A seven-year-old boy stands at the chocolate fountain at one of the tables at Villa Rosa Kempinski’s brunch array.
He holds a slice of tomato and cheese pizza, firmly fixed on a skewer, and places it under the flowing molten chocolate.
The chef smiles and urges him on to get as much chocolate on the pizza as he would like. He skips away with glee, chocolate-coated pizza in hand.
The Sunday brunch in most high-end Kenyan hotels have entire sections dedicated to children, where they get to create their own dishes, even if it is a tomato, cheese and chocolate pizza.
Nowadays, children are not only dictating what they will eat but also determining where they want to eat at and how to eat it.
“Children are major influencers on where a family will choose to go on holiday, where to wine and dine,” says Roselyne Nduati, director of sales and marketing at Villa Rosa Kempinski.
Nduta Kamaara, who regularly eats out, states that most decisions she makes that involve going out are based on her child, especially during the weekend. “I look for good food options and a play area,” she says.
Decisions for most families on where to live, eat, cars to buy, entertainment, even holidays primarily depend on the children, and what will best suit them.
“If the children are happy, the parents can relax. Parents work hard for their children and their families’ happiness. Kids are tomorrow’s adult target audience,” says Roselyne.
She states that happy children equals happy parents that equals returns for the business.
Eating out is steadily becoming a mainstay on the Kenyan dining experience if the number of restaurants setting up and the hefty investments are anything to go by.
The 2018 Global Cities report by Knight Frank indicated that the spend on eating out between 2017 and 2027 is expected to increase by 82.8 percent.
“Take Nairobi as an example, the total spend in restaurants, and eating out more broadly, is anticipated to rise from $848 million (Sh87.9 billion) in 2017 to $1.5 billion (Sh155.5 billion) over the next decade. The increase in restaurant spend is mirrored in the hotel sector. Markets as mature as those in London, San Francisco or Miami will see hotel spend rise by around a third over the next 10 years, while key African and Asian cities will see growth of 50 percent, 100 percent and even 200 percent,” read the report.
Weekdays target the business folk and working class who dine out during their lunch hour and grab coffee in the evening as they meet in hotels and restaurants to broker deals. However, come the weekend, the game changes.
Restaurants and hotels are rapidly expanding within Kenya to target the growing demand for good food and particularly family-style dining that has been elevated to a staple at the table.
As such, the restaurant and hotel business also shifts its offering from business chic over the week to child-friendly over the weekend.
Children as young as three years old already have brand recognition, favourite meals and in turn favourite restaurants. They will usually demand to be taken to a specific restaurant or mall to eat and dictate how the food should be plated.
“Presentation of kids meals in terms of the actual food plating and the menu are carefully crafted to attract the eye,” says Svetlana Polikarpova, ArtCaffé marketing manager. The local restaurant group has, as part of its investment, crafted a menu specially catering for the needs and demands of children.
This is a task that even the top chefs in the world find daunting. Children may not have the most advanced palate, but they are the most discerning and picky eaters. They will not force their way through a meal and have no qualms leaving a Michelin star dish on the table untouched for a simple hot dog or plate mac and cheese.
“When working on children’s menus we keep in mind ingredients as the meals have to be alcohol-free, nu- free in most cases due to allergies, minimum spices included. Portioning is also a major factor in kids’ menus which corresponds to pricing,” says Svetlana. “Plus point to the backside of the menu having a few activities to keep the kiddos busy such as colouring and drawing,” she adds. Child-friendly menus have become a key factor among the workforce with a growing expendable income when they are eating out. With hectic schedules, weekdays have become nearly impossible to fit in family bonding time and in lieu, parents have set aside weekends as time to spend with their young ones.
“I check for how child-friendly a place is and safety is a key factor for me. I usually Google it and also look at their children’s menu beforehand to see what they offer,” says Wanjiru Nduati.
Children’s menus usually come separate from the main menu and have games and tasks at the back.
The extra investment in growing the market share for the smallest diner comes with the growing competition in the entire hotel and restaurant landscape.
Radisson Blu and Villa Rosa Kempinski, both business hotels known for their highbrow clientele and famous guest lists — on Sunday turns a section of their properties to child haven. “With Sunday being predominantly a family day and Sunday brunch growing in popularity in Nairobi, we felt best to introduce a kid’s buffet station that solely caters for them. As you are aware kids can be quite fussy on their food preferences and we needed to ensure we offer a menu that is most suitable to their palate instead from picking from the general buffet,” says Mary Wanjohi, the marketing and communications manager at Radisson Blu Nairobi.
Since the introduction of the section, the hotel has seen a gradual increase in the number of families coming for the brunch.
To keep the children contained, the hotels have an exclusive play area for children with a minder, entertainment including trampolines, face painting, play station, colouring, jewellery bead making and loom bands creation. This has the advantage of keeping children from wreaking havoc in the hotel.
This comes in addition to the menu that consists of ice-cream, waffles, fries, sausages, fish fingers, mini burgers, samosas, mac n’ cheese, tacos and pasta.
“For health conscious families or kids with special dietary requirements, the chefs are more than happy to quickly whip up a suitable meal for them,” she says.
Hosting children in the restaurant also plays a role in the physical construction of the outlets. According to Svetlana, they ensure their restaurants offer a friendly environment, family setting with smoking zones further away from the main dining areas.
The play zones, smoking zones, changing stations all play a factor in parent’s picking a venue for dining with their offspring.
Burger King that recently opened its Sh90 million outlet in Nairobi’s Lavington has an indoor play area complete with a jungle gym to keep little tykes occupied as their parents enjoy a meal. They also offer paper hats and balloons.
In addition, children meals come with a gift — usually a toy. This is a concept that the fast food chain has replicated across its branches in the city.
Java’s new Mbagathi Way restaurant features an outdoor play area. This is in addition to the fact that its outlets across the country come with a separate kids menu with meals not available on the regular menu, as well as portions and pricing purely for the young ones.
Other franchises including Big Square, Spur and others have “kid zones” within the restaurant where the children are kept occupied and contained as parents dine, also keeping them from interfering with other diners.