The kids aren't alright: More businesses catering exclusively to adults

Corey Perrine/Staff 
 Server Tony Itouchene helps Susan Smithson choose a wine Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 at Blue Windows French Bistro in Fort Myers, Fla. The high-end restaurant doesn't ban children but don't cater to them either. There are no high chairs, booster seats or kids menus. They don't turn away adults with children, but be aware they don't tailor it to young families.

Photo by COREY PERRINE, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Corey Perrine/Staff Server Tony Itouchene helps Susan Smithson choose a wine Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 at Blue Windows French Bistro in Fort Myers, Fla. The high-end restaurant doesn't ban children but don't cater to them either. There are no high chairs, booster seats or kids menus. They don't turn away adults with children, but be aware they don't tailor it to young families.

When dining at the Blue Windows Bistro in south Fort Myers, bring your appetite, but leave your children at home.

Christian Vivet, the chef and owner, said the decision to ask patrons to leave their children home was simple.

"Our restaurant is very small. We can only seat 35 people. We're a white tablecloth restaurant," he said. "The average ticket is $50 to $55, that's a fairly expensive night out for people."

As the nation ages, more businesses like Blue Windows are catering exclusively to adults.

If it sounds like a recipe for disaster, it's not. In fact, experts say it actually might be a good bet for some businesses.

Empty-nesters continue to wield a huge swath of discretionary spending dollars and about 75 percent of Collier and Lee county households do not have children under age 18, according to the U.S. census figures.

The message on Blue House Bistro's website reads, "While we love young children and have raised a hand-full of them, our little Bistro features Adult Dining. We do not have a children's menu, no high-chairs, nor booster seats, crayons, etc. For your dining pleasure and the pleasure of those around you, we suggest that you hire a trusted baby sitter for your special night out."

Still, Vivet said he doesn't ever turn customers with children away and mentions regulars who bring their preteen children to eat at the restaurant. He said the system has worked well because they are honest with their customers before they come to the restaurant.

"If you're up front, nobody's disappointed," Vivet said.

Pam Pierre, the mother of two boys, said while she should probably be mad, she gets it.

"I'm a teacher and I'm a mom, and I know kids can be a real pain in the neck," she said. "So, I can see how someone looking for a bit of respite at a restaurant might get a little peeved when a chicken nugget comes flying into their face from the 2-year-old sitting at the table next to them."

But Pierre said there are adults who can be just as obnoxious, and giving children the experience of eating out can make them better behaved.

"In fact, I feel that by taking them to restaurants and modeling the correct behavior, I am preventing my children from growing up and turning into the adult who does not know how to act," she said.

Gary Jackson, a professor of economics and the director of the Florida Gulf Coast University Lutgert College of Business, said marketing exclusively to adults can be beneficial to some businesses.

"Tastes and preferences vary over age groups," he said. "Companies are always looking to create value for their constituents, so it makes sense. You are trying to cater to the preferences of the group."

It's actually not a new concept. In 2011, a Monroeville, Penn., restaurant banned children under 6. Whole Foods stores in Missouri implemented child-free shopping hours, and offer parents child care services so they may shop alone.

There are even websites dedicated to taking a child-free vacation. TripAdvisor U.K., in a survey of 2,000 British residents, found that one-third would be willing to pay extra to be on a flight without children.

Sometimes, it's about listening to the customer. At least, that's what the Marco Island Marriott did.

Rob Pfeffer, director of sales and marketing for the Marriott, said the hotel hosted the National Football League Players Association conference a couple of years ago and was told by the organization that things needed to change if they wanted to host the conference again.

"Some of the feedback they gave us was that they needed privacy and seclusion from families," he said. "So, what we did is expanded and renovated our spa pool dramatically. Now it's adults only. That's been a tremendous help for those time frames when there are families throughout the resort."

Jackson cited businesses like cruise ships, which might have a deck that is for adults only, as another example of businesses trying to include everyone while offering their paying customers — the adults — what they want.

"This way, you are not being seen as being against having families," he said. "It's a way for companies not to exclude anyone, but cater to the needs and preferences of the overall group."

Pfeffer said the hotel has been doing more targeted marketing toward adult couples, especially locally with it's Paradise Club. For $75, Lee and Collier residents can join and get either 10 drink coupons, two day passes at the spa or two rounds of golf at the hotel. They also receive access to special deals, including Super Bowl packages.

Pfeffer said the decision has propelled the Fort Myers area business, which includes Naples, into the top five geographic areas served by the hotel (Chicago is No. 1).

"We know that it is working," he said. "We know there is an affluent crowd in Naples and Lee County that had a perception of Marco Island as this old fishing village. That's changing. We have this upscale, spectacular place."

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