Innovating children’s restaurant menus – how can software help?

Whilst children’s restaurant menus have come a long way over the years and the industry has made a great deal of progress, there is still more that we can do, especially with our Saffron software, to help restaurants innovate and appeal to the family audience.

Here we’ll be looking at:

How children’s relationships to food are changing

It’s clear that our children’s generation is being increasingly driven by food choices – both in and out of the home – that are connected to better health and consideration for the planet. As we heard from Compass’s Louise Pilkington keynote speech at Lunch!, today’s children are a totally different model to any previous generation when it comes to food. They are:

  • more empowered to contribute to family decisions
  • taught to think about food differently
  • more conscious of consequences when it comes to both their health and the planet.

Clearly, this means that children are likely to influence decisions about which restaurant to choose when eating out, and have some say in their menu choices at that restaurant – for food that is healthier, more sustainable and more plant-based.

The catalysts for change

Momentum is gathering. This is evident in the media, in government and is filtering down to the restaurant industry. Newspapers seize on every report about the obesity of our children, and how children are put at risk of cancers due to poor diets. Media focus is beginning to follow the trail to the out-of-home sector, and restaurant menus can’t be found wanting in the health stakes.

Guidance and government schemes to steer healthier children’s menus in restaurants and the out of home sector are currently in flux, but very much in the public eye. With the closure of the Children’s Food Trust at the end of September 2017, the baton for improving child health through food has now passed to Action For Children, and will be delivered through the Eat Better, Start Better campaign originally developed by the Children’s Food Trust. In March 2017, Public Health England published a toolkit to help independent food businesses provide and promote healthier choices, as well as The Healthier Catering Guidance for Different Types of Businesses. The food industry is currently awaiting the implementation of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy in 2018, sounding the death knell for sugary drinks on children’s menus. In the meantime, there is a voluntary scheme Sugary Drinks Levy operated by the Children’s Health Fund, and more than 100 restaurants are already signed up to this all over the UK. Is yours going to be one?

The restaurants to learn from

PR is crucial and restaurants are now being named and shamed for unhealthy children’s menus. New research by the Soil Association’s Out To Lunch campaign out in October reveals the rankings of top restaurants by the healthiness of their children’s menus, with Jamie’s Italian, Wetherspoons and Strada coming top for their offers. The bottom five featured names like Nandos, KFC, TGI Fridays, Prezzo and Burger King. Clearly, this is problematic at the moment – not every town has a Jamie’s Italian or Strada. While the Children’s Food Trust found in its State of The Nation report that the top places parents eat out with their children are McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut, we’d like to believe that this is down to geographically ubiquity of food-to-go venues – and their child-targeted marketing.

However, the smaller chains are catching up, and this could be the tipping point for restaurants with healthy children’s menus. Savills found in their report, Casual Dining in the UK 2016, that ‘almost 80% of the market is made up of brands with fewer than 25 restaurants and it is this area that has seen the starkest growth in the last few years.’ We can only hope as the demand, momentum and government incentives for healthy restaurant food increases, the successes of the healthy restaurants will enable them to increase their presence to compete with the ubiquitous fast food offerings – making it easier for parents and children to vote with their feet for healthier children’s food in a wider choice of restaurants.

Using software to provide the information parents want

So how can the restaurant industry use that information when it comes to children’s menus? How can a restaurant become more successful by providing healthier children’s menus? The time is ripe to improve the information that restaurants are providing to influence families’ decisions. How do we ensure that families get the information they want, and need?

Supplying nutritional information on restaurant menus is the obvious answer in order to drive informed choices of both parents and children, but that starts with first producing healthier options. Healthier options start in menu engineering, by building recipes and menus from nutritionally analysed ingredients. Our Saffron catering software can do this, and also benchmark against imported nutritional guidelines, or user-set nutritional parameters. This enables healthier recipes to be produced, or existing recipes to adapted to meet healthier standards.

What does the restaurant industry know about producing healthy food? Well, quite a lot as it turns out from the successes of Jamie’s Italian et al, but restaurants who are struggling to come up with healthy options can do worse than looking to schools for inspiration, and use the nutritional guidelines first set by the School Food Plan. You can find more information about this in our advice article, Meeting Nutrition Standards in Schools.

Food costing: attracting parents and children without breaking the bank

Part of the criticism levelled at healthier choices is often that they are more expensive than the unhealthy option. This is where the convenience of Saffron’s automated food costing comes in, allowing restaurants to adapt menus to come in on budget and to the required nutritional profile. Customers shouldn’t have to pay extra to choose the healthy option, and neither should restaurants have to take a hit on margins just to avoid the junk food. Saffron’s automated costing coupled with nutritional analysis and menu building functionality means that it’s actually possible to construct innovative menus that are healthy. For more information on Saffron’s functionalities in this area, and how they work together, read our content on:

Using software to provide allergy information in restaurants

But well-priced nutritious food isn’t the only way children’s restaurant menus can attract patronage. The numbers of children with serious food allergies is increasing. Only restaurants that can guarantee clear and reliable allergen information are rewarded with customer trust and repeat visits. Providing accurate, real-time allergen information is made easier with Saffron’s customer facing allergen portal – one of our clients, Yo! Sushi, get 3,000 hits each week on their allergen portal. People need to know this crucial, often life-saving information for their children!

Yet why should food-allergic customers have to choose between allergen safety and the healthier food for their children? Clearly, the more boxes restaurants can tick in providing information to customers on nutrition and allergen safety, the better for everyone.

Find out more about how Saffron’s allergen modules and customer-facing portal can help restaurants by reading about:
What next?

To find out how our Saffron catering software can help you improve your restaurant’s childrens menu, call us on 0114 281 6060, email us at, or fill out our contact form.

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