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8 ways to make your venue more child and family-friendly

Eating out safely together as a family will be one of the first things people do as they seek the comfort and nostalgia of life before lockdown. Here's some tips on how to make these customers feel welcome

Cooking-fatigued parents looking for a special occasion to reunite children with grandparents will flock back to your venues, so it’s wise to prepare now.

A year of financial uncertainty may make it a leap of faith, but planning ahead to offer warm, happy and safe social venues means you’ll be more likely to recover quicker. Good, hearty, feel-good food in a safe environment with genuine hospitality will be top of the menu, so here’s how you can make your venue more family-friendly without breaking the bank.

1. Good opening times and staff training are everything

Parents want opening hours that match their lives, so early-bird breakfasts and evening suppertimes will build your reputation as a ‘go-to’ venue.

Make sure you create space for pushchairs and high-chairs, and have trained staff who understand the value in family customers.

2. Make your space safe

Parents are unlikely to return to busy, cramped indoor areas with no space between tables, so think carefully about your space and what you would want as a risk-conscious customer. Space for moving pushchairs around is essential.

mum and daughter laughing

3. Get the menu right

Children are small adults so offer them what mum and dad love in smaller portions. Little ones sometimes have more adventurous palates than many menus give them credit for, and parents are often attracted by a fixed price option.

Emphasise the healthy options so the diners of tomorrow can learn, with eating out seeming less of an indulgence.

Anne-Marie O’Leary, Editorial Director at parenting website Netmums, says: “Growing numbers of restaurants offer half size-half price portions for children. Some young children need something plainer, so offer one or two dishes each day to suit younger palates such as a simple pasta or roast.”

Founder and CEO of Mumsnet Justine Roberts agrees: “Giving a few smaller options on adult meals goes a long way. Some parents are looking for healthy food, some are looking for plain and some will want vegetarian or vegan.”

4. Make mealtime fun

Parents will have a better time and fonder memories if their children are behaving and not running riot.

Older children may want to let off steam before eating while little ones will be happy with crayons and paper tablecloths; however, creative games such as visual scavenger hunts, placemat puzzles and trivia quizzes connect all ages, so give them a try.

Download some free colouring pages here.

boy colouring in
“Colouring-in is a huge win – it keeps children quiet as well as in their seats! Trust us, parents don’t like all the running and clambering around that bored kids do, either”
- Anne-Marie O’Leary, Editorial Director at parenting website Netmums

5. Invest in outdoor play kit

Safe, secure outdoor play equipment equals precious time for parents. Make sure your customers know where they stand on whether you have staff around or if they should still keep a watchful eye.

Play areas are perfect for older children, but for younger ones the to’ing and fro’ing to outdoor equipment through a busy restaurant is dangerous and a nuisance for parents and staff so think strategically about placement.

Anne-Marie says: “The puzzle of a good climbing frame keeps kids entertained for ages, but if there’s equipment and no tables, it won’t work.”

6. Upgrade your toilet with baby-changing facilities

A changing station can be a weight off customers’ minds and creates a lasting, positive impression for minimal expense. It’s a great way to ensure repeat custom.

Wall-mounted, bacteria-resistant and easy-to-clean changing stations are cheap to install and do so much to say ‘we welcome families here’.

Anne-Marie says: “Think unisex, so dads can change as well as mums, with room to get a buggy in – and make sure they’re clean. Changing your baby on a filthy changing table isn’t a big draw. Equally, nothing puts a downer on a nice meal quite as much as an overflowing nappy bin!”

7. Cleanliness is key

Cleanliness and freshness are critical. Justine explains: “It’s great to provide high-chairs but parents notice if they’re encrusted with old food, so avoid ones with loads of nooks and crannies and keep them clean and well maintained.”

8. What about breast-feeding?

Because it’s perfectly legal and can only be challenged under health and safety grounds, the only real balance to strike is between the mother’s rights and the comfort of your other customers.

And as Anne-Marie, whose inbox is regularly filled with emails about the issue, says: “Providing separate tables for it infers you only want mums to do it out of sight, which is the wrong message.

“Mums and babies are human beings and babies need to eat. Don’t bat an eyelid and challenge anyone who does. Mums can manage the rest from there”

 

baby breastfeeding

Quick wins

  • Families ALWAYS head for venues where ‘kids eat free’ before the rush – they get value and know they matter to that restaurant.
  • Advertise your credentials on your website. Families won’t just stumble into your establishment but will do their research first.
  • Ensure your staff send out the subtle signals that family business is valued.

Shout that you’re family-friendly by adding your business to the Netmums ‘Family-Friendly Pubs’ listing.

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