notes, "for years people have been following the
McDonald's model-appeal to the kids and the rest of the family follows."
"But with a sit-down
restaurant, where the check may be a little higher, it's just as
important the parents have a good time. Restaurants shouldn't miss
the opportunity to make parents happy directly," Good says.
RESTAURANT OPERATORS tend
to agree. Jon Rice, VP of marketing - at ShowBiz, notes Chuck E.
Cheese's restaurants have upgraded the pizza quality and added a
salad bar. "Parents go to Chuck E. Cheese's because the kids
have fun. It is not an adult experience, but it has to be acceptable
to the gatekeeper. Generally, parents' expectations are low and
they are pleasantly surprised," says Rice.
"People go to Peter
Piper as a reward for the kids and as a family bonding experience.
If the kids don't have fun, the experience won't work," comments
Robert Selby, VP of marketing for Peter Piper Pizza, Phoenix, where
about 80% of the dinner business is families.
"But our image and
decor are not kiddy. It's very mainstream family - upbeat, fun,
bright." And, the quality of the food is important: 30-50%
of a Peter Piper's volume is take-out; evidence families aren't
just visiting for the video games.
Virtua Café, an entertainment
concept with rides, video games, and virtual reality stations, opened
in March in Coconut Grove, FL. It is an over-21 destination after
9 p.m., "but the family is a very important part of our business
during the day, particularly Week-end days," says president
"We are planning to
market Sunday as Family Day," with extra activities appealing
to kids, he notes. "It's too early to tell what percentage
of our business is with kids. I'd guess 20-30%."
Good suggests several ways
restaurants can increase their appeal to families with children.
"Look at the entire dining experience and identify opportunities
to engage the family," he says. "For example, if there's
a long wait for a table, how do you entertain the whole family?"
Coloring placemats don't work at that point, and waiting in the
bar is fine for adults, but not for children.
Once the family is seated,
Good would opt for "entertaining stuff to do at the table"
rather than children's activities, such as game rooms, away from
the table. "Those involve adult supervision and parents don't
want to have to search for the kids and be jumping up and down."
In addition to kids' menus and placemats, he suggests restaurants
explore options such as puzzles and games.
"In food presentation,
do fun things with straws, cups, plates, and garnishes. It's the
whole reason for being there." Finally, "fun desserts
are especially important for kids, but also for the adults, though
they may not admit it. Part of the experience is indulging in something
special," Good says.
The element of fun is essential,
Good emphasizes, noting the increased use of fun to sell products
to adults, "particularly in the automobile market, where the
image used to be performance, now it's performance with fun."
Restaurant operators take
a variety of approaches to key elements of catering to the kids'
market-from children's menus and premiums to the entertainment aspects
to hosting birthday parties. They've also come up with a number
of ways to promote their children's business, particularly getting
involved with local schools.
no room for gourmet on children's menus.
MOST young children are
not adventuresome eaters, and most children's menus acknowledge
that fact. The basics predominate- hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken
fingers, pizza, and pasta.
The creativity comes in
the presentation, from clever names for meals to puzzles on the
menu. Restaurants also are experimenting with the way kid's meals
are packaged and priced. Offering prizes or premiums is another
aspect of the kids' dining experience.
Ground Round Restaurants,
in Braintree. MA, has moved away from its strong children's orientation
in past years, when it included such promotions as children's meals
priced at a penny per pound of the child's weight. The 163-restaurant
chain is now positioning itself in both its Ground Round and new
and future format, Gold Fork, as a casual-dining experience.
The children's menu is still
important, however, and Ground Round expanded it last fall, developing
a kid's menu with photographs of each item, so non-readers can still
choose what they want. The menu also includes an erasable drawing
pad to entertain young customers until the food arrives.
Ground Round developed kids'
entrees that are easy to manage, such as miniburgers and hot dogs,
fusilli pasta instead of spaghetti and the pizza sliced in advance.
NEW KIDS' DESSERTS were
added to the menu. There's the Ooey Gooey Flower Pot-chocolate pudding
and crushed chocolate sandwich cookies in a take-home flower pot
with artificial flower and gummy worms -and the Wiggly Jiggly Worm
Island- blue gelatin, whipped cream, sprinkles, and gummy worms,
with a take-home umbrella.
Friendly Ice Cream Corp.,
Wilbraham, MA, has long appealed to children and their families
with its variety of ice cream desserts. About a quarter of the business
in Friendly's 707 stores involves kids, notes Vivian Brooks, a spokesperson
for the chain.
The chain recently
introduced a new kids' menu that combines food and ice cream into
a package for easier ordering. The kids' meals- entree, drink, and
sundae-are priced at $3.49, and Friendly's is testing a $2.49 price
on weekday evenings to build family dinner traffic.
