Do restaurants risk losing adults while reaching for kids?

The following is an editorial blog by Stuart Dornfield. All comments and opposing views are welcome.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that restaurants in an attempt to get more families to dine out are “scrambling to counter a tendency by recession-pinched parents to leave their children at home when they go out to eat.”  Case in point, this past summer The Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro added their first-ever kids’ menus. And while P.F. Chang’s had previously offered some kids’ items that servers would suggest to parents, Chief Operating Officer Rick Tasman commented that “not having an actual children’s menu made parents feel like their kids weren’t welcome.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am in no way suggesting that restaurants who cater to families shouldn’t continue to make kids and their parents feel welcome with better and healthier menu items for children. Nor am I suggesting that there aren’t plenty of restaurants that already do that.
My question is this: How much does a restaurant risk losing its core audience of adults seeking an adult-only dining experience if it erodes its brand experience by pandering to families with kids? Certainly, I welcome opposing opinions, but I do not want to drink and dine across from tables filled with albeit screaming kids. When my wife and I are looking for a relaxing and upscale dining experience at P. F. Chang’s, Cheesecake, or any of a number of adult restaurants serving liquor and wine, I don’t expect to see kids running around tables, or hear babies crying.
I recognize that P.F. Chang’s 6.8% decline due to fewer customers is a concern. But perhaps they should look at other ways to increase their profitability other than eroding the brand experience for their core adult customers.
Imagine Starbuck’s offering a kid’s menu and installing a video game arcade in their coffee shops to increase parent/kid visits and incremental sales. Not.
The Wall Street Journal reports that a study last month by market research firm Mintel International Group found that parents are “looking for healthier alternatives to the standard kids’ fare of chicken fingers, grilled cheese sandwiches and macaroni and cheese.” I applaud that. But the answer is not to turn adult-oriented restaurants into kid-friendly restaurants because they already offer healthier meals, but rather, to encourage parents to challenge family restaurants to offer healthier menu items for kids.
Seriously Mr. Restaurant CEO, if the average size of a group dining out with kids pushes the bill up by an average of $8, is it worth $8 to lose adult customers who don’t want to dine with babies and kids? Short-sighted thinking? You bet. When profits drive a brand to change who and what they are and the brand experience changes with it, that’s when the CMO or the CEO needs to say “wait a minute…this is not who we are.“
According to Maria Caranfa, Mintel’s director of menu insights, “restaurants don’t want the reason for people not coming to be because they don’t offer kid-friendly food.” Well I submit, how about adults not coming because you’ve changed your focus to a kid-friendly dining experience!
While I can understand Denny’s Chief Executive Nelson Marchioli’s saying “people with kids are uncertain of the economy, so they don’t need any discouragement from the industry from dining out,”  I also think adults without kids don’t need any discouragement either.

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