No Child’s Play

Some restaurants are doing all they can to make dining out with Junior a fun, family experience

Issue: Apr 2011

Fire engine bento set
Firing up the appetites of children involves kid-friendly food presentation

Children make good business. Given the fact that the average household in Singapore has two or fewer children, parents are increasingly unafraid to indulge their little ones. Family decisions – from where to eat, to how to spend their leisure time – often center round the needs and wants of the children. Those who are savvy in business know this. That’s why more and more businesses are clamouring to cater to kids. They know that if they draw the young ones in, the entire family follows. The restaurant business is no exception.

Mini beef burger from Swensen’s
Something to chew on - many children find beef too tough but presented in ground-up burger form, the red meat suddenly becomes a hit

Pandering to Pre-school Palates

Children have rather simple tastes. They don’t need anything elaborate. They don’t want exotic. What adults consider comfort food - what we deem junk - is their idea of a gourmet paradise. Children are also remarkably tolerant when it comes to repetition. They have no qualms eating the same foods over and over again. In fact, they thrive on such predictability. While these kiddy quirks may vex parents who are determined to help their children expand their gastronomical repertoire, it actually spells good news for restaurants designing a child-friendly menu.

San Franciscan family restaurant chain, Swensen’s, located in seven of CapitaMalls Asia’s shopping malls (Bugis Junction, Bukit Panjang Plaza, IMM, ION Orchard, Junction 8, Plaza Singapura and Tampines Mall), is one eatery that thrives on this. Just the fact that they are an ice-cream palour is kid magnate enough but their kid’s menu shows an understanding of what almost every child likes – chicken and fish swathed in batter and then fried to crisp, golden perfection; burgers; pasta and fries.

There’s also an appreciation that children are different from adults. The fries come in fun shapes. The burgers are child-sized to accommodate child-sized appetites. Meats that can be tough for children to chew on come in minced versions in the mini beef and mini chicken mayo burgers as well as in their pasta. To placate parents and provide a balanced diet while still catering to Junior, a side order of sweet corn comes with most orders instead of the usual salad.

Hamtaro bento set
This Hamtaro child’s set meal not only has food shaped like the famous cartoon hamster, even the container is hamster-shape

Like any discerning diner, children eat with their eyes as well as their tummies. Presentation is vital to winning the kiddy vote. Sakae Sushi, located in Bugis Junction, has this down pat. Instead of the usual lacquered bento boxes, their children’s bento set comes in imaginative presentations, mostly on the locomotive theme.

There is the train set which has soba noodles and sushi plus deep fried meat balls and fries sitting prettily in a bullet train. The plane set offers a variety of sushi and fried finger foods. The fire engine set features tonkatsu or pork cutlet with egg-wrapped rice stuffed into a whole tomato, fries and a bottle of Yakult. Another bento set with rice, fries, sausages and an assortment of finger foods comes in a bus-shaped lunch box. To cater to more girlish tastes, there is the Hamtaro set with riceballs shaped like the famous cartoon hamster. The hamster’s ears are made of fired croquettes. The set includes a side order of fries, sausages as well as tempura prawns and vegetables.

Play corner
A children’s corner within the Shokudo Food Bazaar at Raffles City Singapore allows children to romp around as they eat

Play to the Audience

For children, dining out is also a total body experience. Rare is the child who considers a sit-down meal a treat. So family-friendly eateries have been known to do what they can to occupy their young patrons. At Shokudo Japanese Food Bazaar at Raffles City, an entire corner is reserved for children. Cordoned off from the main eating area, it allows children to run free while still being within line of sight of the parents. Educational toys, a slide, rocking horse and a miniature basketball set keep active kids occupied. For safety, the floor is paved with foamed mats and the furniture are low and have round edges.

Playground in Sembawang Shopping Centre
This playground in Sembawang Shopping Centre provides a common area for kids to occupy themselves while their parents dine nearby

Puzzle from Pasta Mania
Things like puzzles and quizzes are given to little clients to keep them entertained while they wait for their food to come

Some restaurants that want to attract the young crowd but do not have facilities within their premises to keep them occupied have found a perfect solution at Sembawang Shopping Centre. This family mall has planned the retail mix in such a way that a cluster of restaurants look into the playground on the third floor. Young patrons of the restaurants can have their run of the play area while their parents can watch over them and dine in comfort at the same time.

Prized Possessions

Children misbehave when they are bored. So PastaMania, located in six CapitaMalls Asia’s shopping malls (Bugis Junction, Funan DigitaLife, Junction 8, Lot One Shoppers’ Mall, Plaza Singapura and Tampines Mall), provides children with puzzles and stationery to keep them occupied while their orders are being prepared. And taking a leaf from the books of fast-food marketeers, restaurants are also giving away freebies to kiddy guests. Pasta de Waraku, located in Iluma, gives out toys and stationery while Shokudu Japanese Food Bazaar is giving away candy floss this April to sweeten every child’s meal.

So, it looks like catering to children’s needs is well worth the effort even if it means going the extra mile to do it. After all, they are the ones that are bringing in the dollar, and they are not kidding around.

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