Kids eat free? The devil is in the details

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

When did the kids meal become a profit center for restaurants? Some restaurants are starting to push the price into the five and six dollar range. Tack that onto already rising prices and pretty soon your family night out is inching towards fifty or sixty dollars.

That’s why I appreciate kids eat free deals. I also appreciate a few local mom bloggers who maintain comprehensive lists of the deals. In Alpharetta check out AlpharettaMoms.org. Blogger Christy Noll has deals organized into a handy google calendar. Over in Forsyth check out ForsythForFamilies.com.

But it’s not that simple. These deals have rules. So complicated are some rules that even a food blogger has trouble following them. I’m going to make an example of CANS Taqueria in Crabapple. My inability to stay within their narrow rules and their inflexibility left a sour taste in my mouth.

We started with an appetizer at CANS, something that was probably a high-margin item for them. Next I ordered the fish tacos for $13 and my wife a quesadilla, also for $13. My kids ordered off the kids menu.

We were in a hurry to make another appointment so I didn’t look at the check until after my credit card was swiped. Turns out we didn’t get the kids eat free special. Our fish tacos and quesadilla were not considered “entrees” from their menu. Mind you that at $13 they were more expensive than many CANS entrees. But to qualify you had to recognize that entrees were from only one column of their menu. Sneaky! Our waiter didn’t alert us of this at ordering time, although we didn’t ask (more on this later). He also didn’t fix it when I protested. Neither did the manager on duty that night. The owner offered to make things right days later via email but I probably won’t be back.

I share my story to remind readers to pay attention to the mice-type. These deals are only offered on certain days of the week and usually not on weekends. Typically you have to have one paid adult meal per kid. Sometimes you have to order high-margin items like soft drinks. And as in the case with CANS, only certain parts of the menu may apply. And if a restaurant is trying to be deliberately deceptive then they may not alert you to missteps during your order.

So ask about kids eat free deals as soon as your arrive at a restaurant. Make your server confirm that your order meets all the rules before he submits it. And keep up with the mom bloggers I mentioned above for the best deals!

23 Responses to “Kids eat free? The devil is in the details”

  1. Cool Papa Bell July 26, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    Honestly, not sure where the issue is. I’ve done a few of those, “with purchase of an entree” deals. I’ve never assumed that and “entree” means anything other than an entree.

  2. A July 26, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    We are pretty militant about the fine print because we’ve been burned a couple of times too. If it’s our fault, we don’t make a stink, but if it’s a situation like Lee’s and the restaurant won’t make it right, we don’t return. I hope these non-chain places like CANS realize how much word-of-mouth can hurt their business. We’ve never been there, and even if we didn’t have a kid I would not be likely to try them based on Lee’s experience.

  3. Travis Allen July 26, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    Cool Papa, I understand your viewpoint, but I’ll have to side with Lee’s thinking when he ordered two items that were equal to or greater in cost than 5 of the 8 items listed as “entrees”

    Those other three items being the only ones of the entire menu at greater cost.

    Typically the intent of the restaurant is for you to order something of higher cost and in turn they give you something for free, in this scenario the kids meals.

    They could have handled this better and Lee’s isn’t the only complaint I’ve heard regarding this.

  4. Cool Papa Bell July 26, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

    Travis, I guess but if the not-so-fine print clearly says “entree” you can feel to disagree by not going, rather than expecting them to redefine the unequivocal terms after the fact.

    The blogger site referenced even says, “Kids 12 & under eat free (2 kids menu items per 1 full priced adult ***entrée***, Sun – Thurs only, drinks not included – ****no substitutions or alterations)****.

    What exactly does “no substitutions or alterations” mean to you? What could they possibly have done to make the terms any more transparent?

  5. S Lee Guy July 26, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    What I would encourage CANS to do is to train their staff to head off misunderstandings like this. If a family of four comes in on family night and doesn’t understand the rules, then perhaps point this out while they are ordering. Something like… “Hey I noticed that you have kids. The kids eat free deal doesn’t apply when ordering tacos. Do you still want to order them or switch to something else?”

  6. Greg July 26, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    I’m sorry but I think your complaints are way off base.

    Their website describes the Kids Meal as follows:
    “Kids 12 & under eat free (1 kids menu items per 1 full priced adult entree, Sun – Thurs only, drinks not included – no substitutions or alterations).”

    I think it’s really pretty straightforward.

    Unless their printed menu or some signage in the restaurant says otherwise, I don’t see how the server or manager on duty should have to honor your request. Of course, they certainly could have, but perhaps they are not empowered to do so.

    Granted, the owner did try to make it right after the fact, which I think is admirable on his part. If it wasn’t brought to his attention while you were there, then that’s probably the best he can do.

    Is their kids meal policy too restrictive? Maybe, but that’s their prerogative, isn’t it? I can’t believe one or two kids meals at $3.99 a pop is really going to impact their bottom line either way, but that’s not my call.

    I wonder if the policy would be written differently (i.e., reviewed by corporate counsel & the marketing department) if this were a bigger chain instead of an independent place.

    I’d still rather try to support a local place, even if it means I have to put up with some quirks.

  7. Travis Allen July 26, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    Just saying CPB…but define “entree”

    Maybe they should say the items under the “entree” portion of the menu.

    Not saying I disagree with your logic, just offering a different opinion for discussion.

