Insight into family-friendly dining from the NRA Show

By Laura Zaplantynsky-Bell

Kids and family marketing insights from the NRA Show, Chicago, May 20-23, 2017

Upon returning home from the annual National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago — the largest annual gathering of the restaurant, foodservice and hospitality industry — we at Kidzsmart reflected on all the fascinating new trends impacting our industry, including plant-based proteins, nitro coffee, and robots that help you make everything from sushi to froyo. However, despite all these new and wonderful products, we were also surprised that many of the principal themes and challenges of the industry remain the same year after year, including the challenge our clients face in providing an enhanced experience for kids and families.


A refrain heard over and over from large international chains and smaller independent restauranteurs alike, is that operators are looking to offer fun and engaging content to their customers, but also want this to include an educational component.  We had frequent discussions with visitors to the Kidzsmart booth about creating content that outlines the value of healthful eating and exercise, local geographical or historical information, and even STEM topics, in an entertaining and engaging way.


While we had mixed reviews on the inclusion of crayons (people love them or hate them!), a consistent conversation was avoiding any toys or other items that create more ‘mess’. We all know that families with young children can create a bit more clutter than your average customer, therefore any activity or giveaway that adds to that clutter is a non-starter for front line staff and savvy operators.

Social Media Sharing/Digital

We had lots of the visitors to our booth trying on some of Kidzsmart’s fun, custom beaver masks and moose antlers, and we observed many of them snapping photos for Instagram and other social media sites. With the NRA keen to promote #NRA2017 and many vendors looking for viral success, there were plenty of smartphones snapping and sharing photos across the showroom floor, and lots of questions on how to leverage digital for marketing in a fun and unique way. Technology trends like branded apps continue to grow in the restaurant industry, and the key is to provide engaging content that enhances marketing efforts and builds loyalty. Visitors were keen to play with Kidzsmart’s Smartlenz app which bridges print and digital programs together, and felt it fostered family play. Not surprisingly, the NRA highlighted consumers’ demand for social media marketing as a key trend to shape the restaurant industry in 2017 (see 2017 National Restaurant Association Restaurant Industry Outlook).

Kids and families are an important demographic for most restaurants. Offering a kids’ program of value, that demonstrates brand authenticity and includes a learning component, can go a long way — especially if the program is mindful of waste. Furthermore, social media isn’t going anywhere soon, and brands should continue to explore digital engagement which fosters sharing and building memories at the same time. Despite the many advances in the restaurant industry, the NRA Show certainly highlighted the importance of good ol’ family fun!

About the author:

Laura Zaplantynsky-Bell is an Account Director at Kidzsmart, a kids and family marketing firm based in Vancouver, BC. Their focus is on increasing family engagement for their clients by developing revenue-driving and loyalty-inducing kids and family experiences. Through the use of children’s illustrations, storytelling, character development and fun participation games, Kidzsmart develops brand relationships that last.

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