This discussion came up in the context of my review of the Park Hyatt Aviara yesterday and I think it is an interesting question.
Should Adults Be Able To Order Off The Kid’s Menu?
I’m asking this generally, though we can narrow this down to the context of a fine hotel for purposes of this discussion.
My wife Heidi saw something on the kid’s menu she liked that wasn’t on the adult menu, so she ordered it. It happened to be cheaper, but in this case, it was less about cost and more about item selection. In the same vein, I like to order the kid’s pizza for lunch whenever I visit the Kahala in Honolulu. First, it is huge. Second and more importantly, it is not available on the adult menu.
Generally, my strategy is just to order from the kid’s menu (when relevant). Whenever you ask if you can order from it, you give your server or the restaurant the chance to deny you. Better just to assert that privilege than request it.
Anyway, my wife’s lunch selection elicited a discussion.
Reader Stuart said:
“More interesting is that your wife orders from the kid’s menu. My GF does a well and it’s interesting the reactions you get. Honestly, the food is the same and the portions often pretty exact for a lot less!…
“I was astonished one day when we both ordered a cheeseburger at a Four Seasons. Mine from the adult and hers from the kids. It came out exactly the same and I swear she even got more French fries.”
But reader Lukas said:
“I don’t think it’s cool for adults to order from the kids menu. I would never do that even if I wasn’t that hungry.”
It actually hadn’t dawned one me to order off the kid’s menu to get the same portion for a cheaper price. In my experience, portions tend to be smaller. But Lukas’s point seems too extreme.
Are children’s menus subsidized by adult menus? Or are the smaller portions on kid’s menus intended for kids, but fair game for everyone who just isn’t as hungry, akin to half orders (often available by request)?
When A Restaurant Denies You
A small story. When I was young, we once went to a coffee shop-style restaurant with my grandmother for lunch. She was 103 years old at the time (yes, she lived 108 healthy, wonderful years). As you might expect, she ate very little. Ordering off the adult menu was so wasteful because her appetite was so small. So we tried to order her lunch from the kid’s menu. The restaurant refused. They said it was only for children.
We never returned to the restaurant.
Legally, a restaurant can refuse service to anyone as long as they do not discriminate on the basis of a protected class. I’m not making a legal argument here. But the idea that is it is “cheap” or “tacky” for an adult to order off the kid’s menu strikes me as a weak argument.
If kids actually receive the same portion as adults, then why are kid’s menu selections so much cheaper? And if it is simply a way to make adults feel more comfortable bringing children, then why not just require one adult meal for every kid’s meal or something similar?
If a hotel denied my request to order off the kid’s menu, I would not return to it. It is their prerogative to deny and my prerogative whether to give them business. I don’t like nickel and dining from restaurants and don’t view it as nickel and diming from my side if we see something unique on the kid’s menu or are just not as hungry.
What About Buffets?
Buffets are a more difficult question. My three-year-old eats an adult-sized portion (heck, he eats more than me right now) but pays nothing or virtually nothing. Meanwhile, my grandmother would eat lightly but at best received a senior discount. Noting the impracticality of selling food based upon weight at a hotel breakfast buffet, is age just a fair way to charge overall? Is having a children’s discount better than just charging the same price to everyone, even if it results in uneven outcomes? I tend to think yes. But I also see an a la carte menu as a whole different matter since portion size is fixed.
Or is this just a question that no one should be discussing if they can afford a five-star hotel?
I’m firmly in the camp that one should feel free to order off a children’s menu, no matter their age. How about you?
I’m 30 years old and I order from the kids menu at times as well, mainly because of the selection. For example, I might want chicken tenders and fries but it’s only available on the kids menu.. I haven’t had any pushback from a hotel (yet).
Me too-often I just want a grilled cheese or mac and cheese or something small. If the equivalent is not available on the adults’ menu, I don’t see an issue. For me it’s more about selection than price.
You’re obviously cheap and trying to take advantage of prices set for kids. It’s not very fair, which is why most menus say ONLY FOR KIDS UNDER 12. Restaurateurs don’t make any money on kids menus, its to attract entire families in to dine.
