Getting the little people in the door

Here's a fact: kids love pizza. According to a study done by Davanni's Pizza and Hot Hoagies based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 75 percent of the 400 people surveyed say the kids make the decision 50 percent of the time on where the family eats. That's a considerable figure, which backs up why it's so important to market to kids.

I talked with several pizzeria owners about their kids menus and kids marketing programs. It's a very important part of their strategy for getting people in the door, especially repeat customers. Read on to see how catering to the little people can bring in big bucks for you.

Kids and Toys

Kids love things they can collect or play with at restaurants. I called Jessica Kusske at Kidcentives Marketing to see just what kids are requesting in fun items when dining out. She said the three most popular items are puzzles, crayons and coloring sheets. "For dine-in establishments, these items work great for keeping kids busy while they wait for their food," Jessica says.

We also talked about other options such as toys to send with takeout orders and starting a toy program. To make sure the toy is out of direct contact with the food when putting toys with takeout orders, Jessica recommended having the toy over-wrapped or fin-sealed. When starting a toy program, you basically have two options: coloring or puzzle pages and cups or toys. "To keep kids coming back to your restaurant, you would want to change up your toy offerings/artwork designs a few times a year," Jessica says. �Another great technique is to offer a �set' of toys for kids to collect. It keeps the kids coming back because they get the chance to collect all the toys in the set." She says the most popular toys for restaurants right now are bobble heads, travel games, yo-yos, chalkboards with chalk and sticker activity sets.

She says that for buffet style restaurants, it's more likely you'll want to offer cool cups and the artwork and puzzle sheet option.

At Davanni's, they just began a kids meal program with toys being part of the deal. Tim Huberty, director of marketing for Davanni's, says that they started with something called "Wikki Stix," which is a bendable toy similar to a pipe cleaner. He says those were very popular, even among adults. They also offer sets of toys for kids to collect. They have been giving away games like tic-tac-toe and bendable animals, sports figures, and aliens, he said. "They usually come in a set of four," Tim says. "We'll have kids come in saying they need to get the next animal in the series and they'll come in week after week. The toy was an afterthought and it's really been a great add-on. They usually cost us about 15 to 20 cents each. This comes out of my marketing budget, but if I have to spend 20 cents on a toy to get another $10-$15 order, then I'd spend that in a second."

Tim does his market research at home with his eight-year-old. "I take the catalog home and tell him to look through it," he says. "He tells me what he likes and shows some of the samples to his friends. That's about the extent of our research." To keep the kids safe, they make sure the toys are individually wrapped in plastic.

Kids Meal Deals

Having a specific kids menu is a marketing tool in itself. When kids know they can get their own special meal, they are more likely to want to eat in your establishment. Sheldon Presser, general manager of Fox's Pizza at Fun Street in Valdosta, Georgia, said that they offer a bundled kids meal where the child gets one of three options. They can get a six-inch cheese or one-topping pizza, a six-ounce baked spaghetti or a six-piece chicken nugget meal along with a drink, a cookie and eight game tokens. The cost of the meal is $5.79.

Sheldon says the customers would most likely not buy the cookie, so by having it be part of the bundle he is able to boost the check average by about 68 cents. "We sell a great many of these, but give away probably as many if not more. We give a coupon for a free kid's meal to every elementary school child in kindergarten through fourth grade in the city and county for their birthday (some 8,000 or so)." They also give them away to their kid's club members as well as kids who enter their coloring contest.

Dale Roberts, owner of Blackjack Pizza in Boulder, Colorado, offers a "kid's pak" as an add-on to any order. The pak includes an eight-inch one-topping pizza, a 20-ounce bottle of soda and a small cup of Haagen Dazs ice cream. He began advertising the kid's pak on his box toppers and in his Yellow Pages ad. Now, he doesn't advertise it at all, and sells just as many kid's paks as when he did advertise it.

