Complimentary Kids Meals: Are They Right For Your Restaurant?

Offering free kids meals may bring in more families — but if it’s not a good fit, it could also have a negative effect on your business.
Looking to lure more families into your restaurant? Try offering free meals for kids. (Photo: Flaffy/Shutterstock)

As a restaurant owner, you’re always looking for ways to attract more customers and boost your sales. If your restaurant focuses on family dining, you may want to consider offering a “kids eat free” promotion.

Whether it’s during certain hours of the day or specific days of the week, allowing kids to eat for free can be a great way to bring more families into your establishment. But it’s not right for every restaurant. If you’re thinking about adding a free kids meal promotion, first consider this advice from two restaurant experts.

Ensure the promotion makes sense for your restaurant

When you first decided to open a restaurant, you likely imagined who your ideal customer would be. Maybe your focus was to attract single people in their 20s or maybe you wanted to bring in more families.

Related: Make Your Restaurant Kid Friendly Without Driving Diners Away

Either way, “the idea of being kid ‘friendly’ or kid ‘tolerant’ should be considered [and] decided upon during concept development,” said Terri Marshall, project coordinator and consultant at Absolute Restaurant Consultants. “Parents of small children love getting out and about and feeling welcome in the businesses they visit, and the offer of ’kids eat free’ is a welcoming lure for these families. For those adults not toting kiddos to dinner, well, they’re going to typically avoid the ‘kids eat free’ restaurant.”

Think about what effect your promotion will have on your overall restaurant atmosphere before making the leap, she advised. “More often than not [it will] feel out of concept or off brand, and therefore disruptive to the consumers’ experience,” said Marshall.

Run the promotion during slower times

If you encourage parents to bring their children to your restaurant, you should be prepared for more messes and increased noise levels. According to Dean Small, founder and CEO of Synergy Restaurant Consultants, offering the “kids eat free” option on a slow day like Monday or Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. is ideal.

“It creates some boundaries. A more mature family or couple can go out and not feel inundated with all the noise,” he said.

Related: 5 Ways to Boost Your Restaurant Revenue During Off-Peak Hours


A “kids eat free” promotion can endear parents to your restaurant, augment your foot traffic and increase your sales. It can also create loyal customers for years to come. (Photo: supparsorn/Shutterstock)

Set up rules for the promotion

Your free kids meal promotion will only be profitable if you create rules around it. Marshall suggested requiring the purchase of an adult entree for each free kids meal.

Small echoed the benefits of this policy, noting that the “one adult meal to one kids meal” ratio will avoid a situation where parents simply eat off their kids’ plates and not order anything for themselves.

Try to get a higher check average

If two parents and their two children come in, both kids could get free meals. Small pointed out that this will affect your check average and tip percentage. He advised having enough selections on the menu so parents can “trade up” and get a more expensive meal since they’re saving money on their children. Hopefully, this can increase the check average.

“It’s more about generating cash flow than anything else,” he said.

Related: How to Use Data to Grow Your Restaurant Revenue

Serve food that kids and parents will love

It may be tempting to throw the cheapest options on your “kids’ eat free” menu, but it won’t help you bring in parents.

Moms and dads are interested in serving their children healthy, fun dishes, said Small. “It can’t be all fried food — the parents are not going to see that as having any value.”

Focus on dishes that are nutritious, come with dipping sauces, are presented in an exciting manner and can be handheld, Small advised. Those aspects can be “highly motivating to kids.”

Related: How to Incorporate Superfoods Into Your Menu

Getting started with your promotion

A “kids eat free” promotion can endear parents to your restaurant, augment your foot traffic and increase your sales. It can also create loyal customers for years to come.

“If you’re in a family-centric market where you are surrounded by young, up and coming families you should at least consider it,” said Small. “These young families have limited disposable income and are looking for value. A restaurant would benefit by doing something like this because it drives loyalty.”


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