$10 for a $2 frozen pizza from the grocery store? Plus taxes (unlike a grocery store) and 20% tip on top of it? Sorry, I’m not particularly sympathetic to that argument.
But what if an item is only on the kid’s menu, not the adult menu?
there’s a reason its not on the adult’s menu 🙂
I do like your handwriting on the receipt though, it is soo fancy/elegant. Where did you learn to write like that?
He’s writing numbers in the European fashion – with the overexaggerated “lip” or serif on the number 1. I tend to do that when I’m overseas because it’s what folks are accustomed to seeing. Here in the States, I write numbers more appropriate to this country, like a simple vertical line for the number 1.
When I’ve recently come back from Europe and haven’t transitioned my style of writing, I’ve often found Americans will confuse a European “1” for a 7.
Don F – it’s got nothing to do with being cheap? I eat at the place that I mention 4-5 days a week – I get up at 4:30am and am ready for lunch by 11:00 – so by 3:00 or so I am a little hungry – and the kids menu fits the bill – I get home from work at 7:00 and eat dinner – The restaurant makes plenty of money from me – heck they charge $3 for a soda fountain drink – they are doing fine – so before you call people names – look in the mirror and ask if that is really what you want to say!
JJ, you clearly know nothing about restaurant margins. Most restaurants make 2% profit. The kids menu is a way to bring families in and generate business. The kids menu is not meant for cheap adults, its meant for kids.
Restaurants barely make any money off of food regardless. Don’t worry, my girlfriend always gets a glass of wine marked up 200% with her kids meal. That’s how a restaurant makes its money anyway, lol.
Same as J – There is one restaurant near my office that sometimes I just want a little mid afternoon snack – I could go in and order a $14 sandwich / wrap / salad – but instead I order GRILLED chicken tenders from the kids menu and comes with a side of apple slices AND a drink – it’s $5 and hits the spot – the girls who work there have never even raised an eyebrow towards me – (to my face anyway – who knows what they say when I leave) but it’s a great mid afternoon snack. I would never do it at a fine restaurant for dinner or on a date or anything like that –
I think it’s a good idea to ask first if you want to order something off the kids menu, but as long as the restaurant has no issues with it, I don’t see what the problem is. Most places I’ve been don’t care in my experience.
Conversely, we’ve run into several situations where a restaurant actually intentionally gives us something off the kids menu due to dietary restrictions. Case in point: my mother and sisters are vegetarian, and are often offered the grilled cheese off the kids menu.
It’s one thing to order from the kids menu. I don’t necessarily think its a bad thing, unless the property/restaurant has an exception on the menu (child must be under 14, etc.) However, my issue is with you crossing out the price and changing the receipt. You should have brought this up with the server or the property. For me, this just came across as arrogant.
I mentioned that service was bad in the restaurant but did not elaborate. We waited 10 minutes for a server to show up…when no one did, I just fixed it myself. Horrible service at that particular restaurant and a stark juxtaposition to the rest of the resort.
I think it is up to the restaurant to make kids meals profitable or not. I too eat half portions most meals and my husband wants a full portion. Sometimes we order two adult meals and our son eats off one of our plates, or I’ll order a kid’s item, or some combination thereof. We make it work for what we want. If a restaurant wants to make a big deal of it, I’d probably not go back since I’d like them to be flexible, and again it is up to them to make their menu profitable- if they only way they can do that is via draconian rules then I will pass on supporting their venue. Especially when you are on vacation and leftovers aren’t feasible (hotel room doesn’t have a microwave etc), smaller portions mean less waste and just make sense. Now, at a hotel where kids eat free is an exception since I would clearly be ordering a free meal instead of an adult meal…and that isn’t fair. But reduced portion size for reduced cost makes sense.
The problem is that most restaurants use kids menus to attract full paying adults. If the prices for similar items on the kids menu and adults menu are significantly cheaper, (as in Matthew’s case about the burger), then that’s a hint. Limiting kids menu items to kids is not “draconian”, as neither is limiting senior discounts to seniors. Those items are promotional pricing only available to a certain group of people to encourage increased business in a certain way. If Happy Hour at your restaurant is available 3-6pm, and you come in at 6:30 wanting happy hour pricing but get denied, is that also draconian?