Two new sundaes were developed
to go with those packages. The Monster Mash combines mint chocolate
chip ice cream with candies, hot fudge, whipped topping, and a cherry,
while the Volcanic Explosion has an inverted vanilla ice cream cone
with whipped topping and hot fudge cascading like molten lava down
the side of the ice cream cone.
At the Pizza
Factory, an 86-unit chain based in Oakhurst, CA, the kids' meal
package includes a paper automobile with a piece of pizza bread
and a coloring book and crayons in a pizza wedge box to amuse children
until the pizza arrives.
"Our menu has a lot
of fairly fast things, because that's important with children,"
notes Nikki Van Velson, operations director. Bread sticks and a
salad bar also make the wait easier.
RAINFOREST CAFE, notes Golden,
appeals to children because of its very concept-dining in a rainforest,
complete with thunder and rain, live parrots, animatronic animals,
and its environmental emphasis. Recently, the company introduced
eight proprietary animal characters that are initially being used
on apparel but eventually will appear in stuffed animal versions
in the restaurants' retail shops.
menu is basic, with meals priced at $3.95 and $4.95. The entrees
are given fanciful names - Buried Treasure is a peanut butter and
jelly sandwich, and there is Planet Earth Pasta and Gorilla Grilled
Peter Piper, notes president
Ron Petty, is focusing on value in its predominantly pizza menu.
"For a family of four, there's a large, two-topping pizza,
four drinks, and 40 game tokens for $18.99."
"Our large, one-topping
pizza is about $5 less than the competition, We don't lose business
to Pizza Hut," adds Selby.
Peter Piper is currently
testing a Value Pack deal in five Utah restaurants, with pizza,
drinks, and a choice of 40, 60, or 100 attraction tokens, with strong
early reaction. "We've kept hearing from parents that the kids
were begging for more tokens. This way they can decide how much
to spend and when it's over, it's over," says Petty.
Chuck E. Cheese's, is also
running value packages to boost its non-party business. A typical
deal is a large pizza, four drinks, and 60 tokens for $29.
trying to appeal to a generation of children, which has grown accustomed
to prizes with their fast-food meals, should consider some sort
of take-home item, notes Sid Good, the marketing consultant. "But
if you're going to give something away, it should reinforce the
name of the restaurant."
He also suggests "having
the kids leave something there"as an incentive to come back
to a restaurant - perhaps a spot where decorated placemats or photos
of kids can be displayed. Restaurant kids' clubs, he adds, are effective
"only if you are truly committed to managing them, doing the
mailings and keeping it going. You need to follow through"
if promises are made to kid customers.
busy, keep them happy.
OPINION on the
level of entertainment to offer children varies. For some chains,
such as Peter Piper, Chuck E. Cheese's, and entertainment concepts
such as Virtua Cafe, Hard Rock Cafe, and Planet Hollywood, the video
games, playgrounds, ball pits, and other activities are a prime
reason to choose them. Others, including Friendly's, Rainforest
Cafe, and Pizza Factory, focus more on food in a child-friendly
Chuck E. Cheese's activities
are aimed primarily at young children. "Even though they do
have some really cool video games, by the time kids are in their
teens, we're no longer cool," says Rice.
The entertainment aspects
"are a good part of what sets us a part from other restaurants,"
Rice notes. "Children perceive that most restaurants are for
adults, but that Chuck E. Cheese's caters to them, not to adults.
From the minute they enter, they're having a blast."
ShowBiz spent about $80
million to upgrade and enhance the game area of over 200 units,
including tubular sky crawl mazes suspended over the arcade game
Peter Piper is targeting
a slightly older crowd, though there are ball pits and kiddy, rides
for the preschoolers. "The teens and 'tweens come because we
can attract the hottest video and simulator games. Kids love to
play them and we have the best ones," says Selbv.
Petty adds that executives
checked out the new Gameworks attraction in Seattle and found that
their chain had a similar selection.
"We are very much focused
on the entertainment. There's such a proliferation of choices out
there today, that food alone is not the answer," says Petty.
For the adults,
Peter Piper includes big-screen TVs tuned to major sporting events
and finds, on weekends particularly, "you'll see dads watching
the game while the kids are in the game room.
"You find very few
dads who don't have to be dragged kicking and screaming into Chuck
E. Cheese's," he adds.
PETER PIPER Restaurants
are large - in the 10,000 - to 12,000-sq.-ft. range-seating 350-450.
Each features 30-55 of the latest games.
"We don't own the games,"
notes Petty. The chain has an agreement with a games supplier, which
rotates in fresh games and splits the revenue with the restaurants.
In its prizes area, Peter
Piper tries to offer brand-name merchandise to enhance the value
aspect. Customers can also save prize coupons over many visits and
redeem them for brand-name merchandise such as audio equipment,
sporting goods, and mountain bikes, even, in some markets, washers,
dryers, and refrigerators.