At Davanni's, they have recently added a kids menu. The menu is aimed at kids aged six to ten, Tim says. Kid can get a solo (small cheese) pizza, half of a hot hoagy or an order of garlic cheese bread. They can add a topping to any of the items for a small additional charge. Each meal comes with a Capri Sun Fruit Punch, a kiddy soda or milk; a chocolate chunk cookie and a toy. "The neat thing about it is it has been an incremental item in that parents are still going to get whatever they are going to get," Tim says. "We approach it is a way to tell kids, "You're more of a person. We respect you individually even though you are only seven or eight years old. We think you should get your own special meal." Most stores sell anywhere from a couple to 25 per day.

Getting Kids to Bring in the Family

Aaron Bailey, owner of Bailey's Pizza Company, located in Northwood, Ohio, has centered his marketing efforts on kids by incorporating acrobatic dough tossing into his business. Each week he hosts at least one party for kids to come in and learn the art of dough tossing. He offers the party and demonstration free of charge. The parents pay full price for the menu items the kids order.

Aaron also offers packages for parties like birthdays, but says more people order individual menu items. One of the package deals is for $50; you get three pepperoni pizzas, drinks, cake and ice cream for the 10 to 12 kids a party accommodates. During the party, Aaron's brother or another family member will tape the kids learning how to toss dough. "I will edit and create a DVD for each child for free after the party," Aaron says. "It usually goes out to them the week after the party. The DVD is not only a memento for the kids and their family, it's also a form advertising for me." On the DVD, Aaron has put a clip of him dough tossing, a clip of his nine-year-old son dough tossing and information about how people can set up a party.

Aaron also advertises the parties with a mounted television near his counter in the restaurant. "I have a DVD playing with the demonstrations and information about the parties. That is all the advertising I have done for them." He is doing at least one party a week. Aaron is located in a mall food court and at the back of it so he has about 1,200 square feet to work with in parties.

Not only does he have kids coming in for birthdays and other party events, he also has scout groups coming in to earn their food badges. For five dollars per child, they can make their own 10-inch pizza. He lets them hand-stretch the dough and apply the sauce, cheese and pepperoni. Because of the popularity of his dough tossing performances, Aaron just began a family night. Every Tuesday night he is going to have dough-tossing workshops from 6 to 8 p.m.

Sheldon has a similar program in his pizzeria. They let kids come in for field trips to make their own pizzas. For $5.49 he lets them make their own six-inch pizza by adding sauce and cheese. The also get a soft drink and 12 game token with the pizza-making package. "Depending on their ages, I talk with them about where mushrooms come from, or if they're older we talk to them about food handling and safety concerns." Each child leaves the demonstration with a coupon for four tokens and a soft drink. "To complete the experience, for the kindergarten and first grade classes, we have an arrangement with the local police department where they present (no charge) a program of 'stranger danger' complete with crayons and coloring books."

At Davanni's they've really ramped up their kids marketing. One thing they do is offer a "Good Job" certificate to students. The teachers and the store manager sign the award. Each award is printed on parchment paper and has a perforated edge. The edge is perforated so they can tear off a coupon for a free solo pizza. "If the kid's coming in for only the pizza, I haven't heard about it," Tim says. "It's a great thing to lure in the entire family."

Tim says they used to spend over $100,000 on professional sports team marketing. Now, they have taken over one third of that money and allocated most of it towards youth sports programs. Throughout the year they are sponsoring 33 kids' sports teams. Some of the things they do for them are buy teams' and coaches' jerseys, ads in programs, scoreboards and water bottles. "There are only two requirements of the teams we sponsor," Tim says. "If we buy the jerseys, they have to use red with white lettering, and it has to have our logo on it. We also require the teams to bring us a picture at the end of the season so we can hang it on the wall." He says doing all this for the kids is "just any way we can get our name out there to the kids or the coaches."

Conclusion

Giving kids meal and treat options gives you a leg up on the competition because kids are influencing where the family eats when they dine out. By having a small variety of menu options or a bundled deal, you give kids a choice in what to eat. Toys, coloring books, and puzzles give kids something to do while parents enjoy their meal. Being involved in the schools and community helps you develop a reputation among customers as someone who cares about their families. This paves the way for customer loyalty and repeat business.