As the smoking ban looms, we must think of our future customers, says Michelle Gunnery of table entertainment provider Kidzsmart
We know that many licensed premises see a significant decline in sales once a smoking ban is implemented. Operators in England and Wales now face a stark choice of whether to spend vast sums of money on creating outside smoking areas or to broaden the business's horizons to maintain trade.
The family dining market is one of the country's fastest-growing sectors. Typically, it costs between £40 and £80 for a family to dine out - much more than the average drinker spends.
Operators need to become proficient jugglers. Of course you need to keep your existing customers happy, but why not also open up the lucrative family market? That means keeping the intimate couple happy and uninterrupted by screaming kids, while simultaneously making families feel their needs are catered for beyond chicken nuggets and cola with a straw.
The most successful businesses are those whose offerings are all-encompassing, and that doesn't necessarily mean heavy investment. Some cost-effective tips are:
- Create parent-and-child parking spaces.
- Train staff to ensure they understand the market.
- Make food fun. Kids eat with their eyes first too, so fire the child's imagination by making a foody face on the plate.
- Think about healthy options - parents are now incredibly savvy.
- Pay attention to detail: offer wet wipes - dried-on ketchup doesn't budge with a serviette.
And remember, parents want their kids to be entertained so they can relax, while as operators, you want families to stay at their table for those extra desserts, coffees and drinks.
The most cost-effective way of keeping children entertained at the table is with paper-based activities such as placemats, activity books or kids' packs. Add a bit of branding into the equation and you're also building a loyal customer base.
So my advice is to start preparing your family offering now and increase your market appeal. Surely that has to be better than a smoky atmosphere and endless ashtrays to wash.
How do you keep kids happy in a restaurant?
Piotr Bilak, manager, Giraffe, Chiswick, London "Entertain them. Employ good staff who can look after the children, talk with them, give them balloons or any other small things that will keep them happy. We also have colouring sheets and books to keep them occupied. The staff have up to two weeks' training to learn the Giraffe style of looking after customers and children."
Amber Grewal, safari guide, Rainforest Café, London "As servers, it's very important that we're attentive to children. We get their names, try to remember them, ask their age, show them the animals and generally keep it a warm and friendly atmosphere. Often the parents are quite harassed after a long day in London and if we talk to the kids it gives them a bit of breathing space."
Nick Gold, general manager, Frankie's, Knightsbridge "Shoot them, drug them with Valium or Prozac or, in the worst cases, chuck them in the pizza oven. Failing that, keep them as occupied as possible. We use magicians, crayons, and we used to let them make their own pizzas, which we may reintroduce next year. You also need a healthy, balanced kids' menu that appeals to parents and kids."
Austin Clayton, operations manager, Hard Rock Café, London "Don't let them get bored, and make sure their food comes out quickly. Try to get the kids' food out before the parents', so they can feed them and then enjoy their own meal afterwards. At weekends we have a face-painter and guitar Playstation game to keep them occupied. We also have collectable caricature cups and balloons."