Dining out with kids is a hot topic. Everyone seems to have an opinion about where — and if — children belong, and whether our tiny tots can truly be expected to behave in public spaces.
I think we can all agree that parents have a responsibility to prepare children for the experience of eating in a restaurant, and that too many parents show a shocking lack of consideration for both staff and other patrons when dining out with their kids. But the hard — and often overlooked — truth is that parents aren't the only ones who can do better.
Tips for Restaurant Staff
Instead of ducking for cover when children darken their doors, restaurant owners and staff need to embrace their role as key players in the "dining out with kids" equation. Several small, simple changes would better serve families so that everyone, from the parents to the kids to the staff to the couple at the next table, could enjoy a more positive dining experience.
1. Stop seating families with small children in the middle of the restaurant. Young children are active. Yes, it is my job as a parent to teach them to stay seated, but restaurant staff are routinely oblivious to the fact that an empty booth by the window is a better choice for a family than the table that is right in the path of both the kitchen and the bathroom.
2. Don't ask if my kids want soda. If you don't want my children running circles around your restaurant, why are you offering them sugar the minute they walk through the door? We know you have soda; if we want it, we'll ask for it.
3. But do offer us wine. It's a great opportunity to upsell, which increases our bill and therefore your tip. Plus, we probably really need it.
4. Stop trying to take our order immediately. Families have many orders to contemplate, and it usually takes us a few minutes to get settled, argue over who will be sitting where, and open a menu. Give us a minute to breathe before trying to sell us on the combo platter.
5. Get the order right. You should be doing this anyway, but it's especially important when the order is for a child. We don't have the luxury of waiting an extra 20 minutes while a new order is prepared, so it's easier for everyone involved if the food comes out right the first time.
6. Don't bring the kid's food out first. I may be in the minority on this one, since many parents appreciate the gesture, but Jenny from The Nourished Kitchen offers an excellent explanation of why all main courses — even the children's — should arrive together (see #7 in her post).
7. Improve your children's menu. Children's menus are notoriously terrible, by both nutritional standards and culinary ones. Consider offering smaller portions of adult entrees already on your menu, and stop assuming that kids only eat french fries.
8. Stop judging us by stereotypes. Yes, some children grind goldfish crackers into the carpet and some parents completely ignore poor behavior. This does not mean that we're all going to be the guests from hell.
9. Don't assume that we won't tip well. We know our table is messier than most and that our order was probably more complicated, and most of us are happy to tip accordingly. Just because we're parents doesn't mean that we're oblivious cheapskates.
10. Show a little compassion. Most parents aren't asking for special treatment. If anything, we're asking that our children be treated with the same compassion, respect, and understanding that every paying customer — and every human being — deserves.
Parents, what would you add to the list? How can restaurants can better serve you?