Those pesky kids: how pubs can improve their offer for families

By Emily Sutherland

- Last updated on GMT

Parents are increasingly looking for healthier options on kids menus
Parents are increasingly looking for healthier options on kids menus

Related tags Good pub guide Best family pub

At the next PMA500 business club, Carrie Longton, co-founder of Mumsnet, now the biggest network for parents in the UK, will be speaking to operators about how they can improve their offer for families.

Ahead of the event, the Publican’s Morning Advertiser ​takes a closer look at some of the challenges and benefits of capturing the growing family market.

There’s no doubt that children and pubs can still be a thorny issue. Unruly children topped the list of complaints from pub-goers according to last year’s the Good Pub Guide and some pubs have taken the drastic step of banning them all-together. Many parents are also still made to feel unwelcome by other customers when visiting pubs and restaurants according to research from Oxford Brookes University.

But there are big rewards to be had for operators who successfully build an appealing offer for families. Nick Collins, managing director of Loungers, has previously said​ the fast-growing chain’s success is in part down to appealing to parents who might previously have gone to Starbucks or Pret.

The next PMA500 will take place on 26 May at the Cavendish Conference Centre, 22 Duchess Mews, London, W1G 9DT. 

Speakers include:

  • Inception Group co-founder Charlie Gilkes
  • MCA executive director Simon Stenning with exclusive menu and food insights
  • Pubs minister Marcus Jones
  • ALMR chief executive Kate Nicholls
  • Actor and pub operator Neil Morrissey
  • Flypay’s Dominic Atkinson

Carrie Longton and Justine Roberts co-founded Mumsnet in 2000 after having the idea for a website where parents could swap advice. The site now receives 85 million page views and over 18 million visits every month. Longton told the PMA​ a few small touches can help make pubs more attractive to families.

“A warm welcome goes a long way-it’s getting the basics right like having somebody say hello to you when you arrive and open doors if you’re struggling with a pushchair, smiling and not tutting or moaning. You can’t overestimate the importance of clean facilities. Nice, clean toilets, changing facilities and highchairs are really important,” she says.

“Make sure you have plastic cups so parents don’t have to worry about glasses being smashed, make sure there are things to entertain children like colouring books and pencils they can sharpen themselves. And if you want to attract more mums, talk to them. Ask local mums to come in and talk about what they want and what they’re looking for in a venue.”

She added that parents can be very loyal to venues who meet their needs, often visiting several times and telling friends.

“By offering events like coffee mornings or mother and baby classes you can fill your pub with customers at times when it might otherwise be very quiet and often they’ll stay for a long time.”

Harry Kodagoda is operations director at Anglican Country Inns, whose Norfolk site the Jolly Sailors in Brancaster Staithe took home the award for Best Family Friendly pub at the 2015 Great British Pub Awards. He said operators need to be confident in their offer when starting a family friendly site.

“You’re not going to please everyone; people go to the pub for different reasons. It’s about getting behind the concept and seeing it through fully. We don’t do cocktails at our family friendly sites but we do at our others; you’ve got to get the identity of the pub right and then follow through all the way.

“The Jolly Sailors was a smugglers rum bar before we bought it and decided to take it in a family direction. We looked at the surrounding area and saw there were a lot of tourists and lots of families and since we put the model in, we’ve seen it go from strength to strength. But you have to weigh up the competition around you and really think about the location. It’s not going to work in the middle of a busy high street.”


The days of offering kids menus made up entirely of chicken nuggets and chips are also long gone. According to a survey from HospitalityGEM, health considerations play an important role in whether customers would take their family to eat in a pub: two-thirds said they wanted to see calorie, health and allergen information on menus.  Most respondents (91%) also said they expected to be able to see a separate children’s menu.

Ian Wade, licensee at fellow GBPA winner for Best Family Pub the Ring O’Bells in Cheshire, agrees that parents are increasingly looking for healthier options for their children.

“The main thing we do to appeal to families is our food. We offer similar meals as to the adult menu but just in smaller portion sizes. It’s all locally sourced and home-made. I remember that when my own children were younger we’d go out and they’d end up with chicken dippers and oven chips. You can’t offer that anymore. Our children’s menu is extension of the adult menu.”

Managed pub chain Mitchells and Butlers adopted a similar policy when it launched its new spring children’s menu earlier this year. It featured miniature interpretations of the full-sized mains, which the company said was designed to make children feel ‘grown up’ by allowing them to dine alongside their parents.

Get involved

Operators currently running family-friendly pubs stress the importance of engaging with the local community.  Whether it’s sponsoring local kid’s football teams, having a presence at the local school fete or hosting a farmer’s market at the pub, getting locals on board will ensure families know they are welcome at the pub and spread the message about its offer.

“We do events throughout the year,” said Wade. “One of the biggest is Good Friday, where we do an Easter egg hunt with face painting and a member of staff dressed up as the Easter bunny. It’s always fully-booked. But we’re doing things all the time, like farmers markets, Christmas markets or holding a BBQ at the local family charity fun-run. The events also help us promote the pub on Facebook or Twitter.”

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