“It’s our job and we love what we do,” says Salvatore Scavuzzo, general manager of Al Forno Putney in London, specialising in Sicilian and Italian dishes. Last year, it succeeded in being the most consistent restaurant on the UK network to top the ‘child-friendly’ Diners’ Choice list. Diners’ Choice lists recognise outstanding restaurants in numerous categories based solely on OpenTable’s verified diner feedback.
With Mother’s Day just around the corner, we spoke to Scavuzzo about why he thinks Al Forno Putney is such a hit with families and his advice to restaurants who want to play up their child-friendly atmosphere.
Family see, family do
Scarvuzzo says that in order to make families comfortable you have to be comfortable and family-like with you staff. “We try to be as happy as possible and make people feel that when they come in,” he says. “We try to be a family ourselves and give that to our customers.” Ultimately, it’s a lot easier to cater to families and to children when the staff members feel like a family.
A recent trip to another restaurant helped Scarvuzzo realise what makes dining at Al Forno so special for families. “I went to a restaurant where everyone seemed to be upset. It seemed like there was an argument among the staff and you could feel the anger,” he remembers. It was a reminder that the attitude that he and his staff bring to service is what guests are going to feel during their meal. “I think everybody in the dining room can feel when something is going wrong with the staff,” he says. “Of course sometimes people get upset, but we have a conversation and fix it.”
Home away from home
Capturing the attention of children in the dining room is another way that Al Forno makes families feel at home. The key is to not ignore them and don’t try to make them be serious. “When kids come in, we play with them and one of our servers even does magic tricks in the dining room to entertain them,” Scarvuzzo says. “We don’t take ourselves seriously and I think guests and kids can feel it.” It may not be appropriate for someone to do magic tricks in your restaurant’s dining room but there are still ways to make kids feel like they’re welcome. Don’t just talk to the adults at the table, ask children what they’d like to order and keep them in mind when taking care of the table. “We make sure that the whole family is ok and taken care of during their dinner,” Scarvuzzo says.
The restaurant’s decor also adds to this feeling with lots of dark wood, pictures of Italy and paintings meant to make guests feel like they’re vacationing on the Sicilian coast. The menu of pastas, pizzas and dishes served family-style also adds to the homey atmosphere.
Going the extra mile
Adding extra touches for parents is also one way to make families happy. On Mother’s Day, Al Forno will give moms a free glass of prosecco or a bellini, says Scarvuzzo. It’s all about making families feel comfortable by making them feel like they’re a part of the Al Forno family. “We like to be seen as a family business and as family to our customers. We want them to feel at home.”