  8. Mala July 26, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    Great post. I think the simpler an establishment makes it for kids to eat free the better it is for the patrons and the business. The cost of chicken fingers and pb sandwiches is peanuts, but if you can get the parents in the door, they will most likely order high margin items like alcohol.

  9. Zeus July 26, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    Entree means exactly what it says. If a section of the menu is labeled entree then that is where you have to order from to get the deal. Don’t think that is hard to understand.

  10. J July 26, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    I typically agree with your posts Lee but after looking at the CANS menu I don’t. If they didn’t have the entrees labeled as such or the menu is misleading I would be with you but it appears y’all were in a hurry and just made a mistake. The fact that the owner offered to give you the deal after you emailed him to satisfy you was more than reasonable and unexpected IMO. If this would have happened to me the same way I would be happy to go back due to an owner that went beyond what was needed to make me a happy customer.

    Link to the menu http://www.canstaqueria.com/livemenu.aspx

  11. david July 26, 2013 at 10:33 pm #

    Merriam’s definition of the word “entree” is the main course of a meal. So technically Lee would be in the right. If CANS had put something like “free kids meal with the purchase of an item from the entree list” it would help avoid confusion.

  12. Harry July 26, 2013 at 11:02 pm #

    Read! Simple as that. Typical overprivileged suburbanite who thinks the rules shouldn’t apply to him/her. And don’t blame the waiter. How’s he/she supposed telepathically know they’re serving a cheapskate and need to remind you to read? You’re in ALPHARETTA, 2 six dollar entrees isn’t going to kill you. Hell, you even make that point abundant in your blog name: AFFLUENT. But you are 100% right in that you need to act with your wallet. If you feel slighted by CANS, don’t go back there. Through economics is the only way your voice can mean anything.

  13. Cool Papa Bell July 27, 2013 at 9:22 am #

    David, I consider beer the main course of the meal. I guess it it cost more than an entree, restaurants better oblige a BOGO on kid’s meal.

  14. Cool Papa Bell July 27, 2013 at 9:28 am #

    And let me add, what if I want a $12 craft beer and my kids wants an $11 taco? Shouldn’t we demand that if we can define what qualifies as an entree, we are also entitled to define what qualifies as a “kid’s meal?”

    Who defines “kid?” What if my 76 year old dad takes me to dinner? Can I demand my meal is free?

  15. Greg (other) July 27, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

    I have to agree with the others on this one – the proper thing to do would be to say, “Oops – you’re right, it says it right there. Next time I’ll know better.” Hopefully you didn’t take it out on the waiter’s tip. He’s the least guilty here – he’s just implementing the rules his boss gave him.

  16. S Lee Guy July 29, 2013 at 7:24 am #

    Obviously I didn’t read the fine print, which is the point of my article.

    And yes, I did tip my server. There was no reason to take anything out on him.

    By the way… I don’t have a written comment policy but let me say this. I will approve just about any comment, especially those that disagree with me. But when you resort to name calling and profanity, you’re comment is going straight into the trash. Don’t waste your time or mine. The comments above are great. Keep ‘em coming!

  17. mandi July 29, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    It’s funny to me how many restaurants will offer a Kids Eat Free but they typically don’t promote it when you’re there that evening (like you mentioned above about training) and many don’t like to be included on sites like mine & the other sites you mentioned in your post. I wanted to make have the Kids Eat Free section on my site to help families and also help restaurants, but some have asked to be removed even when they still offer it. I think some do it simply because their competitor or a chain next door is.

  18. Mala July 31, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    The passion for this topic is hilarious.

  19. TomatoesYum August 1, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

    You know, when I see text saying “with purchase of an adult entree” I consider that to mean anything that is a meal. Wouldn’t order a bowl of soup or an appetizer or a side salad and expect the offer to stand. Two $13 meals are different, though. I’d feel the same way.

    A situation similar to this happened once at a rest. in FL but when questioned the waiter took care of it and said to order from a specific part of the menu next time. We all left happy and returned with a clear understanding of the rules. Sounds like the waiter or mngr on duty could have done the same.

  20. Walter S August 2, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    This isn’t the chow line at Khe Sanh. There are rules. Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who [cares] about the rules?

  21. Cool Papa Bell August 2, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Let me ask one more time. Since we determined that an entree is “anything that is a meal.” Can we also define a kid’s meal as anything a kid orders (though how do we define “kid”).

    What if my kid wants lobster tail for his meal? Should it be free?

  22. Dave August 8, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    Wow its incredible, some of the folks on here should pursue their law degrees with all of the fine print parsing. The bottom line, as a customer, is that the restaurant should have made it right that night. Lee spent more than enough to qualify for the deal, we are not dealing with a court of law but rather a business trying to attract and keep customers. The owner surely recognized this as he tried to make it right after the fact (to his credit). Any restaurant that is going to wave fine print in my face and deny me their advertised special on a technicality is going to lose my business, plain and simple. We all have to apply reasonable logic to these situations and its clear that with what they spent on the adult meals, the restaurant should have offered them the deal.

    Dave

  23. jkgillis August 12, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    CANS has been deceptive in the past to my family as well. We had purchased a Groupon from them once and they did not honor it. Been several years agod an forgot the details – have not returned. La Parilla on Main near Windward is good enough for us unless we feel like driving to Chuy’s in Dunwoody.

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