Parents, kids and food: Lifting the lid on family dining

Karen Fewell, Friday September 2, 2016

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Many of you will know it’s my mission to understand more about how human beings form their emotional relationships with food and eating. This task has seen Digital Blonde conducting numerous psychological surveys, experiments and studies exploring how food and hospitality brands make us feel and how much of a role technology and marketing play in this. Each of these explorations has produced fascinating results, adding pieces to the puzzle that is our emotional connection to food. My latest research project will build on this knowledge, however, it’s something completely different to anything I’ve ever done before.

When and how are emotional attachments to food formed?

To date, my experiments have only ever involved adults. This data has been very useful, enabling the industry to see what how the general public perceive different brands and what influences their decision making. However, it’s likely that most of our attachments to food and food brands were actually formed earlier on in life, in childhood. This is why my latest piece of research will go deeper and focus on children and eating out. The aim is to lift the lid on family dining and provide the hospitality industry with some real insights into how to make the most of this market.

The importance of nostalgia and childhood memories

When we created Digital Blonde’s Love, Lust & Trust scale for measuring emotions, we discovered that nostalgia played a key role in people’s ‘love’ for a brand. Nostalgia has been a huge trend in marketing, with many brands bringing back old advertising campaigns and characters, hoping to give us a warm feeling of fondness for the past. Nostalgia by definition is a feeling of pleasure associated with a memory from the past and for many of us these memories may come from childhood and adolescence.

For myself and my sister, we recall fondly family trips to Harvester restaurants. We can each remember the distinct feeling of grown-up independence that going up to the salad bar and choosing what we wanted gave us.  So, it seems to me that if you truly want to understand people’s connections to a brand, you need to start with childhood. This information could be incredibly valuable to hospitality brands, after all, today’s children are tomorrow’s restaurant regulars. I’m proposing a family dining experiment that will delve into the psychology of eating out as a family.

The family dining experiment

With this experiment we hope to consider what makes the experience a memorable one for children and how do these memories become cherished ones we’ll later feel nostalgic for? How are decisions around the table made by both parents and kids and who has ultimate say in choosing what and where to eat.  Ultimately, we’ll be aiming to find out how the hospitality industry can capture young consumers’ hearts, minds and market-share for the future.

See the results at The Restaurant Show

The research is underway and already we’ve made some fascinating observations. I can’t wait to share the final results with you. All will be revealed at the Restaurant Show on Monday 3rd October at 4pm in my session ‘Parents or kids – who calls the shots?’. I hope to see you there!

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