Places like Frankie & Benny’s and PizzaExpress are certified safe spaces. Homogenous, dependable, consistent – parents can flock to them en mass, escape the house, eat dinner in the real world (children in tow), and not be judged for doing so at 4pm.
They eliminate the need to conjure up extra energy for the washing up, and offer a micro universe in which it is not rowdy children who are chided, instead, it’s those who tut at other people’s kids that get ostracised by the collective dining room.
It helps that these kinds of restaurants – wipe clean, nicely noisy – supply copious amounts of crayons and employ servers who don’t seem to mind when one or more of your toddlers makes a break for it and tries to join another family entirely, or, you know, the chef out the back.
These establishments are havens, providing straightforward, easily identifiable meals kids not only recognise, but actively want. A margherita pizza, baked dough balls, crispy battered fish goujons (come on, F&B, we know you mean fish fingers), spaghetti and meatballs – no surprises means no tantrums. Right?
Well, yes. And hopefully, the beloved, clattering dining rooms of F&B and PizzaExpress will forever offer sanctuary to parents and guardians who find themselves out of chicken nuggets and lacking the will to enter a kitchen. However, there are rumours that kids’ menus of old are on the cusp of revolution. Apparently ‘something and chips’ is no longer quite cutting it.
According to recent research by Caterer.com, 65% of parents they surveyed thought kids’ menus needed a shake up, with 74% in favour of them simply mirroring the adult menu, just in smaller portion sizes. A bold 28% said they’d scrap kids’ menus altogether given the chance, while others suggested less drastic adjustments, like offering more choice and meal customisation.
Variety is definitely an area restaurants are beginning to experiment with. Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research at the National Restaurant Association, told Insider this could be the year kids’ menus begin to widen, and be treated with a little more panache, particularly through “incorporating more global flavours”.
Health is also a growing concern, particularly when so often the choice is chips or carrot sticks. “We’re predicting more availability of healthy items on children’s menus that allow kids to explore new flavours,” said Riehle, while in New York City, a new legal limit on the amount of sugary drinks allowed on kids’ menus is being introduced.
More choice is certainly needed, but arguably, the real travesty is that what’s on the kids’ menu is often only available to little ones. Adults like chicken nuggets too, you know. And sometimes a Happy Meal is just what you fancy, even if you don’t want the accompanying toy (depending what it is, obvs).
So, why are those with their own bank accounts and the right to vote, not allowed to order three scoops of Neapolitan ice cream with a wafer? That’s what really needs a shake up.