- Waitress: “What would you like to eat, young man?”
- Billy: “I want the smiley face pancakes.”
- Waitress: “Good choice. How about a drink?”
- Billy: “Pepsi!”
- Waitress: “Okay, but I’ll to need to see ID.”
Would a restaurant really card a kid for ordering cola?” Of course not, but some well-known restaurant chains have taken a significant step toward controlling children’s soft drink consumption. Both Applebee’s and IHOP have dropped soda from their children’s menus.
It’s no coincidence that these two iconic American eateries have made the same decision. Each is owned by the California-based corporation DineEquity, which franchises more than 3,600 of the stores in 20 countries. What was the reason for the company’s bold move? DineEquity ha cited concerns about juvenile obesity and a desire to promote better health, in addition to forwarding the following statement:
“We believe in having a broad variety of selections so our guests have a choice that best meets their needs. While soft drinks are still available by request, we believe this is a small step in assisting parents when dining out, as parents are in the best position to determine the appropriate food and beverage choices for their children.”
So, it’s not that kids can no longer drink soda in these stores. Parents who want their children to have Pepsi products, which is the brand that both these restaurants serve, can still request them. However, instead of soft drinks, the children’s menus will list healthier options like white and chocolate milk, hot chocolate, and juice.
Actually, Applebee’s and IHOP aren’t the only restaurant chains that have made such a move. Others that earlier cancelled colas from their kids’ menus include Burger King, Chipotle, Dairy Queen, McDonald’s, Panera, Subway, and Wendy’s. So, these latest players are just extending the trend of pushing Pepsi and similar products out of children's reach.
It’s easy to argue that steering away from soft drinks is desirable, especially when one considers the well-being of children. America has an obesity epidemic, given that “more than one-third of adults and 17% of youth in the United States are obese.” Unfortunately, obesity is associated with “heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, [which are] some of the leading causes of preventable death.” There’s also much evidence to suggest that “rising consumption of sugary drinks has been a major contributor to the obesity epidemic,” not to mention tooth decay. By the way, it’s estimated that each year soft drink producers spend about a half billion dollars marketing their products directly to young people age 2-17.
So, less soda seems like a good thing, but will restaurants’ removal of soft drinks from their kids’ menus make a difference? Here are a few related questions to consider:
- Given the nutritional profile of the food found on kids’ menus of most of the aforementioned restaurants, is soda really the biggest problem? For instance, at Applebee’s the kid’s grilled cheese on sourdough bread has 1430 milligrams of sodium and 620 calories.
- Do people really use beverages as a criterion in choosing a restaurant?
- What kind of a message do kids receive if their parents still drink soda at these restaurants while the kids can’t?
- Is taking soda off kids’ menus much different than if a grocery store placed an “Adults Only” sign over the candy in the checkout aisle?
In sum, the actions of Applebee’s, IHOP, and the other chains are well-intended: They uphold societal values like respect for people’s health and stewardship of financial resources. However, the restaurants’ soda restrictions are unlikely to make a significant marketing impact, or to create any additional value for the companies, the customers, or other stakeholders. As such, striking soda from kids’ menus seems like “Simple-Minded Marketing.”