Of course, you are welcome to take your business to somewhere you feel your business is valued.
Michael – well said. I like how these cheap people are making up phony and ridiculous excuses for why they are not cheap.
Yeah most people are cheap bastards though. And frankly eating out with half of you would be an embarrassing experience. The restaurant can design a menu however it likes and can serve its food in any manner it sees fit within legal parameters. If I went out to eat with someone and they ordered off the kids menu I would never go out to eat with them again. Furthermore I would relentlessly abuse them until the meal was over in hopes my mocking would let them come to their senses.
That’s pathetic. Why should they come to their senses?
It’s mostly tongue and cheek. But also because it’s embarrassing and that person is being willfully ignorant about standard societal norms. Also food on kids menus is crap and in general not close to the standard of the regular menu( you’re not getting pasture raised chicken for 6 bucks). I would hope their pride may come back then their senses.
Most restaurant’s have verbiage on the kid’s menu that says something like “For Guests 12 & Under Only, Please”. If that’s written on there, I will abide by the rules, most importantly to not put the server in the position of having to re-iterate the rules which are clearly stated.
If they don’t have that written down on the menu, it’s fair game (and the restaurant is still free to deny me if the server cares to do so). If it bothers the restaurants or hurts their profits, they are free to add the limitation in writing.
I agree, this would be the fairest approach if the policy is clearly spelt out for all to read. Don’t like it? Don’t dine there. Easy.
Exactly what I was going to say.
Most kids menus are subsidized, and priced very attractively in order to entice families to come in and spend their money. An adult burger entree may carry a 25% food cost, while a similar kids entree may have a 50% food cost. The restaurant eats the lost profit, because they want to attract families with adults who order full price regular entrees.
Think of it as similar to a buy one, get one 50% off promo. An adult ordering off the kids menu is like a diner going into a restaurant and demanding the 50% off without buying one at full price. Of course, there’s ways to structure menu pricing with terms and condition (i.e. one kids meal per adult), but that has its own issues (what is Mom is taking the twins out for lunch?). It’s easier, and more straightforward in most cases, to just limit kids menu items to kids only.
Now, I agree with the above poster that mentioned asking the restaurant first. There are some restaurants where the pricing of kids menus does accurately reflect the costs/margins, and those items aren’t “discounted”. Generally, those restaurants won’t have the “kids menu for guests 12 and younger only” language. But it is certainly proper to ask.
You wouldn’t dream of going to a theme park, or a movie theater, and demanding to pay a kids/student’s price just because you don’t plan on riding that many rides, or you aren’t that interested in the movie. Why feel like it’s a “asserting a right” to order off of the kids menu, when you clearly aren’t a child, just because you’re hungry? If it’s genuinely the items itself that you want that aren’t available on the regular menu, then once again, a simple ask is all you need to do to maintain your end of the etiquette,
*just because you aren’t hungry
What it sounds like is restaurants have built a business model that relies on “too high” of a check average. So they price entrees higher, serve more food (beacuse of low marginal cost) and everyone takes half their meal home because it’s just too much to eat. If they all served more normal portions at equivalent costs, they wouldn’t make enough profit.
Not faulting the restaurants, it’s probably a race to the bottom (top?) but that could explain the friction between price levels and hunger levels of patrons who see value in the kid’s menu.
The restaurant industry is extremely competitive, very little profit, despite the high prices. Staff, healthcare, etc. Don’t be cheap just order the regular meal, and if you don’t eat it and feel the need to stretch your buck, take the leftovers home and eat as another meal.
Don F is right on point. Kids menu is for kids not cheap adults.
Agreed with Don F. There is a reason the prices are low, they want to attract families in, not have big adults eating kids meals.
Steve’s argument doesn’t make any sense. Restaurants have rent and staff to pay.
