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7 Best Kid-Friendly Family Restaurants – How Affordable Are They?

By Mikey Rox

family restaurantBefore you had kids, you may have ventured to fancy restaurants, tried exotic dishes, enjoyed the adult ambiance, and didn’t blink an eye when a rather large bill came.

But those days are likely over. Now you go to chain restaurants, trying various kinds of hamburgers, dealing with loud kids, and scratching your head when the bill comes, wondering how chicken nuggets can cost so much.

But it’s not all bad news. There are family friendly restaurants out there that have menu items for everyone at reasonable prices. Market Force Information, a customer experience management firm, recently released the results of America’s best chain restaurants, where “more than 4,500 consumers from the firm’s 300,000 strong stable of independent mystery shoppers voted for their favorite chain from a list of 51 casual-dining restaurants in the August survey.”

However, you may be wondering, how favorable are these restaurants for people with children? To determine this, I compared the top seven establishments using a set of four criteria: menu Selections and prices for adults, menu selections and prices for kids, accessibility, and deals & offers.

Top Family Restaurant Chains

1. The Cheesecake Factory

cheesecake factory logoMenu Selections and Prices for Adults
The Cheesecake Factory is known is for its expansive menu, but because there are so many choices, there’s lots of room to save (or spend) here. The cheapest item on the standard menu is $3.95 for the Little House Salad, while the most expensive item is the $24.95 grilled rib-eye steak served with both fries and onion rings.

In any case, the good news is that most of the menu items range from $12.95 to 18.95 range – rather affordable, especially considering the size of the portions. Just beware of the desserts if you’re watching your budget: One slice of their famous cheesecake costs $6.95 to $7.95.

Out of all the restaurants on this list, The Cheesecake Factory has the most choices. And with the generous portions served, there’s no way anyone in your party will leave hungry.

Menu Selections and Prices for Kids
The kids menu (for ages 10 and younger) is almost as expansive as the adult menu, and includes cheeseburger sliders, fried chicken sliders, mini corn dogs, pasta, quesadillas, macaroni and cheese, chicken strips, pizza, grilled cheese, and grilled chicken, priced from $4.95 to $6.95. Kids dessert options include a scoop of ice cream, an ice cream sundae, or strawberries for $1 to $2.

Accessibility
There are approximately 156 restaurants across the United States. Several upper Midwest states and three New England states do not have any locations.

Deals & Offers
There is no link to sign up for deals or coupons via email on The Cheesecake Factory website. Personally, I’ve never seen a coupon for this restaurant. That doesn’t mean that they don’t exist, but don’t expect to save money on your bill.

cheesecake

2. Texas Roadhouse

texas roadhouse logoMenu Selections and Prices for Adults
Prices at Texas Roadhouse range from $3.29 for a cup of Texas Red Chili, to $19.99 for a 20-ounce bone-in ribeye steak, which comes with two sides. This is a steakhouse, so expect lots of red meat options. There are, however, a few seafood options, such as grilled salmon, fried catfish, grilled shrimp, chicken, and dinner salads. The selection of sides is fairly sizable too – mostly starches, with a few veggies available.

Menu Selections and Prices for Kids
The Kids and Ranger Meals section includes usual kiddie fare, including cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese, and chicken tenders, all served with a soft drink, milk, or juice. Prices range from $2.99 for a hot dog meal to $7.29 for a Ranger Rib Basket.

Accessibility
There’s at least one Texas Roadhouse in all 50 states.

Deals & Offers
Texas Roadhouse has an email club to which you can subscribe, though the website doesn’t say what kind of deals will be sent. When you sign up, you will be asked for your birthday, so you can likely expect some kind of discount to celebrate. Otherwise, there’s an “Early Dine” menu that offers a varied selection of 10 dinners for $7.99 on Mondays through Thursdays until 6pm.

ribeye steak

3. Olive Garden

olive garden logoMenu Selections and Prices for Adults
Appetizers at Olive Garden are a bit pricier than other places, with the cheapest item being the dipping sauces for bread sticks for $3.25. Soup and salad prices range between $4.95 and $9.95. The Olive Garden makes up for their expensive appetizers by providing unlimited salad and bread sticks, and most of the full meals cost between $10 and $14. The most expensive item on the menu is the Steak Toscano, a 12-ounce center-cut strip steak served with Tuscan potatoes and bell peppers, which costs $19.75.

Menu Selections and Prices for Kids
The children’s menu includes fish, chicken, and beef options, along with pasta, of course. The kids menu also features a “create your own pasta option,” cheese ravioli, pizza, and macaroni and cheese, all for $4.95. And for $5.50, your child can have chicken fingers with spaghetti.

