Are Fast-Food Restaurant Playgrounds on the Way Out?

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For many years, many fast food restaurants have incorporated play areas for children into their spaces, whether a small area with toys, desks, paper and crayons, or a full playground space. Increasingly though, fast food companies are strategically designing their buildings to appeal to a more mature audience. These companies are incorporating a more café style template, shying away from their traditional kid-friendly playground theme. Some of these design changes are based on the rise of social media, with a greater focus on digitising their spaces, as well as the fact that most young people who visit these restaurants are between the ages of 9 and 16.

The majority of them have their own smartphone or are using their parent’s phone; they play video games, text, and watch videos. Very few of these children pay attention to the playgrounds located on the side of the buildings, while those children who do play on the playgrounds lose attention are losing attention quickly because there are too few objects to play with. It’s apparent that a new generation of higher quality playground equipment is in order.

An additional factor is the fact that families taking their children to these restaurants has gone down 18.6% from 2011 to 2016. That said, some of these companies are resilient and won’t completely remove their playgrounds. For example, while McDonalds has started to remove playgrounds from their outside facilities, they still include some indoor playgrounds. Also, some companies that were built around appealing to children like McDonalds and Burger King can look to earn profit from having these playgrounds included, either through charging a small fee for use, or by keeping families on-site for longer and encouraging them to by more food items.

There is a clear shift in the fast food market producing more buildings, without playgrounds in the blueprints. Social Media has rewritten the meaning of ‘Play’ as well as apps like Pokémon Go, with adults and children alike experiencing individualised adventures specific to each player. The previous playground archetype struggles to compete with an app that motivates personal adventures and has the convenience of round-the-clock accessibility.

It’s clear that modern playgrounds have to innovate in order to compete, setting a standard for physically active play rather than conforming to the new idea of what recreational play is. Over the last 30 years of companies reducing play facility sizes, we’re seeing playgrounds shifting to a smaller condensed version, particularly as site costs increase and space comes at a premium. Even in some cases, isolating them outside in locations where it’s smaller and much less relevant. For business owners, this meant more playgrounds were seen as more work than they’re worth. If companies keep these facilities open, it needs to be in the hopes of creating an innovative way of competing with their digital counterparts.

Here at Creative Play, we see our innovative and modern outdoor playgrounds thriving in schools and parks, with a few restaurant chains or individual eateries enlisting our services. It will be interesting to see if playgrounds continue to have a presence with big fast food chains.