@George that’s exactly what I’m saying. A restaurant’s overhead is so high they need the revenue coming in to cover all of those costs. The easiest way to provide value while charging more is to increase the portion size (instead of, say, investing in top-tier levels of service or quality of ingredients).
If I, the restaurant, need to get my check average from $50 to $75, should I spend another $6 out of that $25 on ingredients or $10 out of $25 on other things? No brainer.
From the not-so-hungry-diner’s perspective, maybe I’d pay $12 for a regular burger vs. an $8 kid’s burger, but when my only option is now a “super double burger with bacon” for $20…the $8 burger becomes more attractive.
@Don F +1
Agreed. Its like going to Disneyland and saying I’m and adult but want the kids price because I don’t want to go on that many rides today. Doesn’t work. Order off the regular menu or don’t go out.
Wouldn’t you say the difference is a fixed cost (entrance to Disneyland) between a variable cost (type of food, portion size)?
No because the fixed costs are the same, hiring staff, rent, electricity, maintenance, etc. The variable cost (i.e. the food size is marginal). I hope you are not a CPA or business person.
No need to be petty, dear.
No need to condescend, darlin’.
If someone is having financial problems and can’t afford the regular menu but wants to go out and have a nice dining experience, I agree let them eat off the kids menu. But if you are not having financial problems and are just cheap, shame on you, order off the regular menu and support your restaurant and let the waiters earn a living wage.
Is it ok than in Europe where waiters do earn a living wage? Asking for a friend.
I often order a kids size ice cream because I don’t want to eat the adult size one….. The ice cream shops never complain to me…
I refused to eat off kids’ menus when I was a child, and wouldn’t even consider it now.
In my view if you want to order off the kids menu there is nothing wrong with that.
The restaurant can of course deny that if they so choose and then you the consumer can decide if you want to continue to given them your business. I’m not interested in their business model I’m looking for a good product at a fair price.
Side note. Hotels that charge insane prices for food and especially alcohol are shooting themselves in the foot. Very often on layovers I’d be very happy to just eat in the Hotel. But I’m not paying insane prices to do so and will pursue other options (meaning lost revenue for the hotel) if their pricing isn’t attractive.
Interesting discussions here, Matthew. I think most restaurants make a kids menu in order to attract families and do so on the premise of making a healthy margin on adult meals while making less or breaking even on the kids meals. If everyone orders a kids meal, the restaurant doesn’t make as much money, and we all know how thin their margins are.
That said, I also enjoy the kids menu mostly for the smaller portion size. I have spent quite a bit of time in Europe and am used to smaller portions.
FFS, learn how to use the word “draconian” properly! It is NOT what you think it means, especially when you keep using it in the wrong context.
And children’s menus are for children. End of story. Should adults of short stature or having dwarfism be entitled to children’s rates when booking flights or hotels? No. Simples.
Ok, how about you provide a little education for me? I’m all ears. The word has expanded from its narrower original reference to harsh and severe laws (from Draco, see I knew that).
“Draconian” means harsh or severe and is applied *in the context of* things like laws, rules, policies, procedures, punishment and penalties. I do not know from which source you are getting your “expanded” meaning of the word. In any event, you quote your reader Lukas’s statement of:
“I don’t think it’s cool for adults to order from the kids menu. I would never do that even if I wasn’t that hungry.”
And state this is “draconian”. How on earth does this make sense in even any relaxed interpretation and application of the word? How is Lukas’s opinion that adults shouldn’t order from the children’s menu and that he personally wouldn’t do that himself a “draconian” thing? If you disagree with someone’s opinion or viewpoint do you simply label those as draconian? It is quite simply the wrong word to use here.
And I stand by the second part of my original comment as well.
Thank you for taking the time to follow-up. I thought the “never” position was harsh or severe.
Yeah as a Chef it has often come up and I tell my servers no. It is a children’s menu for children. End of. Don’t like it you can leave. But I work in fine dining, at Denny’s ok whatever.
But chef, if there is something I want on the children’s menu will you make me an adult-size portion upon request?
