Made for moppets
Restaurants are learning that small can be beautiful, writes Janine Stein
YOUNG customers judge restaurants on simple criteria: the balloons, the gifts and whether they serve chocolate ice cream. Sylvia's kids are typical; they love Dan Ryan's because they get a balloon and yet another key ring, and may go to McDonald's twice a day.
So restaurants which will serve chips when children turn their noses up at smoked salmon - add Grissini at the Grand Hyatt to that list - rate on the kiddies Top 10 list .
Parents, of course, have very different standards for places to bring their children. Forget about places like La Bodega. 'They would fall down the stairs and after a few drinks I would too,' says a mother of two. Scratch the Peak Cafe as well: 'They will either fall into the fireplace or crack their heads on the stone tiles. It's a nightmare,' another mother says.
The restaurants which cater best for children have made a real effort to court them and their parents.
And kids are good business, as McDonald's has proved. In addition to serving endless Happy Meals, the ubiquitous fast food outlet hosts 36,000 children's parties a year in its 99 stores in Hong Kong. At $6.50 a head for each child's party box, which includes toys and other stuff kids love, plus food, that's a fairly hefty bonus to the coffers.
Pomeroy's is also mining a relatively untapped vein on Saturday afternoons. Neil Morgan, manager of Pomeroy's in Pacific Place, says the Saturday Kids' Club has boosted business during the traditionally quiet Saturday lunches to weekday levels.
Dan Ryan's, another top-tenner, offers children the chance to play grown-up with a complimentary bottle of non-alcoholic champagne to celebrate birthdays. 'It's a concerted effort,' says the restaurant's Stephanie Hogan.
But young customers don't want to wait and they don't want to be told to sit still. 'That's why buffets are perfect,' says Kim, the mother of two boys. 'I can get them their food before they even sit down.' While the children may make a mess, the upside for business is that they don't hang around afterwards drinking coffee and tying up the tables.
Dan Ryan's, which gets about 400 children through its doors on weekends, sees its child-friendly policy as part of a total service strategy. 'The parents are those who dine in my restaurant Monday through Friday,' Hogan says. 'They come back with their children on the weekends, so it's great repeat business. To us, the children are as important as their parents.' To parents, Dan Ryan's is a blessing. 'They are magnificent,' Elaine says. 'They don't mind if they throw things under the table and give them all this stuff that makes them happy.' On Saturdays Pomeroy's opens its toy box and brings in the clown to amuse its young club members. 'This keeps the kids entertained while parents have their lunch,' Morgan says.
Like McDonald's, which expects to have tomato sauce on the walls, busy Chinese restaurants are judged the perfect place to be with kids. 'There are always children running around,' says Elaine. 'And you don't have to worry that yours are behaving badly.' 'It doesn't matter if she chips or breaks the crockery because all the dishes are chipped anyway,' she adds.
Having other children in a restaurant makes eating out a lot more comfortable for parents. 'I tried Spices in Repulse Bay one day, but all the other women there without children made me feel like a leper. There was nowhere to play and the tables were too close together,' says Elaine.
Still food has to be considered - even if none of the mothers interviewed mentioned food as a top priority when eating out with their children. Morgan says there are some parents who want their children to eat more healthily, but most go for the old favourites.
Pomeroy's children's buffet ($80) includes hamburgers, mini hot dogs and spaghetti Bolognaise. The illustrated a la carte menu features crumbed chicken with chips ($40) and sausages with baked beans and mashed potato ($40). Dan Ryan's does similar fare: 'All child-related yummy food,' says Hogan.
Sylvia's children lists Yee Tung Heen at the Excelsior among their favourite Chinese restaurants. And Yee Tung Heen, by all accounts, adores them. 'Sometimes we finish lunch too late and they won't give us chocolate ice cream. If they fixed that, we would go more often,' says Sylvia.