| HEALTHY & HAPPY: You can feed your kid customers healthful, tasty food and make a nice profit as well. |
In March, RESTAURANT HOSPITALITY held its first-ever Healthy Customers, Health Profits-seminar. The idea behind it was that restaurant operators can and should offer more healthful items on their menus. We understand that you are in the business of feeding customers for profit, but we're convinced that you can offer great tasting, good-for-you food and make money doing it.
Years ago, that was not necessarily the case. In 1995, for example, we created the Best Kids' Menus in America Contest because most kids' menus were wildly unhealthy. Back then, the prevailing thought was that if you don't offer kids chicken fingers, pizza and hot dogs, they'll go somewhere else to get them. We'll not argue that there is still some truth in that statement. However, in 2006, if you're not including on your kids (and adult) menus healthful alternatives, then you're not paying attention to a growing health movement in this country.
Your customers are waking up to the idea that better-for-you foods lead to a better quality of life. They now are beginning to expect, and will soon demand, that you offer healthful alternatives that taste great. And that is the key: if your food does not taste great, healthful or not, it will not sell.
Time-starved parents are looking for a partner to help feed their kids. With child obesity still on the rise, you can be that partner, the one who helps contribute to the healthfulness and happiness of their pride and joy. Don't turn your back on them, because many of your competitors are knocking on their door.
What you'll find on the following pages are role models, foodservice operators who get it. They are the winners of this year's Best Kids' Menu in America Contest, sponsored by Koala Kare Products. Take a look at what they're doing. Most have not reinvented the kids' menu, but they have included smart menu choices and provided activities to keep youngsters occupied and happy. It's not rocket science.
FOR RUNTS: A great salad bar, a fun eating tray and a members' club equal happy kids.
Winner, Casual Theme Restaurants
What is the average life span of a restaurant? You can bet it's not 35 years, but that's the age of Chicago's R.J. Grunts, and it's still as nimble and vital as it was more than three decades ago. In December, it rolled out a new kids' program called "Grunts for Runts," which includes a new interactive menu, healthful food offerings and a membership program with incentives.
The menu at R.J. Grunts has most of the typical kids' menu items, but its trump card is a 50-item salad bar loaded with greens, veggies and fruits. It's a hit with kids, and so is the red melamine, four-compartment tray kids meals are served on. The tray comes with Wikki Stix and a take-away Grunts for Runts glass.
The kids' menu is part of an activities booklet, not unlike many others. But one of the activities is called "Stump Your Parents!" It involves a series of fun questions kids can ask their parents. It's a clever idea to get kids and parents interacting.
R.J. Grunts is the first restaurant launched by the legendary Rich Melman, whose Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises now operates more than 31 restaurant concepts across the country. It's a company that has mastered the art of generating repeat business. The newest kids' membership program at Grunts (which signed up 500 members in two months) is another example.
Kids 12 and under are eligible to join, and after each visit members are given a sticker that is placed on a membership card. A variety of premiums are offered after a certain number of stickers are collected. For example, after five stickers kids might choose to select an R.J. Grunts hat. After 20, they might opt for a birthday party with 10 friends.
A membership website is currently under construction for kids who want to check on how many points it takes to reach a level, learn what the secret password of the month is or "chat with a chef."
On top of all this, the restaurant will stage a number of classes for kids covering subjects like "how to be a good friend" and "how to make a great shake."
Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?
| YOU ARE SPECIAL: Fazoli's dedicates one night a week to kids by inviing them to participate in craft-based projects. |
Fast Casual Restaurants
Parents can chose to participate with their kids, but more often than not Kids' Night offers them an opportunity to enjoy their meal knowing their youngsters are being taken care of.
As for its kids' menu, Fazoli's red-sauce Italian offerings are considerably more healthful than the typical cheeseburger-and-fries meal. Each Fazoli's kid's meal, priced under $2.50, come with a soft drink and a custom-toy premium, many of them educational.
The fast-casual concept also does a great job of generating traffic during holidays. On Halloween, for example, Fazoli's handed out trick-or-treat bags that kids could decorate and personalize. The glow-in-the-dark bags included tips for a safe trick-or-treat excursion. In the battle for the food dollar, Fazoli's differentiates itself from the pack. Its message is loud and clear: Kids, you are welcome here.
WELCOME: Instead of discouraging kid customers, Chandler's welcomes them with a series of programs designed for them.
Winner, Upscale Restaurants
Upscale restaurants, for the most part, don't court kid customers. Heck, most would rather kids go someplace else. And then there are restaurants like Chandler's in South Deerfield, MA, which not only embrace their kid customers, they create full-fledge programs to welcome their business.
A new event, for example, is Chandler's Fancy Nancy Luncheons, which were designed for mothers and daughters to have a "fancy" afternoon together at the restaurant. The guests are encouraged to dress for a lunch that features the reading of kid-friendly books, including Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Conner.
The overall kids' menu was recently designed to include several healthful appetizers, such as applesauce with vanilla yogurt and apple wedges with peanut butter. The main menu offers all the old mainstays, but includes nontraditional kid items such as pork tenderloin with apple sauce and broccoli florets.
Chandler's excels at offering interactive programs, such as its Kid's Cooking Workshops, where youngsters make a clown cupcake dessert or decorate Christmas cookies. It has extensive birthday programs and no major holiday goes by without great fanfare. Dinner with Santa is a huge success and the Easter Bunny always visits to hand out Easter candy.
When a restaurant pays this much attention to its kid customers, there's little doubt what kids will say when parents ask, "Where do you want to eat?"
I-SPY ORDERING: Bob Evans restaurants take the mystery out of ordering a kids' meal with a menu that has a picture of every food item. Why you see is what you get.
Winner, Family Restaurants
The kids' menu, part of an activities booklet, displays photos of every kids' entrèe, side dish, drink and dessert. That includes its breakfast-anytime section which, paired with its lunch and dinner menu, gives kids a great variety of choices. And, because of the photos, even kids who can't yet read can take ownership of their meal decision.
Another nice aspect of the menu is that entrees are featured with nutritious sides such as a garden salad, a seasonal fresh-fruit dish and broccoli florets. Yet, any side dish can be replaced with one of 14 side dishes grouped and pictured together. Sure, those sides include french fries and smiley face potatoes, but they also include low-fat strawberry yogurt, green beans and glazed baby carrots.
Any good kids' menu program includes activities to keep youngsters blissfully occupied. Bob Evans creates a new booklet every month, and it's jammed with fun and educational activities built around branded characters, including Bobby E (a young Bob Evans) and his dogs, Biscuit and Gravy.
The program also includes a Birthday Club and Kid Times website where youngsters can download activities, see menu options and sign up for the birthday club. Because today's small set is so webb-savvy, a website for your kids program is fast becoming a must. Overall, Bob Evans is the kind of place parents love to take their kids and kids love to eat. Then you've won both groups over, you've won the game.
HANDY: Orlando's Hard Rock Hotel puts its kids' menu on an oven mitt
Hard Rock Cafè:
Winner, Hotels/ Resorts/ Clubs
Let's face it; kids today are far cooler than kids years ago. Yet, many kids' programs fail to connect with the Ipod generation. That's not a problem at Orlando's Hard Rock Hotel, where 36 percent of total sales come from the kids' menu.
A big draw at The Kitchen, the hotel's hippest restaurant, is pizza making. Kids are invited to create their own pizza masterpiece under the supervision of a chef. The baked pizza is then delivered to their table. The chef also gives the kids favorite Hard Rock recipes they can take home. The kids' menu, by the way, is cleverly printed on an oven mitt.
In addition to a kids' menu that includes healthful offerings, there's also a kids' buffet that includes a salad bar, hot entrees designed especially for them and desserts. Hard Rock Hotel also offers a "healthy choice" menu for kids with special dietary concerns.
When kids aren't cooking and eating, they can retreat to the Kids Crib, a section of the restaurant away from parents. There they can watch cartoons on a flat screen TV while lounging on giant beanbag chairs or they can play with toys or read books on kid-size furniture. On occasion, kids can also meet Universal characters, such as Shrek, or watch magic tricks performed table-side by a magician.
Orlando's Hard Rock Hotel proves that there is no trick to creating a great kids menu program, only some smart, hard work.
BEING YOU: Aramark revamped the foodservice program at Lubbock School District and student participation increased dramatically.
ARAMARK for Lubbock School District:
Winner, School/ Contract
Foodservice contractor ARAMARK has created a research-based foodservice program called the U.B.U. Lounge, which upgrades school lunchrooms with new colors, sophisticated lighting, redesigned food packaging, student lounge areas, top 40 music and huge graphic images of teens.
The Lubbock, TX, school district faced tough challenges from nearby restaurants, such as Arby's, Quiznos, Sonic and Rosa's Mexican Restaurant. To compete, it built-out four separate made-to-order food areas: a deli line, a pasta station, a burrito station and a pizzeria. Plenty of thought was put into creating healthful menu items featuring chicken, turkey and salads.
Since the U.B.U. Lounge concept was implemented, participation in school breakfast and lunch has increased overall at Lubbock high schools by 47 percent. Last year, ARAMARK employed 13 people in the high school lounges. They now employ 29 people because of the demand for school meals. If anything, ARAMARK'S U.B.U. Lounge concept says the days of institutionalstyle cafeterias are fading fast.
New York City Schools:
Winner, Schools/ Self- Operated
You think you job is tough? Try preparing 860,000 meals a day. That's exactly what the folks at the New York City school district are doing, and doing quite well.
The district's mission is to serve all students at its 1,616 schools a healthful and delicious breakfast and lunch. Its first step toward that goal has been to improve the nutritional profile of menu items by working with manufacturer suppliers.
Before a new menu item is introduced, students have the opportunity to taste-test new recipes and provide feedback. Student participation has led to the creation of menus that are ethnically diverse and health-oriented.
Principals, parents and students meet with school foodservice managers on a monthly basis to discuss health issues, menu items and upcoming themed promotional events. These meetings, with the help of grant money, have produced programs such as Vegetable of the Month Club and Life Curriculum.
The school district recently launched "Team Spirit," a sports-inspired lunch promotion that focused on healthful foods and a healthy lifestyle through exercise and activity. Team coaches, athletes, fitness club members and school mascots were invited to come into dining rooms wearing their team jerseys and warm-up suits to show their support and "make it cool" to eat in school dining rooms. A similar event a year earlier generated double-digit increases in participation.
On top of all that, a new merchandising program was introduced with the intent of making dining halls look more like casual restaurants. The institutional look was replaced with new service-line dècor, colorful station signs and new food packaging and presentation. Overall, New York City Schools have done a remarkable job of feeding hundreds of thousands of kids each day.