Some claimed infuriatingly out-of-control children made them wonder why they were spending money to suffer. Others pleaded with them to show some heart – kids, after all, are members of the public too.
People forget they were once kids themselves. Give parents a break, it’s not easy https://t.co/N8Qe6qRXGm— Chloe Phillips (@phillclo) April 9, 2023
But with the cost-of-living crisis driving customers away from pubs, one thing’s for certain – operators cannot afford to alienate their guests. We spoke to top chefs and staff on how pubs can improve their kids' offering to keep all customers calm, level-headed and smiling.
“It’s got to be a place for everybody,” says Jesse Dunford Wood, head chef at Parlour in Kensal Green north London.
“It can be used for many things by many people as an extension of your home"
He says operators mustn’t forget the responsibility pubs have in serving the community, which doesn’t just consist of well-off 40-year-olds who wanted to eat fancy foods, but also includes your granny and newborn child.
For Dunford Wood, it’s vital Parlour keeps its doors open for the whole community: parties, feasts and casual beers are all on the cards, but it is also a place mums can meet for coffee.
“It can be used for many things by many people as an extension of your home,” he says. Fancy food is on offer, but so are fish fingers & chips and burgers to cater to kids’ palettes. “Everyone can be included,” he adds.
Catering for the community
While kids had not always been embraced by pubs, in this modern day and age, “the rules are relaxed, and everyone is welcome”, he believes.
For Dunford Wood, a children’s menu should be cheap, appropriate, and accessible. Portion sizes should be cut down, he says, and menus can be made friendly and fun for kids through including colouring options, word searches and other activities.
“Keep them engaged,” he advises, “it’s depressing to look over to a table and see two different kids on two different iPads with earphones on.”
At Parlour, chefs also create exciting desserts for the children such as flaming marshmallow waggon wheels. To kids’ delight, a waiter comes to the table with an industrial blowtorch to set the sweet treat alight.
“It’s depressing to look over to a table and see two different kids on two different iPads with earphones on.”
If operators get children's’ menus right, they can also attract the struggling parents that come in with the kids, says Dunford Wood, which stops the space becoming an exclusive environment for posh, rich people.
Arts & crafts
Founder and director of the Kids’ Table, Sarah Frow, also thinks it's vital pubs make children feel welcome.
The Kids’ Table provides pop-up children’s corners in pubs, where staff keep an eye on children while they enjoy arts, crafts and table-top activities. It works with 35 venues across London and Brighton, is free for dining customers, and changes the activities on offer on a weekly basis.
Crayons and colouring won’t keep kids occupied for long, according to Frow, who warns bored kids cause havoc in pubs, getting in the way of staff and guests.
Creating a designated space for kids also raises dwell time at the pub, as parents don’t have to rush from the venue after kids became restless, she says. This means customers will stay longer and hopefully spend more.
She believes this also offers a bonus to parents who don’t want to pay for a babysitter or kids’ entertainment when going out for a meal. Activities have included origami, bracelet making and sketching, and are all mess-free to minimise the clean-up.
Implementing entertainment spaces for children meant parents can enjoy adult pub lunches guilt-free while children have fun – creating an enjoyable occasion for all the family, adds Frow.
As food prices rise with inflation, guests are dining out less but opting opting for more premium dishes when they do visit a pub or restaurant. Gastropubs across the country have adapted their kids' menus to fit this trend.
For Nick Hack, owner of former Top 50 Gastropub the Cadeleigh Arms in Tiverton, Devon, quality is key when curating a kids’ offering.
Classic dishes like fish goujons or bangers & mash were made with the best fish and proper quality butcher sausages. Pasta was made in-house. Meals were not pre-packaged, nor were they laden with sugar.
This also holds true at the Gamekeepers Inn, Long Ashes Park, North Yorkshire, where kids’ dishes are created from the same local produce used for main meals, with children getting to choose which sides they want (e.g. chunky chips vs skinny fries).
An ice cream factory also adds excitement to meals, according to executive chef Andy Damotta, and there's an outdoor play area which keeps kids entertained during sunnier months.
Peak District-based gastropub the Packhorse in Hayfield used to offer a kid’s menu but removed it as it didn’t fit with the business’ ethos. “People were coming in and having these beautiful, seasonal food, then the kids would have a piece of breaded chicken, and it just didn’t really feel right,” says chef owner Luke Payne.
“It’s really important we have a duty of care to ensure we’re not only serving great food, but also educating younger generations that the good food is accessible and really tasty, and you don’t just have to have chicken nuggets and chips when you go out as a child."
The pub now offers children smaller portions of the adult menu instead. Payne continues: “We want people to come to our business and experience it in the right way.
“It’s really important we have a duty of care to ensure we’re not only serving great food, but also educating younger generations that the good food is accessible and really tasty, and you don’t just have to have chicken nuggets and chips when you go out as a child. There are better options.”
The decision to take away the kids’ menu had been a tricky one to communicate but customers have warmed to the idea. “There’s a suggestion that we don’t care about children,” Payne adds, “but actually we care about them so much that we want them to eat the food we serve all the time – not a menu that is completely disingenuous to what we do and what they can actually potentially enjoy.”
Kids are people too, and it’s more important now than ever that pubs up their offering for children to create spaces that are accessible and welcoming for the whole community. Premiumisation, fresh ingredients and fun activities can keep the smiles on kids’ faces.