All kids meals come with a choice of fresh fruit or vegetables, including grapes, steamed broccoli, or garlic mashed potatoes. Beverage choices include 1% milk, 1% chocolate milk, soft drinks, and juices (apple, cranberry, or orange).

Accessibility
Olive Gardens are located in 49 states, with a few locations in Canada. See more Olive Garden locations.

Deals & Offers
Currently, Olive Garden is offering a three-course Italian dinner special, which includes soup or salad, one of five entrées, and a dessert option for $12.95. There is also a link on the website to sign up for the newsletter, which promises additional specials and limited-time offers. Keep your eyes on the newspapers too: Olive Garden occasionally includes coupons for $3 or $4 off lunches in newspaper circulars.

pasta

4. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro

pf changs logoMenu Selections and Prices for Adults
The least expensive menu options at P.F. Chang’s are various cups of soup for $3.25, while the most expensive item is the Oolong Marinated Chilean Sea Bass, which costs $24.95. Most items on the menu, however, are priced between $10.95 and $18.95. If you like quality Chinese food, this is the place for you. Entrées range from chicken and duck dishes, to meins and vegetarian plates.

Menu Selections and Prices for Kids
The kids menu, for ages 12 and younger, is limited to mostly chicken dishes with a Chinese flair. Prices start at $2.95 for chicken fried rice and Baby Buddha’s Feast, to $4.95 for honey chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken. All kids dishes come with a drink.

Accessibility
P.F. Chang’s operates about 200 restaurants in the United States and Puerto Rico.

Deals & Offers
On Mondays to Fridays from 3pm to 6pm, the chain offers a happy hour that includes discounted drinks (beer, sake, wine, and cocktails), dim sum, and street fare, such as egg rolls, dumplings, and spare ribs. P.F. Chang’s offers an email signup list on its website, as well as a program called Warrior Rewards, which rewards loyal customers with extra incentives.

lo-mein

5. Carrabba’s Italian Grill

carrabbas italian grill logoMenu Selections and Prices for Adults
At Carrabba’s Italian Grill, small appetizers start at $7, while cups of soup are $4 at the cheapest. The rest of the menu is moderately priced: Basic dishes like spaghetti cost $10, while more exciting meals, such as lobster ravioli, teeter around the $15 to $18 mark. Think of Carrabba’s as a higher-end Olive Garden – mostly Italian favorites and signature dishes, including pastas, pizzas, and antipasti

Menu Selections and Prices for Kids
The Bambini Menu, available for kids 10 and younger, is rather plain, and includes chicken fingers, pizza, cheese ravioli, grilled chicken breast, and chicken fingers, with only a beverage included. Small-plate spaghetti meals are also available with regular or whole-grain pasta. All options are priced at $6.50, and buttered penne pasta or the “veggie of the day” can be substituted for any side. Beverages choices include Hi-C, 2% milk, and apple and orange juices. For dessert, your child can have the Bambini Sundae for $3.50.

Accessibility
Only 32 states have Carrabba’s locations, which are based mostly on the East Coast and in the Midwest and Southwest. Sorry, California.

Deals & Offers
On Wednesdays, Carrabba’s offers $10 off bottles of wine, plus $5 glasses of sangria and $10 pitchers of sangria. You can  also sign up for the Amici Club on the restaurant’s website. This will give you access to exclusive offers, flavorful rewards, invitation-only events, and insider information.

ravioli

6. Red Lobster

red lobster logoMenu Selections and Prices for Adults
If you crave seafood at affordable prices, Red Lobster is the best deal in town. Soups start at $4.25 per cup, and the most expensive dish is the New York strip and rock lobster tail for about $33.75. However, most of the dishes on the dinner menu run between $14.99 and $20.99. Yes, that range is a bit higher than the other restaurants listed so far, but when you consider all that the meals come with – a side salad, unlimited Cheddar Bay biscuits, and a side dish – you get a lot of value for your dollar.

Red Lobster primarily offers seafood, but there are chicken and steak dishes that aren’t paired with fish or shellfish. Most dishes come with a side or Caesar salad, Cheddar Bay biscuits, and at least one side dish. The portion sizes make Red Lobster a fairly good value.

Menu Selections and Prices for Kids
The kids menu is quite diverse, offering standard items like mac-n-cheese and chicken fingers, but also garlic-grilled shrimp or a petite lobster tail, all for $8.99 or less (and most dishes cost less than $6). All kids meals come with a choice of drink, such as 1% milk or soft drinks (with free refills), or juice ($0.99 for refills). Side dishes include a choice of orange wedges or broccoli, and a side or Caesar salad can be added for $0.99.

Accessibility
Red Lobster operates 705 restaurants worldwide. You’ll be hard-pressed not to find one nearby.

