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Big Ideas for Tiny Tummies: Creating a Captivating and Profitable Kids’ Menu

Whether ordering in or dining out, mealtimes are often a family affair. Creating a menu specifically designed for kids makes the entire experience exciting, compelling, and fun for all.

For busy parents, delivery has become a staple, a convenient and tasty way to solve the what’s-for-dinner problem. Traditional kids’ menu items like chicken fingers, quesadillas, and mac-n-cheese have always been big sellers, partially because of their familiarity, but many times because that’s all there is. Kids today, that have become savvy diners, (many even placing their family’s delivery orders) are looking for tastier options and parents are demanding healthier choices beyond fried this-n-that.

Creating a captivating kid's menu goes far beyond simply listing traditional “kid’s fare." By incorporating effective menu engineering techniques and thoughtful design elements, you can create a menu that not only appeals to your youngest guests and hooks discerning parents, but also drives profitability. By regularly evaluating and updating your kids’ menu based on customer feedback and changing trends, your children’s menu will remain fresh, exciting, and relevant.

A well-designed kids' menu can be a great asset for your restaurant, meshing with your brand’s vibe, appealing to kids and their parents, and boosting sales.

There are essential components that go into crafting a captivating kid's menu, both in the physical and digital spaces from menu design and pricing to descriptions and images.

The Power of Good Menu Design

Your menu is not merely a list of items; it’s an extension of your restaurant’s brand and a powerful tool that influences customer decisions and helps drive sales.

Menu engineering, a proven practice of analyzing and strategically designing a restaurant menu to maximize profits, is the place to begin any good menu design strategy.

As the restaurant industry has undergone some pretty dramatic changes over the past few years, the way menus are engineered has evolved as well. With the traditional method focusing on profitability and popularity of menu items, menu engineering for restaurant delivery adds another component to the mix– deliverability. The same holds true when designing a children's menu.

Menu engineering for restaurant delivery identifies which items are profitable, popular, and easily deliverable—all at the same time-–and which are not. It organizes your menu items into Stars, Challenges, Workhorses, and Dogs, four words that can be used to design your online kids' menu and analyze which items should stay, go, or be revised.

Star = high popularity + high popularity

Challenge = high profit / low popularity

Dogs = low populity/ low profitability

Workhorse = low profitability / high popularity

Star items should be included on your online menu. Items with “dog” status should be eliminated (at least until conditions change).

If included in your menu, workhorses and challenges should be highlighted in a way that attracts attention to their best features, and away from their least. For example, if an item is pricey but popular, make photos more prominent than the price. If an item is meant to act as a workhorse, feature them close to your stars.

Upsell your challenges by including them in pop-ups that appear during the checkout process. Example: “Don’t forget dessert! Try our NEW Peanut Butter Cheesecake.”

Leveraging Psychology Behind Menu Design

By understanding the psychology behind menu design, restaurants can leverage these elements to enhance the kids' menu:

Layout and Organization

Arrange menu items in a visually appealing and logical manner that takes the flow of information into consideration and highlights popular choices.

Visual Cues

Leverage visuals like photos, artwork, and emojis to provide a representation of menu items that make it easier for children to read, decipher, and understand the menu and choose their own meals.

Descriptive Language

Craft compelling menu descriptions that highlight the flavors, unique features, and benefits of each dish, appealing to both the kids and their parents.

How to Create an Engaging Kids’ Menu

Creating an engaging kid's menu requires attention to several key elements.

1. Selecting Menu Items

Building a kids’ menu isn’t child’s play. Not only do you need to appeal to a wide range of ages and tastes, but you have to take food allergies (soy, peanuts, shellfish) and other dietary restrictions (gluten-free, dairy-free, kosher, vegan) into account as well.

  • Choose cuisine

Keeping your kids menu in line with the items on your regular menu can help streamline operations, from ingredient sourcing to ordering and inventory management. For example, if you run a sushi restaurant, stocking ingredients for pizza could add to your costs and inventory. Instead, try creating child-size portions of the adult dishes.

  • Offer food for a range of ages

A kids’ menu normally serves children from ages 2 to 12, so consider offering options for each group. A “finger food” plate is an easy option for toddlers while older kids might prefer a smaller version of the same items their parents eat, mirroring the ways parents cook at home.

