Saturday, September 23, 2006

Kids 'eat free' so others eat 'free of kids'

One of the attractions of where we are on holiday is that kids 'stay free and eat free.' Now, 'stay free' is really a slogan in name only. It means they won't charge you for kids so long as you stuff them into your room. Suffice it to say, there is a considerable reason to not doing that and hence, you end up paying for larger accomodations and non-free stays.

But 'eat free' is another matter. Now our kids eat, I mean really eat. We hear howls of complaint if there isn't a third course provided with most meals. So from my perspective, this surely was going to an advantage to us?

Well, not quite. For starters, one might have assumed that if you went to a restaurant and the kids ate free, the portions for them might be small. Not so, they are on the larger side of meals I have seen for kids and usually include dessert. But here is the thing. If I thought that we would be receiving a massive cross subsidy from the families with average eating kids, I was gravely mistaken. This is because those families happily order the maximum amount of food for their kids even if their kids do not eat it. Yes, there is a social loss from this, but there is no implicit subsidy coming our way either.

So who is paying for the kids' meals? You would like to think it was the parents. Again, not quite. The restaurant may jack up prices for parent meals or drinks or somehow it would be built into the resort charges. Sadly, however, that can't be the case. For as we ate our meal, I noticed plenty of tables free of kids. Those people were paying the same as us for the meal and, even if they were getting a discount on the resort charges, the meal itself was a worse deal for them.

Now you might ask: what are those people doing there? The locality here has other restaurants that are not part of the kids 'eat free' deal. All they have to do is avoid us and they will get a better option. The problem is this: those restaurants cannot be cheaper in terms of price at least. If they were, then saavy parents may decide that it is worth while paying for the kids especially if they were not like us and could get away with feeding the kids very little.

What this means is that to confine the families with kids to the kid-designated restaurants, the prices for the 'free of kids' restaurants actually have to be at least that price, if not more, just to make sure. So, who is really paying for the kids 'eat free' deal? The adults without kids who don't want them around. Our kids eat free so that they can eat free of kids and they pay for it. I know this because this evening, we will be going out free of kids and paying for it.

One final little puzzle. As I have noted earlier this week, airlines do not appear to think enough about mess when giving children meals on planes. The same is true of the kids 'eat free' restaurants here. We went to a nice Chinese place the other night and our 2 year old appeared to happily eat through her fried rice. "Wow, she is doing well. This place is great." Well, it was only after the meal when she was removed from her high chair that we saw how well she had done. There was a nice layer of rice over her, the chair and the floor. Let me be clear, this was a mess that the restaurant had to deal with.

But there is a clear alternative for them and I do not understand why they don't exercise it. The alternative is 'take out.' Being a Chinese restaurant I observed this happening throughout the meal. I wondered whether we could still get the kids 'eat free' deal if we did them same. But apparently not. Now you might think they are just trying to sell the adults more drink. But no. Indeed, the whole operation is so efficient that you can be out of there in 45 minutes (not conducive for leisurely consumption of high margin items).

You might think that a take out option would be subject to abuse (you know buying too many meals or something). Again, not necessarily. It is not hard to imagine a voucher system that could deal with that.

So I am left with the thought that they must require the kids to 'eat free' on site because that will demonstrate to those adults who mistakenly happen upon these places one night that they should never do that again and should pay for the 'free of kids' places. It is like the crammed seats in economy directed precisely at those who should be crammed. And by the way, I am pretty sure that is why there is no competiton from McDonalds apparently allowed here despite having a population more than enough to support it.