Restaurants Look Beyond Chicken Fingers
Restaurants trying to get more families to dine out have a new recipe: Get rid of the French toast sticks. Put more broccoli and carrots on the menu. Let the kids eat free.
The industry is scrambling to counter a tendency by recession-pinched parents to leave their children at home when they go out to eat. Restaurant visits among groups with kids fell 5% in the 52 weeks ended June 30 compared with a year earlier, according to researcher NPD Group.
Restaurants are responding with revamped kids’ menus, healthier food and kids-eat-free nights. Such moves are tricky to do well because restaurants must appeal to young palates while addressing parents’ health concerns. This summer, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Inc. and The Cheesecake Factory Inc. added their first-ever kids’ menus.
P.F. Chang’s long had offered some kids’ items that servers would suggest to parents. But not having an actual children’s menu “made parents feel like kids weren’t welcome,” said Chief Operating Officer Rick Tasman. As P.F. Chang’s executives sought to draw more customers, families came to the forefront. “We looked across our business and it was a spot we weren’t tapping,” Mr. Tasman said.
Mr. Tasman said it’s too soon to know if the kids’ menu has boosted visits, but since its July introduction, 10 to 15 kids’ items have been ordered per store each day compared with one or two per store a day during the same time last year. In its quarter ended June 28, same-store sales at P.F. Chang’s declined 6.8% due to fewer customers and a slight decline in average bill.
The new menu includes such entrees as the Baby Buddha’s Feast, which contains steamed or stir-fried snap peas, carrots and broccoli, and kids’ lo mein, or egg noodles stir-fried with chicken. “We were never going to do hot dogs, French fries or peanut butter. We wanted to offer kids items that are on our menu,” Mr. Tasman said.