When Arctic Circle decided
to go after young families, it opted for playgrounds instead of
video games to appeal to younger children. "Video games are
one kid, one machine and appeal to a different age group,"
The Pizza Factory stores
offer video games, but on a lesser scope, anywhere from four or
five to a roomful, says Van Velson. Some stores also have Lego tables
for the little kids.
Pizza Factory restaurants
are oriented to local kids' sports teams and encourage those teams
to bring in game videotapes and play them on the restaurant's large-screen
Friendly's, on the other
hand, limits the activities to coloring books and placemats. "Our
focus is a good meal and great ice cream, not video games,"
Cafe also opts for at-table activities, though, Golden points out,
there are continuous happenings in the restaurant's rain forest
environment to entertain customers, and parents frequently, take
children for a look around the restaurant before the meal comes.
on parties is lucrative.
While CHUCK E.CHEESE'S has
made a business out of children's birthday parties, other restaurant
operators vary in their enthusiasm for the party, business. Chuck
E. Cheese's has developed a new Showroom 2000 party-room prototype
that includes a stage, animatronic characters, and video entertainment,
but the chain is also working hard to position itself as a family
entertainment destination as well as a party site, Says Rice.
party packages directly account for 12-15% of sales, plus related
adult sales," he says.
That business is growing
since Chuck E. Cheese's, established a toll-free phone number and
a dedicated staff for party reservations. Birthday party pricing
runs $7.99-9.99 per child and includes pizza, drinks, cake, 16 tokens
per child, decorations, a gift for the birthday child, balloons
for all, and a staff member to manage the party.
"We'd like every child
to have a party at Chuck E. Cheese's, but we don't want to be exclusively
a birthday, party place. It's an issue of frequency," says
Rice. Advertising and promotions for value packs, coupons, and family
specials are designed to build non-party, business.
Peter Piper offers birthday
parties and parties in general, for sports leagues or other groups.
Cost depends on whether the party is for adults or children; a child's
birthday party runs about $3.75 per child.
"Parties are a significant
business, but not more than 5% of sales," says Selby, who also
views them as marketing opportunities. "If you have six to
eight kids at a party, maybe half haven't been to Peter Piper before."
ONE OF THE risks
to having lots of parties is becoming known as a destination place
for parties, notes Petty. "Our frequency is 24 times a year,
versus one or two times" for a birthday party destination like
Chuck E. Cheese's.
"We're in the party
business because we are located primarily in small towns,"
says Pizza Factory's Van Velson. The company produced a video for
franchisees on how to run the party business, and about 5% of sales
come from parties- birthday, after-the-game, and other occasions.
Pizza Factories are furnished
with tables and benches, making it easy to accommodate groups, and
have a balloon man character for parties. Several party packages
are available, for kids, teens, adults, and teams, and custom packages
also are offered.
In its first three months
of operation, Virtua Cafe found itself in demand for birthday parties
from age 5 up, says marketing manager Jill Weiner. There's a themed
room suitable for parties and the restaurant is running five or
six birthday parties every weekend with no promotion. The kid's
birthday package, at $14.95 per child, includes lunch, decorations,
balloons, and five virtual reality experiences.
offers parties in the stores with playgrounds and has contracted
with a local clown association to entertain, says Roberts, but party
business is still small, perhaps one a month.
have opted out of the organized party business to avoid disrupting
says Brooks, has party rooms in some larger locations, but concentrates
its birthday business instead on ice cream cakes to take home.
READN', WRITIN' & RESTAURANTS
up with schools makes for effective marketing
targeting the children's market have linked up with schools in a
variety of ways to get their name in front of kids. Each Rainforest
Cafe location, for example, has a $150,000 budget for educational
outreach and has involved over 300,000 children, says Golden.
take the parrots to schools and teach kids about the rainforest
and vanishing habitats," she says. A local third grade class
even attended the company's annual meeting in Minneapolis.
a real value in educating children and building an awareness of
the environment," says Golden.
contracted with certified teachers to develop lesson plans for schools
to use. "A lot of school budgets have been cut. This program
provides teachers with additional material. We also feel it's important
to give to kids and families outside of the restaurant environment,"
fall's presidential election, Friendly's offered schools an Ice
Cream Poll, creating sundaes representing Clinton and Dole and asking
fourth graders to vote for their favorite, along with information
on voting and citizenship. (The Clinton sundae, made with rocky
road ice cream, won.)
A second program,
Friendly's Flavor Fanatics, stressed persuasive writing, says Brooks.
Students wrote essays telling in 50 words or less why their classroom
should be chosen as a flavor fanatic. Each classroom chose one essay
and submitted it to the company.
a winning class from each state in which we operate and treated
the class to an ice cream social."
In a different,
but still school-related, effort, Peter Piper supplies a lot of
school lunch programs, says Petty. "We're principally afternoon
and evening business, so that fills the morning piece, and it's
a great marketing tool."
1997 Restaurant Business