2011 March: Catering to Kids

When Ray Perkins, owner of Chubby Ray’s Louisville Pizza Company in Louis­ville, Kentucky, was approached by a group of Girl Scout Brownies to do a pizza workshop for one of their badges, Perkins agreed, even though he’d never really worked with kids before. In fact, his establishment is known more for game day excitement, poker tourna­ments and live music. Still, Perkins saw an opportunity to cater to new clien­tele, so he agreed.
Rather than let 15 first-graders take over his kitchen, Perkins set up a con­ference table in an area usually inhab­ited by his week-day buffet. He brought out tubs of cheese, sauce and peppero­ni, and used personal-pan-sized dough skins his staff had previously rolled out. Though he only had eight kid-sized pans, he used the same size dough on larger screens so each girl would receive the same pizza once baked. He then allowed each Brownie to build her own pizza. The workshop was priced at $5 a girl, including a soda and a tip for each of the two servers who assisted in the project.
“Our kids’ meals are $3.99 plus tax, so that just added a little bit of a tip for the servers,” Perkins says.
The fact that Perkins offers a kids’ meal as part of his regular menu isn’t surprising –– most kids between the ages of 3 and 11 list pizza as their top food choice. But did you know that fami­lies with children account for 14 billion meals and $70 billion in sales, accord­ing to marketing research firm The NPD Group?
“We do a lot with the youth football and youth baseball here,” Perkins says. “We host a lot of the parties here. It exposes (kids) to a place they maybe haven’t been before, and it’s all about the fun. It’s about the experience –– you want them to come back, and Mom and Dad will come with them.”
Kids are important at Washington-based Farelli’s Wood Fire Pizza, where Clayton Kreuger, director of marketing and communications, says each kid is given an unrolled doughball to play with at the table. “We have a special kids menu that is filled with fun color­ing activities and such,” Kreuger says. “We have game rooms at all of our locations with video games and candy crane machines.”
Does focusing on family help the company’s bottom line? “Absolutely,” Kreuger says. “We are even explor­ing more new ways to engage with kids this year. After all, it is them who decide where their parents take them to eat.”
If you’re not catering to kids, here are some quick tips to get you started:
u Offer at least one healthy meal option. A grilled chicken breast and veggies with a side of dressing is an easy choice.
u Train your staff to alert parents if your meats (pepperoni, sausage, etc.) are spicy. Different brands have differ­ent heat levels, and this can be a deal breaker for future visits.
u Offer cups with lids, and train your servers to ask about refills. Since the cups may be smaller than adult-sized cups, they may need more refills.
u Preprinted kids’ menus should be brought to the table upon seating –– don’t wait for parents to ask. And use fresh crayons –– used crayons get grubby, aren’t visually appealing and carry germs.
u If you’re handing out toys, brand them. When they’re taken home, they’re obvious advertisements. “We also have a balloon artist come in once a week to make special balloon creations for the kids,” Kreuger says. “We give every kid a balloon on their way out the door that is branded with our logo.”
u Consider menuing at least one kid-friendly appetizer –– such as breadsticks or mozzarella sticks –– and train your servers to point them out on the menu.
u Offer one or two reduced portions from the adult
menu. “We’ve expanded our menu for the first time to
include a kids’ menu because we’ve gotten so many kids
in here,” says Dave Elliot, who owns New Hampshire-
based Zacky’s Pizzeria.
u Not non-smoking? Consider
voluntarily doing so. Perkins says
although he was mandated to go smoke-free by county law, “it changed our demographic. We were really more adult-oriented. I found out there were a lot of families who wouldn’t come in if we allowed smoking.”
Finally, consider putting to­gether a birthday party package. Zacky’s offers kids at parties a personal pan pizza, a beverage and a bag of chips. They hand out a bottle of their private-label soda as the kids leave. “They’re actually going back to mom and dad and saying ‘Here. This is what’s left.’ ” says Elliot. “We’ve had a lot of parents come back because the kids like it. The parents may never have been here.” u
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today.