The F-word in hospitality design… FAMILIES and the rise of the KID-ustomer!

By Becci Finn

Recently, on a popular national radio show the comedian host shared the story of having visited a local café with his children for breakfast. Upon receiving their meals they requested tomato sauce only to be told that the café didn’t offer ‘sauces like that’.

The hot topic threw open a range of discussion themes – from cafes becoming ‘too cool’, to the difficulties of getting kids to eat well.

So how can venues cater successfully to families?

Take a moment to consider the first ‘first-wave’ of family friendly venues – they are the pioneer fast food chains with their chicken nuggets, kids play areas, and free toys with meals.

It’s fair to say we’re well beyond that now – the ‘next-wave’ dining experience for families is evolving to a level of sophistication that provides the coolness factor for the parents as well as the kids.

What hasn’t changed, however, is the overarching key to family friendly hospitality design… parents want to feel like they can relax whilst their kids are engaged with the dining environment in a positive way.

Whilst a minority of parents can relax by letting their kids run wild; the far majority of parents are mindful (if not paranoid) about the impact their kids will have on other customers and users of a venue. For parents to feel relaxed, they have to know that their kids are welcome and that they will be engaged with the dining environment in a way that results in positive behavior.

With Christmas approaching and another round of school holidays, families will be out in full force again. It’s a good time to take stock of the F-words in hospitality design and focus on the shape of things to come.

We’ve put together a snap shot of the 3F’s of success for ‘next-wave’ family friendly venues.

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Planning for success – being a family friendly should align to a business case.

Problems are most likely to arise when growing a family market is at odds with other profit centers for your business. Sports bars, gaming and drinking are often central to the identity of a venue and typically these mix like oil and water with a family offer.

  • Effective planning and management can alleviate conflict and offer benefits including generating trade throughout all phases of the day.
  • Ease of access into a venue is a considerable factor when attracting families. Consider appropriate parking locations and entry doors for parents with prams.
  • Manage the flow of conflicting customer groups by directing families to specific entries or avenues into the venue.
  • Activities. Kids play facilities are growing and developing at a rapid rate. Beyond the big fast food chains giant plastic tunnel maze, the emerging design options for play spaces are beautiful and functional.

Not surprisingly, retail is leading the way – the retail world understands the power of free facilities and manages expectations around supervision well. These facilities increasingly incorporate imagination play and soft finishes and mood lighting, and sit in a precinct especially curated to attract families.

Hospitality venues can take cues here and design clever play spaces and adjacent family seating to suit, without looking like a fast food chain.

Transition and shared spaces. One theme worth touching on is the transition of spaces in a venue.

Take many Merivale venues as a prime example. The creation of the kid friendly facilities in some of their market-leading venues have either by design, or by happy accident, become spaces that transition to adult social spaces as the families move out.

Ping pong tables, pinball and football are all games that bring a sense of fun and nostalgia to all people of all ages, integrating these with the kids play allow the space to move across demographics and bring flexibility into the mix.


Listening to the aforementioned radio debate highlights what we call the food message.

Providing a kids menu is arguably the smoke signal to families that the venue caters for children, so it seems appropriate that provision for the palette and behaviors of children will be a central consideration.

  • Moving beyond fried foods and high sugar content items is a growing trend. Flexible portion sizes and shared food are also ways to cater to the family market without additional fuss for your kitchen.
  • If your venue has a strong philosophy around healthy food, for example preventing sauces being available, this expectation should be clearly communicated from the outset in branding and marketing signage so that expectations are managed as early in the process as possible.
  • It often surprises us how quickly the kids menu races to the lowest common denominator. As wonderfully multi-cultural our cities and towns are, it is a rare instance to see any of that wealth reflected in the kids menu. At any sushi train or yum-cha you will find tons of smiling kids with full bellies. Bring some culture to the table, a quality family experience is food to remember.

Positive experiences are the end goal, and nobody ordered a side of tears with their dinner.

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Understanding kids as customers is a relatively new concept. They may not pay the bill, but contemporary society supports children as active decision makers. Putting some focus around bringing families into a venue can build success for the venue whilst managing the impact of families on other customers.

  • ‘Marketeers’ have targeted their campaigns at children for over two decades. Studies have outlined that the decision making for family dining and entertainment is driven by the children a whopping 73-98% of the time (Research by YTV Kids and Tweens Report & Crest/NPD Foodworld ).
  • Warm welcomes. A simple acknowledgment of the parent, asking the age of their child affirms that the venue is a friendly environment for their children.
  • Engaging with Children is a new service dynamic set for big impact. Explaining the menu or facilities, providing the child with a sense of choice and assisting the children to get settled in positively aids their happiness and relaxes parents.

In a nutshell, the message for the ’next wave’ may be as simple as do something and do it well.

The success of each individual venue is brightened when the bar is lifted. Better hospitality experiences will mean greater demand for them and that is a positive future we all share in.


** Images to the left are of Merivale venues which are leading the way in family friendly hospitality design.


Becci Finn is an Associate at GROUPN 

From the shiny potential within each new venue design to the simple pleasure of a smiling customer, Becci is passionate about Hospitality. With a feet-on-the-ground, ear-to-the-wind knowledge of what’s what in hospitality, Becci is often overheard claiming to be a ‘human barometer’ of interior design.

THINK_LIFESTYLE is a weekly newsletter published by GROUPN discussing directions in hospitality design.

Click to get in touch with Becci or drop us line at GROUPN  +61 2 9369 3546



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