|EYE SPY: What kid wouldn't love to pore over a 3D menu using these glasses? Skipjack's restaurants offer this great opportunity.|
|A WINNING TEAM: The Best Kids Menu in America awards bestowed at RESTAURANT HOSPITALITY'S Kids Marketing Conference were sponsored by Kraft Foodservice. Many of the winners were on hand to collect the awards (left), presented by editor Mike Sanson (bottom row right), publisher Jess Grossberg and Anne Ryan of Kraft Foodservice (above).|
|CHANGE: Red Lobster revamped its kids menu to include a variety of healthful items that kids love.|
BUD'S GRUB: Burgerville offers a kids menu that includes high-quality local products. It also features cartoon characters with Northwestern roots.
SMITTEN: Hard Rock Hotel's kids menu is printed on an oven mitt that kids can play with before and after they order their meal.
|HELLO TO HOLLYWOOD: When you have 1,615 units like Denny's, you can afford to partner with Hollywood for some big-time promotions that support a menu kids love.|
|HOLDING COURT: Islip High School went from a twoserving-line setup to a four-station foodcourt and tripled the number of lunches it serves to kids.|
Those who attended RESTAURANT HOSPITALITY'S Kids Marketing Conference in April were treated to the site of legendary chef Rick Bayless cooking with his daughter, Lanie. The keynote presenters discussed their worldly culinary discoveries while preparing on stage two sure-fire recipes that kids love—Mexican Creamy Corn Soup and “The World's Best Chili.”
The father and daughter emphasized that in nearly every part of the world they've traveled, kids simply eat what adults eats, but in smaller portions. The concept of a kids menu, particularly a dumbed-downed kids menu, is relatively non-existent.
It was also apparent from listening to Lanie that kids will rise to the culinary level you set for them. Is it okay to have chicken fingers on a menu? Of course, but you do kids and your bottom line a disservice if you don't provide more sophisticated (and pricier) menu items.
Of course, there's the whole issue about the growing obesity problem among children. That was tackled well by a number of speakers at the conference (see the June issue). But here's a tip: Besides chicken fingers, put more healthful and kid-sized adult items on your kids menu. There's never been a better time to make kid menu improvements. America's ready for it. What you'll find on the following pages are restaurants that have made the leap. We have honored their efforts with our Kids Menu Awards, sponsored by Kraft Foodservice.
RED LOBSTER Winner, Casual/Theme
Talk about rising to the occasion! Red Lobster introduced a new kids menu this year that beautifully addresses the growing concern that kids are not eating as well as they should. The 670-unit chain took a twopronged approach: It added more fish dishes to comply with the American Heart Association's suggestion that everyone eat fish twice a week as part of a lowfat, heart-healthy diet. It also added more fruits and vegetables in response to studies that show 91 percent-of children ages 6-11 are not consuming enough of either.
The result was new, interesting and healthful kids menu items such as Snow Crab Legs & Steamed Veggies and Grilled Mahi-Mahi & Steamed Veggies. According to John Altomare, senior v.p. of concept development, Red Lobster asked more than 3,000 kids and parents in four restaurant markets to rate each new dish according to appearance and taste. They were also asked to rate the overall menu. The new menu received the highest ratings in the history of Red Lobster, he said. Kids (and parents) love the kids menu, says Altomare, because their palates are more sophisticated and adventurous than ever before.
The menu items, in line with what Bayless said, align better with what parents are eating on the adult menu. On top of all that, Red Lobster introduced a new menu/ activity booklet and has a website that features a “Fun Zone” with games and such for kids. Overall, Red Lobster has an excellent kids menu package.
BURGERVILLE Winner, Fast Casual
In comparison to Red Lobster's national presence, this privately owned and familyrun operation has established a solid Northwest presence and brand. This 39-unit, Portland, OR-based burger concept has set a high-water mark for the quality and freshness of the products it serves, most of which come from local suppliers with the same commitment.
In addition to burgers, Burgerville also offers North Pacific halibut (fish and chips, a fillet sandwich) and more healthful menu items such as a low-fat grilled chicken sandwich, a lean, free-range turkey burger and the Gardenburger.
The regional chain increased its kids menu business by 15 percent in the last year by creating a new kids meal program centered around five characters who are part of “Ranger Bud's Northwest Adventures.” To support the program, Burgerville developed kids' meal bags, comic books, plush characters, key chains, bobble heads, Popsicle molds and garden tools with seed packs. It also created point-ofpurchase materials and a kids section on its website with animated cartoons.
Burgerville demonstrates that if you're going to create a kids menu program, then jump in with both feet. There is nothing half-hearted about its commitment to kids, and the program has produced dramatic financial results.
HARD ROCK HOTEL, ORLANDO Winner, Hotel/ Resort/Club
With a name like Hard Rock, kid customers expect a hipper experience than they would at a family restaurant, and Hard Rock Hotel delivers.
