When we first launched our small chain of fresh casual eateries in New York City, our primary focus was on giving health-conscious millennials an attractive alternative to the city’s endless offerings of fast-food pizza and burgers. A major component of the strategy was featuring a menu of seasonally fresh, locally sourced, small-batch cooking — the kind of food you would cook for yourself if you had more time, with rich, tantalizing aromas you’d love to be welcomed back home by. Healthy, comfort food that reminds people of family.
The model seemed to be working, as our eateries were frequented by millennials who appreciate a healthy option for lunch. But there was something we didn’t immediately take notice of: These millennials were also starting young families. And for families – especially those on the go at mealtime — quick, informal, grab-and-go foodservice has become the norm and accounts for up to two-thirds of their visits to restaurants. Families with kids actively seek out quick-service chains more than other types of restaurants, and it turns out our Between The Bread eateries were offering them something different that they also wanted: a menu of healthy food choices to accompany the quick service.
So how had our eateries become so family friendly? We took a hard look at our practices and it wasn’t too difficult to see why we appealed to these young families. If you’d like to make your own establishment a bit more family friendly, here’s a list of recommendations based on what we discovered while reviewing our restaurant model.
1. Keep menu options simple and visually pleasing.
This isn’t about adding chicken tenders and personal-sized plain pizzas to your menu, it’s about simplifying the process for both parents and their children. The flow of our eatery lets visitors walk down the line: first choosing a protein — typically a chicken or salmon option — then move along to choose two of our sides of healthy vegetables and grains. Our concept can be beneficial for two reasons: it’s simple and it’s visually pleasing. While children might see veggies on restaurant menus and be instantly turned off by the mere sound of it, we often notice kids loving how colorful and delicious the veggies look and opt for cauliflower or even our vegetable of the month, Brussels sprouts. With our food options on display, children can simply point to their favorite options.
2. Offer healthy choices.
Our goal at Between The Bread is to provide the freshest, seasonal food available. We stay away from the word “diet” for a reason. Our seasonal plates are well-balanced and nutritious; you’ll get your protein, vegetables, fruits and grains in one sitting. We take great pride in making even the healthiest, most daunting vegetables delicious — and parents love that their kids take a liking to these healthy food options. For example, our pumpkin with ricotta and pomegranate seeds tastes like a savory dessert, and kids have no idea the nutritional value of such a side. For us, it’s important to teach kids the importance of healthy eating while they’re young, and this means appreciating the different flavors and tastes. With our rotating seasonal menu, families can appreciate fruits and veggies in their peak season goodness.
3. Provide amenities they want.
We didn’t need a bouncy room or video game arcade to attract families. Free Wi-Fi does the trick just fine. Kids these days travel with their own devices, and I see many of them sitting at the table playing a game or streaming a movie on a phone or tablet. Our eateries also feature open areas and tables where a small group can plop down and spread out. Too many quick-service chains focus on the burn ’em and churn ’em model of pushing the customer out the door. See if you can’t make your space a little more inviting for a family looking to regroup before pushing on to the day’s next adventure. This means offering high chairs, tables to fit a family and a spot for strollers.
4. Stress a casual atmosphere.
With our rustic, inviting décor, we’ve created an environment where kids and families are comfortable hanging out. We have fun and funky signage and artwork, chill music playing and a general sense of being home in your living room, which I think parents (and their children) relate to and find comfort in.
5. Offer convenient options.
Families want the convenience of quick service. Give them that, whether they plan to grab and go or dine in. With their focus on keeping the kids in line, parents want a place where it is simple to order and easy to deal with the staff. Provide that convenience and speed, in a friendly, attentive atmosphere, and you will soon win your way into a young family’s good graces.
Jon Eisen is partner of Between The Bread NYC fresh casual eateries, located in New York City.