- In February, Millennium & Copthorne Hotels launched a new ‘Ask Alfred’ Children’s Concierge service across its seven London properties. For £20 per child, the package offers a selection of their own in-room amenities including a complimentary Hamleys teddy bear, a bathrobe and slippers for the duration of the stay and ice cream on arrival.
The Children's Concierge package also includes a ‘survival guide’ book for parents, giving information on things to do with kids during their day, and nearby family-friendly restaurants they can eat at. The book has been translated into Chinese, Arabic and Russian.
- In the same month, Hampton Court Palace launched the Very Hungry Caterpillar menu. Children who visit the hotel have access to a new range of healthy food and drink options in collaboration with The Very Hungry Caterpillar book.
Seasonal fruit pots, crudités and healthy snacks are all available on the new menu, along with sandwiches and a small treat selection which are made to have minimum impact on added sugar and excess fat. The menu encourages children themselves to choose from this healthy selection that they then store in Very Hungry Caterpillar branded boxes.
- Then, in June, noodle chain Wagamama launched their brand new kids offering, with designs from independent arts and science children’s magazine, Okido.
Children dining at Wagamama now have access to activity packs featuring a newly designed character, Hoshi. The launch was supported by a redefined menu offering for kids, which now provides mini-sized portions of the restaurant’s main meals.The Okido-designed collateral was also extended to Wagamama’s popular school visits, in which children learn about how the Japanese-inspired dishes are made, orders are taken and the restaurants are run.Why these promotions?
- “About a year and a half ago, we did nothing for children,” said Nic Lander, Millennium & Copthorne’s head of concierge, who founded the Children’s Concierge service. “I was staying at one of our hotels with my three children and my wife said to me ‘you don’t do anything’, you don’t even provide crayons’.
“So we did a lot of research and we learnt from the mistakes of competitors. We’ve made sure we don’t deter our business guests with this - we also don’t want to have to provide bikes or DVDs, because parents usually travel with these things.”
- Consultant nutritionist Amanda Ursell advised on the meal composition at Hampton Court Pallace for The Hungry Caterpillar menu. “I can say, hand on heart, I would be happy for my little ones to tuck into a Very Hungry Caterpillar lunchbox,” she said.
“The selection of choices was carefully thought through to both appeal to children’s likes and parents desire for their offspring to eat food that is good for them."
- Ingrid Williamson, head of marketing at Wagamama, added: “As the brand has started to expand, we felt that people didn’t necessarily perceive Wagamama as being welcoming to kids. We wanted to give it more of an identity and more of a presence.
“Okido treat children more like adults, which is the position that we wanted to take so it made the perfect partnership. We’ve always had a child’s menu but over the years we’ve evolved it into providing dishes for children that are reflective of the larger portions that their parents are having.”How effective have they been?
- "A minimum of £2 from each Children’s Concierge booking goes to our chosen charity, Rays of Sunshine,” added Lander. “We donated a cheque to them in February for £6,200 and we will be giving another donation at Christmas, so it’s been really successful.
"It has, without a doubt, led to a direct increase in bookings from families with children. We churn out up to 200 children at our Slough branch on a daily basis, which is a notable increase.
“It’s also made us more aware of what people want as a group. Having children in your hotel can be a health and safety nightmare, so we also ring-fenced all of our properties to make sure we had child-friendly sockets in the room, new cots that comply to various standards, children’s bedding, bottle warmers – everything that a child would need.”
- Williamson from Wagamama added: “The partnership with Okido is absolutely working. With year-on-year sales, we’ve already seen an average of 30 and 50 per cent increase in kids menus being sold.”
“We would certainly recommend this sort of initiative as a way of boosting business.”The experts’ view:
Caroline Cooper, founder of Zeal Coaching, which helps to give hospitality clients a ‘competitive edge’, said: “Offering something specifically for children is a great way to introduce them and get them used to the idea of eating out or staying in hotels – after all these are our customers of the future, so the sooner we get them into the concept the more likely they are to do this on a regular basis when they are footing the bill themselves.”
“I have to congratulate Hampton Court Palace on placing an emphasis on healthy eating. Most parents want their kids to eat healthily, but a lot of the kids too want something more than the ‘rubbish food’ (not my words, but those of a parent I was with this morning!) so often seen on the kids’ menu.
“A dish from the main menu might be too much. I still think there is a long way to go in offering child-sized portions on the main menu – depending on their age many children want to have access to the same offers as the grownups, and Wagamama are doing this really well.”Words of caution…
“Being child friendly goes a lot further than just offering a kids’ menu,” added Cooper. “Firstly, you’ve got to consider the compatibility with other customers. We generally are not as tolerant in this country as for example Italy; so consider if you want to actively welcome children all day and evening, or certain times of the day.
“Then you’ve a very diverse range – babies in arms, toddlers and pre-school, juniors and teenagers - all having very different needs and expectations. As an example, if you want to attract young mums with their pre-school children, think about facilities and layout – is there room for the buggy next to the table, what about you acoustics, access to toilets, crockery and glassware?
“And above all you’ve got to have staff who love kids!”Thinking about this sort of thing for your business?
Cooper concluded: “My final word on the subject would be - if you want to attract children, shout about it. Parents know they are going to be welcome at some of the high street chains and hotels, so they keep going back there. Let them know what the alternatives are.”