Advice from the Experts – Catering for Families with Rebecca Thomson

Rebecca Thomson is the Founder of the parent’s website Greenwichmums and has over ten years of experience marketing to families. Working with independent restaurant brands including Bills, Cabana, Cafe Rouge, Caprice Holdings, Grind and Sticks n Sushi, Rebecca advises operators on how to improve their offering and adapt their environments so that they are more welcoming for families.  

How important is the family catering market?

The family catering market is exceptionally lucrative. Focus on convenience, affordable pricing and kid-friendly amenities to win at the family market. The status quo of nuggets and chips is no longer an option.

What are the most common mistakes an operator makes?

Food can be a struggle and a reward simultaneously, variety on a menu is vital; so many operators lack exciting kids’ menu items. Parents and kids want innovative, healthy and inspired options. We also want attentive service where our kids are engaged by staff. We also want to feel welcome and that our toddlers, for example, will be served first using child-friendly cutlery and entertained by innovative dining concepts—giving us parents, the time to enjoy our meals in a relaxed way.   

Has the pandemic changed the attitudes or needs of families?

COVID-19 remains a significant driver in how families approach going to restaurants. Just talking to the parents in our community, over a quarter said a lack of well documented COVID safety policies is a barrier to dining out with the family. Over half of those we spoke to are now ordering restaurant meals via third-party delivery apps, suggesting parents are getting comfortable with the relaxed atmosphere and convenience of dining at home.

What should operators consider when marketing themselves to families?

The pandemic has highlighted the advantages of convenience, value and a relaxed experience that takeout and third-party delivery methods have provided us. So awareness and re-education in your family’s marketing strategy across these areas are essential. Set yourself apart by increasing your customer’s emotional investment and perceived value of what you offer. Keep your policies up to date to help reassure parents back into in-person dining.

How broad does a children’s menu need to be?

Variety is vital, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. If you have a specials board, let families know that kids’ portions are available from the main adult menu. Always clarify what is vegan, vegetarian, has gluten, or any other allergens. If your plates don’t look fun or tasty, kids will not be interested.

Are there any quick-wins an operator can implement immediately to improve their service to families?

Make menus available online or on your socials. That way, parents can check out what to order ahead of time. Next, having your staff adjust how they welcome and speak to families and children can have an immediate positive impact. That means no eye-rolling or huffing and puffing to put in a highchair! Do you have child friendly place settings? If not, get some. Consider using equipment families are familiar with and may have at home. Don’t underestimate your baby-changing either; check throughout the day and put a station in the gents if you can. After all, men also change nappies! 

Have reusable catch-all bibs on hand for parents who may have forgotten theirs – we’ll appreciate the thoughtfulness and it’s a small touch that won’t break the bank. Neither will cups with lids because spills happen no matter how hard we try to avoid them. Contented kids mean relaxed parents, and from personal experience, when my kids are contented and happy, we spend more money and come back time and time again!