An area in the restaurant, called The Kitchen, is set aside for kid customers who can hang out in the “kid crib” coloring, watching DVD's and playing games.
What caught the judges' eyes with this entry was the funky kids menu, which is printed on a red oven mitt. The mitt is stuffed with crayons and a kitchen magnet that, after it's colored by a kid customer, is displayed on the hotel's “fridge doors” at the entrance of the restaurant. Kids also have the option of taking home the magnet.
The kids menu accounts for 35 percent of total sales, and that doesn't include revenues the hotel gets from sales of the oven mitt (if kids want to take it home, mom and dad have to pony up cash to do so).
Hard Rock Orlando has also discovered that parents will pay a premium for quality kid menu items, such as its Grilled Little Rockers Steak with mashed potatoes ($8.25) and its White Chocolate Guitar Puzzle with cookie & vanilla ice cream ($4.75).
Given a choice between eating at an average restaurant or being treated like a junior rock star at Hard Rock, what do you think most kids would choose? Yeah, that's exactly what we thought.
DENNY'S Winner, Family Category
Year in and year out Denny's proves that it caters to kids as well as any restaurant operation in the country. Its kids program is a finely tuned machine.
Denny's kids menu is nicely organized and each menu item has a picture that shows exactly what will arrive at the table. It's a simple point-and-order system that parents with very young kids appreciate. Many of the kids menu items are the same as what an adult may get, but with a fun twist. For example, adult pancakes are turned into Smiley-Face Hotcakes that kids find irresistible.
The kids menu is part of an activity book that is so well done, that the wait between ordering and getting the food is not a danger zone like it is at so many other restaurant operations.
With its 1,615 units nationwide, Denny's has the muscle to partner with Hollywood and some of its big blockbuster movie hits, including SpkyKids2 and Inspector Gadget. These partnerships result in premiums for Denny's customers and the use of images for its very popular activities book.
Denny's recently announced further changes to its kids menu that will greatly improve the healthful profile of many kids menu items. These changes will certainly position it well for the future.
SKIPJACK'S Winner, Upscale
What would be considered a gimmick or cheap theatrics on an adult menu is, simply put, a fantastic idea for the kiddies. A case in point: Skipjack's 3D Kids Menu.
This three-unit, Newton, MA-based concept provides each kid with the aforementioned menu and a pair of 3D glasses (one lens blue, the other red). Before a kid even begins to look at the menu, they've already been won over by the novelty of such a ploy.
As theatrical as this may all be, it serves a purpose. The kids menu pictures each item on the menu, which kids study because they're checking out the very-well-done effects. By doing so, kids get a very good idea what they want and exactly how it will arrive at the table. It's the same ploy Denny's uses, but notched up to another level because of the 3D and because each menu comes with a take-away toy pictured next to the menu item.
Beth Senior, who does marketing for Skipjack's, said the 3D menu was created to deter kids from writing on tables. Of course, it goes well beyond that. The menu, 3D or not, is smart and creative. Hot Poppin' Popcorn Shrimp Basket actually comes in a movie theater-style popcorn box. And though the Moby Dick Crispy Fish and Chips Basket is its best seller, Skipjack's also offers more healthful items, such as the Kid's Caesar (or green salad) with grilled chicken and Today's Grilled Fish with Veggies.
This is the kind of kids menu you wish existed when you were knee-high to a bullfrog.
ISLIP HIGH SCHOOL Winner,Self-Operated School
This secondary school in Islip, NY, has become a model for other school districts, a point reinforced by its designation last year as a New York State Best Practice Award-Winning Cafeteria. Its foodservice director, Jane Steigerwald, has tripled the number of lunches sold since she took over. She also launched the district's first breakfast program.
Befofre Steigerwald, the system sold about 250 lunches, with a la carte snack sales the most popular choice. Now, more than 750 meals a day are served, and complete nutritious meals easily outsell the purchase of chips and drinks.
The quality of meals served was not the only improvement at the high school. The cafeteria's traditional two-serving-line setup was replaced with a four-station food court, something just about everyone wanted based on several surveys and meeting with students and staff.
With the new setup came menu items that resembled those of a restaurant and not a school. Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad and Maple-Baked Turkey and Vegetables on a Sundried Tomato Wrap are two examples of items that are prepared fresh each day. The staff's new philosophy: “service with a smile.”
A 12th grade student, who is free to leave campus for lunch, was spotted in his car eating a burger and fries he bought in the cafeteria and not at some fastfood joint. Why? “The food is cheaper and it tastes better,” he explained. Testimonials don't get much better than that.
Merit Award Winners
Selecting the best of the best is not always easy. Close on the heels of the winnners you've just read about were several others, which we've given Merit Awards. They are: