To all restaurant owners (who consider families as a part of their target market),
Having families with children as customers is not easy. It can be stressful, demanding, messy and loud. There is another side to it though: going out to eat is sometimes a hassle for parents and not-at-all-fun time for kids. Why so many adults with infants sit every day at restaurant tables then, you may ask. Going out to eat is sometimes the only kind of fun we can have or the only way to eat a proper meal. It is our fun, social event that costs us so much more than “just” money. We do everything we can not to disturb other people. But we can only do as much. Each time we enter a new restaurant we are hopeful to finally discover THE place. We need restaurant owners/managers to help us make that time more enjoyable and less stress-prone. You can help us, you have power to solve family-at-the-restaurant-related problems.
Below, I listed nine rules for kids-friendly restaurant and one additional that can turn a restaurant into a really super mega awesome kids-friendly place.
1. Highchairs. There’s no question about it – you need to have at least two of these. Storage shortage is not an excuse since travel booster seats were invented (for example this one from Polar Gear).
2. Now, that we’re seated, I kindly ask you to hand out the menu to everyone at the table. That includes any child able to grab it. You’re absolutely right, a toddler can’t read it but he will be entertained, his need for being treated like everyone else will be met, his parents will be able to relax and they will provide you with clear information about their order.
3. Food choice. Could you please, if possible, think outside the box when creating kids menu? “The box” these days seems to be fries and chicken nuggets. Do kids really not deserve better food (unless the restaurant is all about burgers and fried food)? My favorite solution is to simply offer mini versions of some of regular meals. We once went to a place that had no kids menu because any dish there could have been made kids size.
4. The after-the-order part is usually the hardest. Everybody at the table is hungry. The more hungry, the more impatient (see European Mama’s post about “hangry” phenomenon). You can help by providing kids with any kind of entertainment, the simplest being crayons and paper. Invest in Crayola Dry Erase if you’re afraid of damage (which is very unlikely to happen). If ambitious, you could print out coloring pages with a theme of your choice but you can skip paper altogether if you’re using paper tablecloths. Add stickers and you’ll be a well renown rockstar!
5. The best way to deal with waiting time is to shorten it to a minimum: make families a priority, deliver their order fast. It’s not a special treatment, it’s a salvation for you, them and other guests. This is more important than crayons or any other point on that list. I was blessed to have a calm, (relatively) well behaved toddler but I count every minute when we’re out: she’s hungry, the meal is always prior to sleep (be it nap or evening bedtime), she will not accept sitting still forever. The more we wait, the more anxious I become, the more I have to distract her instead of having nice time with my family and friends. The more I wait, the less likely I am to ever come back to that restaurant.
6. Do you ever use a barrel to drink water? Quite impractical, isn’t it? Then why would you ever give a small child the biggest glass? Same with forks, if yours are huge, they become pitchforks in small kids’ hands. Solution? Shot glasses, small glasses, even cups for tea, or espresso cups and dessert-sized forks will make a lovely kids tableware set. Also, if you got high chairs with built-in tables, make sure you have plates that will fit the tray.
7. It’s too hot! When the food finally arrives we’re all happy and relieved. All, except for the little toddler who can’t touch his food without burning his fingertips. As seconds pass by, his frustration grows and, frankly, I don’t blame him. Seeing food and not eating, while being hungry is a torture! Solution? At least, don’t heat up toddler’s plates. It can also be put in the fridge or freezer for one minute to cool down a notch.
8. Let women breastfeed at the table. Don’t roll your eyes, don’t comment and most certainly don’t ask them to do “it” in the toilet, under no circumstances ask them to leave. (Although I will admit women nursing half naked can be irritating).
9. Now, the most common mistake and the one I don’t understand. If having high chairs is obvious, why having a changing table isn’t? It is a great mystery to me. Where should I change my daughter’s diaper? On the dirty bathroom floor? On the super narrow counter the waiter offered? I can’t leave that diaper on – it would irritate my daughter’s skin, it would hurt her, it would cost me additional bepanthen tube, it would be disrespectful and the smell is probably annoying for everyone. Solution is very easy – get a changing table (if not having enough space is your excuse for not having it, consider wall mounted ones, for example this one from Roba).
Getting basics right is a good way to get you started. By basics I mean highchairs, delivering time, changing table and crayons. Each will give you one full fat star. Every other point from the list will grant you half star. Do you accept the challenge?
To be a super mega awesome restaurants for families with children you will have to do one more thing:
10. Kids corner. A place with toys, maybe a play kitchen set? A table to draw? It can be anything. It can be very small or very big, colorful or black and white. I don’t care, as long as it’s a place dedicated to my 2 year old daughter. Of course, the nicer and bigger the playing area, the better comments and better feedback to our parents-friends.