Running a family-friendly pub - how to balance all your customers' needs

Gone are the days when children were not allowed in a pub unless there was a family room. The ‘family-friendly pub’ is a fixture in our towns, cities and countryside, and few landlords can afford to ignore the money families can put over the bar.

However running a family-friendly pub can be a real balancing act when it comes to considering the needs of all your customers. Families may be a valuable source of income for a pub, but other customers are just as important. Families want to relax, have a drink and a meal like any other customers, but sometimes kids can cause problems.  They can be noisy, disruptive and distracting.

Tact, sensitivity and a little bit of thought can avoid potential problems. Encouraging families to use your pub doesn’t have to have to be at the cost of losing other customers. In fact creating a welcoming environment for all can be just as attractive to customers without children in tow.

Different Ways To Be Family-Friendly

The usual perception of a family friendly pub focuses on offering brightly coloured outdoor play equipment, or has a separate room relegating families to a less welcoming area tucked away at the back of the pub.  The food offer is mainly chips and chicken nuggets, fish fingers or similar, plus sweetened drinks such as fizzy pop and cola.

Such pubs are falling behind with both eating and leisure trends. In 2016, parenting network Mumsnet surveyed parents to see what made pubs family-friendly.  Their findings were illuminating.  Key issues were cleanliness, healthy food, and the attitude of staff towards children.  Parents noticed whether staff treated the children as valuable customers or as nuisances to be reluctantly tolerated. 

Provision of clean high chairs and a separate area for baby changing accessible by both males and females is increasingly desirable.  Any evidence of dirt or bins full of used nappies makes parents wonder about general cleanliness in the kitchen.

Menus with healthy food options are also important. While the traditional kids menu of something with chips is still popular with some young dinners, parents especially want more options. Pubs that offer some flexibility in swapping ingredients for fussy eaters, or provided smaller versions of the adult food are popular. 

Quick service too is important as hungry kids tend to get more fractious than children who have eaten a good meal. A wide range of drinks also makes a difference – and not just to young children.  Adults, especially drivers, value alternatives such as different types of fruit juice and water based fruit drinks, or even non-alcoholic mocktails. 

Entertaining Children

Offering some colouring sheets and crayons are always appreciated as it gives children something to do while they wait. Card and board games can also entertain and keep children seated rather than roaming free. Games not only help keep kids entertained, and result in families staying longer at the pub, but are just as popular with adults and could be used for games evenings too.

At Greene King’s Hideout pub in Taunton, landlord Simon Braun brought his US experience into play by introducing incentives as a way of keeping kids happy. He comments, “In the UK, we think that families want chunky slides, ball pits and bright coloured paintings all over the wall...That’s a peculiarly British thing.  Go into a ‘family-friendly’ pub in the UK and you’ll find parents sitting in the middle of screaming kids, trying hard to enjoy their meal and all the time wishing they could be somewhere else.  In the USA, the thinking is different. Everybody deserves a great experience’.

He continues, “ When a family comes into our pub, we give them 3 things: Free, healthy juice drinks. The kids love them and the parents know we are looking after the children.

“Colouring pencils and a dinosaur menu. We always frame the best picture of the week and keep it on the bar.

“A voucher for the sweets bar – we show the children – then give it to mum or dad saying, they can give it to them only when they have earned it – so our children are beautifully behaved and eat every part of their meals!

“Having an in-house cinema is also brilliant for entertaining the children. We have back-to-back Tom & Jerry or longer feature films playing to keep them interested.” 

Over at The Fox Inn, Farnham in Surrey a different approach has been adopted to make their pub family-friendly. The pub car park is a convenient place for parents to park and take their children to the local school. On term time mornings parents often take the opportunity to socialise and stop for a coffee at the pub afterwards. To this end The Fox has a barista coffee machine so they can compete with the high street coffee shops.

In the afternoon parents and children often stop for a drink and sometimes an early meal before going home.

As a result, the pub is firmly on the map as a family-friendly pub and somewhere to visit at the weekend or during holidays too. This approach will be reinforced further as plans to revamp the garden take shape; providing a central play area and heated cabanas for parents so that they can watch their children play while relaxing with a meal or drink.

This approach encourages the development of a wider customer base for the pub at quieter times of the day. By making families feel welcome, it means that awareness of the pub is much higher.  Having seen the pub during the day, adults are more likely to come back for a grown up evening, especially since they become aware of the type of special events, quiz nights and social activities provided by the pub. They also tend to be more inclined to regard it as ‘their local pub’ and consider it as a venue for special events or booking tables for family gatherings.

What plans have you got for running a family-friendly pub? As you can see there is no one-size-fits-all solution, with a bit of imagination there are lots of ways you can welcome families into your pub without upsetting other customers.

If you’re looking for a pub to run and would like to do something similar to the teams at The Hideout or The Fox, get in touch with our team today. Call 01284 843 200 or email