Kids’ menus are a great way to get families in the door at many restaurants, adding the safety net of an option your young one will go for. But now, adults on TikTok are turning to the kids’ food section to save money on their own meal.
What could be considered a controversial tactic by restaurant owners and some consumers is embraced by Ashley Garrett, aka “thedisneygirlie” on TikTok, who has tapped into the niche on social media to share her experience reviewing the best bang for your buck on a kids menu.
“I review kids meals in terms of value. If an adult were to want to save money and order a kids meal to go, some are objectively better values than others,” she explained in a TikTok video.
Garrett doesn’t review taste because, in her opinion, “all kids meals taste pretty good.” Instead, she said she focuses on things like portion sizes and sides.
“How big are the portions? Is it actually an adult portion that gets served as a kid’s meal? What’s the price like in comparison to the portion? How flexible are the side and drink choices? Does it come with a drink? Does it come with the side?” she said, outlining the questions she asks when reviewing any kids’ meal.
Garrett has had a handful of viral videos for her tactic that could help get adults a cheap and easy meal by ordering the food to-go.
The self-appointed “kids’ meal connoisseur” has toured 40 restaurants since February in search of the best value and portions, documenting her journey online and sharing her insights with her followers.
Garrett told “Good Morning America” that she has ordered off kids menus for “many years” and first “stumbled into sharing it on accident.”
“I have never been good at cooking and I do not have roommates and I live alone,” she said as to why there’s no appeal to cooking a big meal at home. “I don’t want to eat leftovers — so I have been trying to eat out as much as possible because I find it [to be the] most time and cost effective for myself.”
“In order to get the best value off of a kids’ meal, first I look at portion,” she said, adding that “some kids’ meals are a lot larger portion-wise than others — and I compare them to each other.”
“The second thing I look at would be how customizable the side options and the drink options are,” she said. “Some places may only have two or three side choices, whereas other locations may have side options to choose from that’s like 10 things long — and same thing for drinks.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of dining out has increased by almost 9% since the same time last year.
By her estimations, however, Garrett saves a significant amount on dining out, since most of the kids’ meals she purchases are typically around $8. “I would easily spend way more than that on ingredients at the grocery store,” she said.
“Online ordering is kind of the best way to be able to order a child’s meal if you’re over a certain age,” she noted, explaining how she skirts the system implemented by many restaurants for dining inside.
Her top three kids’ meals thus far, in terms of meeting her “best portion and value” criteria, include Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen — an American comfort food restaurant chain across parts of the Midwest, southern states and along parts of the East Coast — “Olive Garden, and the third one would be Longhorn Steakhouse.”
She added, “A lot of steakhouses tend to have very good portions and customizable options, such as [the kids’ meal at] Texas Roadhouse.”
For others looking to save money and feel satiated, Garret offered a couple additional tips, including looking at a restaurant’s rewards program.
“Definitely pay attention to the rewards programs available and also pay attention before you get to check out if there’s anything you can add on for a reduced price to save money in the long run,” she said.
At Chili’s for example, she said customers can “add on a second side item for $0.99,” while at Olive Garden “you can just pay an extra $6 for a take-home, [easily reheated] pasta dish — that ends up saving money in the long run as well.”
When asked to address possible pushback or repercussions of her ordering habits, Garret told “GMA” that “there’s no way to receive pushback when you order and pay ahead — online or through an app — once it’s ordered and paid for, there’s really nothing that can be said.”
“I’m sure it would be quite different if someone were trying to order it in person or in sitting dining in a restaurant,” she conceded.