Independent restaurant operators are leading an emerging “kid-adult” fusion trend by promoting adult-style offerings to kids in greater numbers. Their menus target kids with smaller portions of premium steaks, fresh fish, locally-sourced healthy foods, and bolder ethnic flavors that are usually the domain of adult palates.

These findings are part of the new 2009 Kids’ Marketing & Menu Report released by foodservice consultants Technomic.

“The ability to develop menu offerings around a local, organic, or natural culinary focus is a trademark of independent concepts that operate in the higher-end, fine-dining realm,” says Darren Tristano, EVP at Technomic. “Parents who value these attributes in food are beginning to steer their children away from mac-and-cheese and chicken finger entrees in favor of fresh seafood, baked or grilled chicken, organic vegetables and premium cuts of meat. This trend has notable trickle-down potential for the Top 250 chains.”

Some of the most common tactics used by limited-service chains are the menuing of kids’ combo meals, availability of toys and prizes, Web sites with online activities, birthday clubs and play areas, while full-service chains often promote “kids eat free” nights, birthday clubs and family-sized to-go meals.

Other interesting findings include:

* Seventy-eight percent of the Top 250 chain restaurants have menus specifically for children. The occurrence is higher for full-service restaurants (88.1 percent) than for limited-service ones (70.5 percent).

* Among menus of the Top 250 chains, pasta, sandwiches and chicken are the most popular children’s lunch and dinner entrees. Dips such as barbecue, honey mustard, and sweet-and-sour sauces were used to impart flavor and differentiate offerings.

* Healthy offerings are growing in children’s menus. There is an uptick in the number of listings of vegetables and fruits, healthy beverages, and smoothies, and items described as natural or organic.

* There is growing preference for bolder, spicier flavors like teriyaki, chili, and chipotle. Children are broadening their accepted flavors beyond those found in traditional American fare.

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