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Friday Night Feeding Frenzy

"I'll have the Virgin Merlot" (aka grape juice)

Many of our readers have been interacting on our Facebook page, discussing an article about whether or not restaurants should be able to ban young children from dining in their establishments.

If we were honest with ourselves, I think we would all recognize moments where we probably should not have taken our child out to eat. The screams, the stares, the whispers.

Yes, I was THAT mom one afternoon, when my family needed lunch one afternoon when we had been out all day away from home. There is a really groovy pizza place in our area that makes great pizza and has a really cool atmosphere that we enjoy going to. The bright colors, cool music, and menu appear to be kid friendly, but unfortunately we have found it to be otherwise. That particular afternoon, we had missed the window of when our almost two year old son needed to eat. Most of the time, he is pretty consolable but this particular afternoon he was HUNGRY and I forgot to replenish the snack supply in my diaper bag, big mistake. Although the pizza in this place is amazing, it takes forever to bake. So we had to try to console and distract Will for almost 45 minutes while our $10 cheese pizza baked. (And of course, we had already paci weaned at this point, so the only thing that would help was food). Once he got some pizza he returned back to his normal happy self, but the wait was painful.

Kids being excluded from restaurants is not a new trend, it has been happening for years, it’s just that most places are much more demure about it.

Here’s how you know when a restaurant doesn’t want your toddlers business:

  • High Prices: If you are struggling to find an entree under $15 dollars, you know it’s not family friendly. Of course you could work around the high prices by sharing your more than likely over-sized entree with your whole family, but chances are you’ll have a difficult time finding something for everyone.
  • No kids menu: Kid’s menus are not for ordering, they are for distracting. Most kids menus + crayons will buy you at least 5 – 10 minutes of calm depending on the age of your children.
  • No kid friendly food: If the only thing you can find on the menu that your kid would at least try is Salmon and steamed vegetables, they aren’t family friendly.
  • They have only have one broken/crusty high chair, leaving you to have to improvise. See my article We Gave Him the Belt for a funny related story.
  • The hostess is scrambling before you walk in the door trying to figure out how to seat you as far away from the action as possible. “Table for 6? All we have left is this table on the patio by the dumpster. Will that be ok?” We recently left a place in the Dayton Area (The Rusty Bucket) because they couldn’t find enough room in their empty restaurant to seat four adults and three babies together. They didn’t even care that we were going to leave. So we took our money elsewhere, to Panera Bread. We were much happier, and they probably were too.
  • They have an extensive wine list or a bar that takes up more than half the building. I think this one is pretty self explanatory.

I can’t say I blame restaurants for not wanting to serve families with little kids. They are private establishments, and there should be places where kids aren’t allowed. All kids aren’t selfish, rude, and loud, but they need to learn table manners and other skills that make them a pleasure to dine with. And there are several alternative places that are much more enjoyable places for them to practice for patrons and establishments.

What to look for when you want to eat out with kids:

  • Large chain restaurants like Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel, Texas Roadhouse and the like, are always good choices because they have kids menus, and you know what to expect once you have been there before. They also list their menus online if you want to plan ahead.
  • Avoid places where you have a long wait, either to be seated or a long wait for food. Places like Panera Bread, Chipotle, and even local Mexican/Chinese food places (if your kids can handle the spices) are really fast and have a lot of flavor! Chains often serve free bread too, which is great to hold kids over while they wait.
  • Look for places that have coupons, Kids eat free nights, or family specials. They want your business so bad, they’ll feed your kids for free, what a great deal!

One of our favorite places to go with the kids is Chick-fil-a, it is the only place that I have ever taken the kids to eat that seems to fall all over themselves trying to help me have the best dining experience possible with my family.

The best option though is to stay home to eat as much as possible. Although dining out is a nice change and gives us a break from having to cook, the majority of restaurant food is going to be hard on your family’s health after a while not to mention your wallet!

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About Jamie

Jamie is a creative-techie mom, raising three boys under three (twins!) with her husband in Pennsylvania. Jamie now writes at The Red Robinson,