  • Be sensitive to allergies and dietary preferences

Parents appreciate healthy menu options for their kids, so be sure to include vegetarian/vegan options and items that address food allergies and sensitivities. This is especially essential in restaurants that serve these types of dishes on the main menu since entire families generally practice the same diets. Consider alternatives for dishes with common allergens like peanuts, dairy, and gluten and offer meat and dairy substitutes.

2. Categorizing Items

After you’ve narrowed down what you’ll offer, it’s time to get organized. Group menu items into clear categories: Main Courses, Sides, Beverages, and Desserts to help navigate the menu.

3. Setting Menu Prices

With families dining out once again, and many ordering delivery several times a week, it’s important to stay competitive and keep your loyal customers coming back. The key is to determine pricing that strikes a balance between affordability and profitability. Consider offering meal deals or combo options to incentivize ordering.

For operators looking to be intentional about their profitability, keeping a finger on the pulse of consumer habits, wage trends, and ingredient pricing is key. Craft a menu strategy that pays attention to factors like fluctuating inflation rates, consumer income, and supply costs and be prepared to make changes to the menu as needed to stay profitable.

Pricing Tactics

The Nesting Method

Listing the price directly following the meal description in the same font, font size and color forces the eye to glide over the price instead of focusing on it.

Pricing tactics to avoid:

  • Prices that end with .99 - while this might work in a retail setting, using the .99 makes food appear cheap and unappetizing.

  • Dollar signs - Dollar signs remind customers that they’re spending money. Unless your restaurant caters to a multi-national audience, the currency symbol is not necessary.

  • Price trails - Dotted lines that connect your menu items to their price are like big giant arrows pointing to the price. They take the focus away from the food and highlight the cost.

  • Price columns. Placing prices in columns next to the item forces the guest’s eye to compare prices instead of reading the dish’s description. Guests might be swayed by the lower price and base their decision on cost alone.

4. Writing Menu Descriptions

When creating menu item descriptions, it’s important to use words efficiently and strategically, choosing words that are appealing, easily understood, and detailed, using language that evokes imagination and appetite. Highlight any unique features or ingredients that set your menu apart.

Your kids' menu is a great place to be quirky and creative with words. So, avoid generic verbiage and opt for fun descriptive words like Tiny Tummy Tacos, Big Boy Burgers, and Head-of-the-Class Specials. Create a special dessert menu for kids that get good grades on tests and report cards as a way to keep your restaurant at the top of family’s minds.

5. Choosing a Color Scheme

Human beings of all ages respond emotionally and subconsciously to color, so choose your color scheme wisely. Bright colors like red, yellow, and orange trigger appetites.

To reinforce continuity between your brand and your online menu, your menu’s color scheme should match that of your restaurant’s theme.

  • Green and tan: natural, organic, farm-fresh

  • Yellow: healthy, lunch fare

  • Blue: seafood, lighter fare

  • Red: Italian, pizza, casual

  • Maroon, black and white: high-end, gourmet cuisine

6. Designing Your Physical and Online Menu

Design a visually appealing menu layout that is easy to read and navigate. Consider using playful fonts and graphics that align with your target audience. Colors can make a huge difference and blend with your restaurant’s vibe. Not sure where to start? Many tools and resources like Adobe Suite, Canva, or Pinterest can help.

Strategies and Tactics

  • Golden Triangle Strategy

Placing the items you want to sell in the center, top right, and top left corners.

  • Top and Bottom

Place your most profitable items at the top of the list and one at the bottom.

  • Decoy

Place high profit margin items in the margins close to the more reasonably priced items. This tactic allows guests to feel like they are getting a better deal on items in the main body of the menu. High-priced “decoys” could be items in your puzzle group. Maybe they will never actually be sold, but because they make the lower-priced items seem even more attractive, they get the job done.

  • Bracketing

Similar to the decoy tactic, including two portion options for one dish without including the exact size makes certain items appear to be great deals. Include a larger size with a higher price and a smaller, lower priced size right below it. Guests won’t know exactly how much smaller the small portion is, but it will appear to be the better value just because of the lower price.

7. Selecting Photos

Allowing your young customers to put a “face” to their food can be helpful. High-quality, appetizing food photos can entice children and their parents.

For a kids' menu, using one or two strategically placed photos is beneficial. In fact, studies have shown that menus with mouthwatering images of menu items can increase sales by as much as 30%.

Related Resources

By Eileen Strauss


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