Frozen mozzarella sticks, store-brand macaroni and cheese, overcooked mini burgers, bland spaghetti with butter — kids’ menu items served on nondescript white plates are generally what families expect when dining out. Restaurants tend to focus on perfecting menu items for parents, overlooking the influence children have on parental decision making. But business booms when children enjoy meals tailored to their age, and families want to return to restaurants that have options for all.
Omni Hotels and Resorts recently tested this theory with its Culinary Kids Omni Originals series, and found that kids want the same as adults — a culinary experience from plating to tasting to eating. “It was very successful,” says Devin Burns, vice president of food and beverage for Omni. “Our resort properties where we get a lot of families saw more revenue generation and popularity with these items. In some resorts, we saw kids ordering off this menu 70 percent of the time versus our regular kids’ menu, which usually gets about 30 percent. It’s more than doubled the popularity of the kids’ menu items we normally serve.”
Culinary Kids is part of the Omni Originals series, where each quarter, Omni introduces a new culinary program that focuses on something trendy in the food and beverage space. Some of the previous Omni Originals concepts were: the 12 Days of Cocktails, which played off the 12 Days of Christmas; Cookie Cocktails, where chefs submitted childhood-favorite cookie recipes turned into cocktails; and Seasons of Smoke, with charred, smoked, and grilled items featured on the menu.
And some items from the Culinary Kids program are now permanent menu offerings. Burns adds, “The majority of our past Omni Originals programming has focused on adult palettes and cocktails, so it was time we focused on our younger travelers. The 12-and-under age group is experimenting more, ordering off the adult or regular menu, having sophisticated taste buds that we haven’t seen before with kids. Kids are more exposed to different flavors. They’re traveling more with their parents. We wanted to elevate beyond that and offer something fun and exciting that our competition doesn’t.”
Culinary Kids had a wide variety of options including: Jenga French Toast, a tower of pull-apart French Toast sticks; Rainbow Acai Bowl, a fruit and vegetable meal; The Garden, an edible dirt arrangement where kids pull out their own raw vegetables; The Fromage Dipper, a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon, avocado ranch dressing, and local jam; and the Chinese Takeout box, a container with Chinese takeout-inspired foods served with or without chopsticks.
Omni Originals programming usually faces one challenge, Burns says. “Any time we do an Omni Originals menu that’s going to be brand-wide, we have to be mindful of how it’s going to work in each hotel because each hotel is unique — we have city hotels, convention business hotels, resort hotels. At the end of the day, at all of our hotels, we serve food and beverage and kids visit us with their parents, which makes Culinary Kids relevant.”
Burns credits the success of all Omni Originals programming to the chefs and F&B teams that speak up on improvements to the offerings at specific hotels. “Our kids are more exposed to more sophisticated flavors and offerings than ever before,” Burns says. “The kids want that experience — the memorable, Instagrammable moments. We see kids wanting to put everything on social media like their parents and older siblings do. We offer something that’s exciting for them to take a snap and hashtag Omni whenever they’re dining with us. For us to be able to do that is pretty awesome.”
And Burns offers one piece of advice for all restaurants that want to switch up the kids’ menu. “Try it,” he says. “Just do it. A kids’ menu is something that, honestly, for most restaurants, generally doesn’t get the attention it deserves. If it doesn’t work, you can change, rework, and tweak it. The worst thing we can do in food and beverage is not change.”