Deals & Offers
The Red Lobster chain offers several money-saving promotions per year. Currently, Red Lobster is offering a four-course seafood feast, which includes a soup, salad served with unlimited Cheddar Bay biscuits, a choice of one of seven entrées, including grilled honey barbecue shrimp skewers and wood-grilled fresh tilapia, and a choice of dessert, all for $15.

Like Olive Garden, you can occasionally find coupons in newspaper circulars. On the website, visitors can sign up for the Fresh Catch Club, which will alert members to special events, send a birthday gift, and provide other rewards.

lobster

7. Outback Steakhouse

outback steakhouse logoMenu Selections and Prices for Adults
In comparison to Texas Roadhouse, Outback Steakhouse is a bit pricier. A cup of the soup-of-the-day is the cheapest food item on the menu at $3.99, while the costliest dish is the king crab legs, served with two sides, for $35.99. Most items range in price from $14.99 to $22.99, making this the priciest menu of the group.

Outback offers a decent variety of red meat, seafood options, and combos. There are also plenty of chicken dishes, salads, and burgers and sandwiches from which to choose. Outback also offers a Spanish language menu and a gluten-free menu.

Menu Selections and Prices for Kids
“The Joey Book,” for kids 10 and younger, includes puzzles, a crossword, and other games to play while children choose from dinner options including the Grilled Cheese-A-Roo for $4.29 or Joey Sirloin Medallions (bite-sized pieces of steak) for $7.99. Most dishes, such as macaroni and cheese and cheeseburgers, cost less than $5.

Entrées, with the exception of the macaroni, are served with a choice of plain freshly-steamed broccoli, fresh apples and grapes, or fries. Kids meals includes a choice of 2% milk, a soft drink, or fruit juice (apple, orange, cranberry, or pineapple).

Accessibility
With more than 960 locations across the United States, there’s bound to be an Outback near you.

Deals & Offers
By visiting Outback’s website, you can sign up for My Outback, which delivers special discounts and coupons that can be received via email or text.

sirloin steak

Final Word

Of all the profiled restaurants, I would have to choose Olive Garden as the most family friendly. The menu is moderately priced, including affordable kids options (although P.F. Chang’s offers the lowest-priced kids dishes overall), and they frequently offer restaurant discounts and coupons to families. Combine that with the extra value of unlimited salad and bread sticks, and Olive Garden pulls ahead even further.

What are your favorite restaurants to dine at with your family? Are there other ways to save money while dining out?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Mikey Rox
Mikey Rox is an award-winning blogger and journalist whose work has appeared in more than 100 print and digital publications in North America and Europe, including CNN, The Advocate, The Baltimore Sun, and The Examiner Newspapers, among many others. He lives in New York City with his husband and their two dogs.

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  • Peter

    Dickey’s BBQ regularly run “Kids Eat Free” specials with the purchase of an Adult meal. Adult meals start at the $8-9 range so this can be a great place to get a small discount. It’s not an all-the-time thing. Sometimes only on Wed/Sunday, sometimes not in effect. Check before going. We generally frequent local chains so I can’t speak to much about the nationwide deals.

    I appreciate the comparisons for kid-friendly menus. I am not a huge Olive Garden fan, but we have a great local Italian restaurant in our town so we tend to stay there. They have a great Lunch special menu that continues on weekends and we can usually get out for ~$9/person. We don’t bother with the kid’s menu there because if we spring for the $7ish lunch special, my kid gets a salad. If just the kid’s meal, that’s separate and a bit more expensive.

    Of course, now I’m hungry for some steak or Chinese food.

    • http://www.facebook.com/M1KEYR0X Mikey Rox

      I don’t know about Dickey’s BBQ, but I’ll try to find one. One of my faves is pulled pork and corn bread. Thanks for the comment. Hope you get your steak or Chinese food fix – for less. :)

  • Casey Slide

    IHOP also regularly has “Kids Eat Free” nights or even months. My son is extremely picky, but what kid doesn’t like pancakes? And since breakfast is served 24/7, my son always finds something he likes on the menu.

    • http://www.facebook.com/M1KEYR0X Mikey Rox

      Thanks for the additional tip, Casey. I love me some IHOP, but I actually prefer Denny’s – which I’m sure has plenty of family- and kid-friendly deals, too. Fruity Tooty Fresh and Fruity to you and yours!

    • http://www.facebook.com/M1KEYR0X Mikey Rox

      Thanks for the additional tip, Casey. I love me some IHOP, but I actually prefer Denny’s – which I’m sure has plenty of family- and kid-friendly deals, too. Fruity Tooty Fresh and Fruity to you and yours!

  • Sean H

    Seeing this article makes me want to eat the screen. I should buy a bigger computer so the steak looks bigger…:-)

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