Make your pizzeria a return destination for families
Parents of young children often go out to eat with fingers crossed. So when they find a place that offers delicious, affordable food and keeps their little ones happy, there’s a good chance they’ll be back. Because while dining someplace new may be fun for single people and couples without kids, anyone who’s dined with a toddler or young child will tell you that comfort, ease and 10 minutes of peace to eat trumps novelty anytime.
Ready to make your restaurant the place that parents’ dreams are made of? We’ve got 33 ways to make your restaurant a return destination for families. Best of all, they don’t require thousands of dollars in remodeling costs. In fact, many can be done for under $10 — and some are even free!
- Paint a wall with chalkboard paint. Frelard Pizza in Seattle keeps its colored chalk stocked and its littlest customers busy.
- Include photos of the food on kids’ menus. For younger kids that can’t yet read, photos will allow them to choose their own meal.
- Create an experience. Michigan’s Uno Pizzeria & Grill gives kids an apron so they can make their own pie right at the table.
- Have designated stroller parking. Just a simple sign that says “Stroller parking” with enough room for two can be a big indication that babies and toddlers are welcome.
- Stock kids’-size cutlery and kid-friendly cups. Invest in a few sets of toddler-sized forks and spoons and always provide lids and straws for kids’ cups. Not only will it decrease the mess if there’s a spill, but it will also allow the child to take the drink with them.
- Create a kid zone. You don’t need to dedicate an entire room to toys and video games. Even a small table in the corner with books, paper and washable markers can work.
- Make it bicycle friendly. Little Deli & Pizzeria in Austin, Texas, has countless outdoor picnic tables set up to welcome families who have walked or biked to the establishment. If you can’t offer outdoor seating, at least install a bike rack.
- Offer half-size portions. It requires no changes to your inventory and it’s a convenience for tweens, who don’t want to order off the kids’ menu but may not want a full portion.
- Put a changing station in both restrooms. It’s 2017. Lots of dads change diapers!
- Let people order ahead. Beyond takeout, allowing parents to order online but eat in the establishment means less waiting with a hungry kid.
- Add a kids’ page to your Web site. Add printable pictures, the kids’ menu, photos of any play area or games at your establishment, and images of families with young kids eating there.
- Add interesting décor. Fargo’s Pizza in Colorado Springs uses an Old West theme, complete with saloon décor and costumed employees.
- Offer early bird family deals. Families with young children often eat earlier. Entice them with specials during your slower times.
- Designate a day that kids eat free. Tuesday seems to be a common day for restaurants to offer the BOGO deal (buy an adult entrée, get a kids’ entrée). Be sure to clarify what you’re offering, such as a free half-size portion or something off the kids’ menu, and if drinks are included.
- Add a gluten-free pizza or pasta. Broadway Pizza in Blaine, Minnesota, offers a downloadable gluten-free menu, as well as an 18-page downloadable nutrition and allergen information sheet!
- Put testimonials from parents on the Web site. “The waiter went above and beyond to keep our toddler entertained” is a great invitation to parents who are hesitant to dine with a little one.
- Advertise in parenting publications. If you’re serious about catering to more families, put your ads where their eyes are.
- Make the food fun. Arrange things on the plate into a simple face or do like Atlanta’s Ammazza does: edible glitter on the kids’ pizzas! Don’t forget to give your kids’ menu items fun names.
- Create a disposable kids’ menu that’s blank on the back. Put little cans of crayons on each table and then encourage children to create and sign a self-portrait to hang on a designated wall.
- Offer a nontraditional option. An inexpensive childhood favorite, such as macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese, can please even the pickiest of young eaters.
- Offer promotions for straight A’s. Many pizzerias across the country offer kids a free personal pizza for bringing in a report card with good grades.
- Train your staff. Families should be seated in a booth whenever possible, near the restrooms and far from the busiest path to the kitchen.
- Consider a free “while you wait” food for the kids. Breadsticks are low cost and good for almost any child without a gluten intolerance.
- Place a stepping stool under the bathroom sink. It’s a nice detail that parents notice.
- Offer healthy kids’ drinks. Many parents would rather not give their kids soda.
- Address mail (and e-mail) to kids. Kids love getting mail! Send a birthday card with a free or discounted offer.
- Offer date night. Radius Pizzeria in Hillsborough, North Carolina, offers an on-site date night for parents. Children between 4 and 12 can watch a free movie in the Fireside Room with a Radius employee chaperoning the kids. Kids are encouraged to bring a pillow, blanket or favorite stuffed animal (and there’s even a mid-movie potty break).
- Offer high chairs and/or booster seats. People who can seat their kids comfortably and be hands free are more likely to stay longer, which may mean staying for dessert!
- Display your kids’ menu in the window. You may even want to write “We love kids!” and “High chairs and booster seats available” on the menu.
- Cross-promote with other child-centric businesses. Ask a pediatric dentist to give you kids’ toothbrushes with their phone number, which you can hand out in exchange for the dentist giving customers coupons to your pizzeria.
- Host birthday parties. Seattle’s Pagliacci Pizza offers a unique spin (pun intended) on kids’ birthday parties: Pizza dough-tossing parties.
- Promote tie-ins with family-friendly events. Advertise to suggest that families pair events, such as “Dinner and Disney on Ice” or dinner and a movie at a theater within walking distance.
- Offer wet wipes. No parent has ever turned down a wet wipe. EVER.
Wendy Burt-Thomas is the author of four books and a freelance writer in Colorado Springs, Colorado.