Time Out! Serving Difficult Kids


It’s a reality — kids will be kids. They will throw fits. They will throw food. They will throw a wrench in even the most well-thought-out plan. Happy families make happy customers, and it takes more than just a good kid’s menu to make that happen. Training your waitstaff on the art of serving kids is critical to guest satisfaction and loyalty.

Train on “Kid Focus”

Train your servers to have a “kid focus.” They should talk to younger guests, make friendly eye contact, and get down to their level. Genuine compliments on coloring, eating, or ordering can go a long way toward making kids feel important and seen. Make sure everyone on your staff knows to never put high chairs in high-traffic areas or place hot plates in front of small children. And servers should always put lids on drinks (or regret it later).

Serving Difficult Kids

Even when you do everything right, some kids just can’t be contained. When you have little guests who aren’t staying at their table, you have a responsibility to that family, your other guests, and your staff to control the situation. Since talking to parents about the behavior of their children can be sensitive, managers should be the ones to intervene. Follow these steps:

1) Put safety first. If a child has been running around the restaurant unattended, go to the parents immediately. Explain that you’re concerned their child may get hurt and make them aware of how servers carrying large trays — often with hot contents — can’t see a small child in their path.

2) Watch your own step. Unless it’s a true emergency, don’t pick up a child in an attempt to return him or her to the parents. Some children can be traumatized by a stranger trying to control them, which will make your situation worse, and parents may not like it, either. Instead, try to convince the child to return with you to the table and if that doesn’t work, stay with the child while another person notifies the parents.

3)  Pick your battles. Serving difficult kids often involves some important judgement calls. Limit your intervention to situations where the safety of the child, your staff, and your other guests is at risk. A child who is screaming in her booster chair because she wanted soda instead of milk will certainly be a disruption to everyone in the restaurant. Asking a parent to control the child’s behavior will always be taken the wrong way, and you most certainly will lose that family’s future business. Your other guests aren’t likely to hold you responsible for the child’s behavior, so it’s best to just ride out the storm. As every parent knows, no kid can be bad all the time!

Restaurant Service and Sales Training

The Service & Sales Excellence Waitstaff Training Series is based on Service That Sells!, a restaurant training philosophy developed by restaurant owners for restaurant owners. Click here to learn more.

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