Yes with the appropriate price tag. Though I would wonder about an adult coming to a fine dining restaurant and ordering the buttered pasta. To be honest though 95% of the restaurants I’ve worked at don’t even have a kids menu printed.
We dined out quite a bit at fine dining establishments when our son was younger. I can’t think of one that had a “kids menu” but management/owners were always happy to provide a little plate of something for him. Often I would ask for a kid sized portion of something on the menu. Sometimes it was complimentary as they were wise enough to “read” us as regular customers who were ordering multi courses, wine, etc. Other times, we were charged 1/2 or 1/3 of the regular entree price.
Once, we were in a restaurant owned by a famous Chef. It was towards the end of the evening and the manager said the chef wanted to meet the youngster who ordered XYZ. We got a tour of the kitchen and they gave my son a chef’s torque.
He long ago started on adult size meals and the price tags to match but I am beyond pleased he has a great palate and can appreciate a wide range of foods.
I think that situation and location is everything. No, if I am at Fiola in DC I am certainly not going to encourage this. But if you are at the Park Hyatt Aviara. Or in the situation I mentioned, The Four Seasons (it was NYC) I think that both are doing just fine with their margins. And if my GF wants to order what she imagined is a smaller portion (we can’t take leftovers of a burger to our room) it is perfectly reasonable.
I confess to a Mac and Cheese once in while myself for room service!
As I said earlier, don’t worry, we are ordering as well a $10 bottle of water and $20 glasses of wine. My burger was like $30.00. I think the servers and the owners at Park Hyatt and Four Seasons will be just fine.
Context is everything.
Good point about context Stuart. Location and type of restaurant would shape my answer.
It’s Lukas with a K. Glad to be the source of this very lively discussion 🙂
Forgive me Lukas! I fixed it.
I am an adult who had bariatric surgery and therefore can’t eat a lot. Right after my surgery i could barely eat a slice of pizza, therefore i used to order from the kids menu, since I didn’t wanted to waste so much food. If you order because your not hungry or it’s not on the adult menu, you should be able to. If however, you order from the kids menu beacuse is the same for less, that is being cheap. The only time they told me I couldn’t, i offered to pay a supplemental charge and they happily obliged.
How is it MY problem that a restaurant has margin levels that wont support their business model?
While it drives me nuts, my wife orders from the kids menu all the time simply because she doesn’t want a large portion and doesn’t do “leftovers”. This includes cheap ass places like McDonald’s – It has nothing to do with “cheap adults”. If we ever had any blow back from a server or restaurant, we would simply leave and head down the street, never to return.
If a restaurant (or any other business) can’t make money, the owners need to adapt or look for a new line of work.
Kevin, I agree with you. I shake my head at an unspoken rule that punishes those with smaller appetites as a condition to dining out.
The only time I order from a kid’s menu is if the regular menu has nothing that is vegetarian. In this situations I might order a grilled cheese sandwich or cheese pizza. I haven’t found many paces that refuse the 65+ man f I explain my reason and am poite.
One restaurant I was in described these items as “for seniors, for children, and for those with smaller appetites”. That seemed to fit perfectly.
Please proof read this article. At least 3 items very early on
I must admit, I cannot find them.
We always order from the kid’s menu. The portion sizes are much better, I just don’t want a lot of food nor do I want to take food home with me. Our usual local Mexican place is about a half portion, I leave knowing I ate without feeling like I’m full. Throw in that the price is about half as well and we all win.
I havent read all the responses but i will state one thing. GASTRIC CANCER! I came across this post straight after another woman sharing a tick tock on how frustrating it is that we cannot order from the kids menu. We dont have a stomach, we fit bugger all in! Two options are eat off a partners (or similiar plate) or order from the kids menu since its small portions.
Personally it’s about the opportunity cost and rarity of the foods in question. If you’re traveling, you are traveling to experience NEW things, not to eat a store bought name brand chicken nugget you can get at home. If the place only serves things you are familiar with, I’d say it’s OK. Usually, restaurants have kids meals for 2 purposes: to cater to picky eaters or to size down portions. If you’re ordering off the kids menu to purely downsize portions of a new food, it’s OK.