To the top chef opening a new restaurant,
I’ve walked by your paper-covered windows a few times now, steering my two young kids in tow to take a peek in, hoping to get a glimpse of the soon-to-be new dining destination in town.
I know you’re probably really busy planning your menu, training staff, and getting ready for the soft opening of your restaurant. As a die-hard food fanatic, I want you to know I will be one of your first customers anxious to try your culinary creations… with my kids.
You might be tempted to suggest I leave the kids at home with a sitter. I get that. Having spent the better part of my life in the restaurant industry, I know kids (and their parents) can be some of your most difficult customers. But they can also be your most loyal, spend more per cover, and quick to spread the word to their friends and families about why your place is THE BEST.
I’m not suggesting your change your concept to a kid-friendly restaurant with ball pit and kids eat free on Mondays. God no. I implore you not to do such a thing. All I’m asking is you welcome kids if they dine in your restaurant. Be ready for them. Here’s how:
- Clean high chairs: This is an obvious one. And don’t just have one high chair for the entire restaurant. It’s not cool.
- Food options for kids (read: does not have to be a kid’s menu): The main reason I like to take my kids out to eat is to introduce them to new flavors. But if there’s fried chicken fingers and french fries on the menu, they will always want it. I’d prefer they have healthier options. For instance, at Crow’s Landing, they offer a mix-and-match of healthy and delicious food options for kids. Or how about smaller portions of an adult-sized entrée? Don’t dumb down the food. Just make it accessible.
- Distractions: Thankfully, my kids don’t need a ton of toys and games to keep them busy while they wait (they’re older now and dine out frequently). And I prefer not to break out the mobile devices (not judging other parents here, but it’s just not what we do). Keep a stash of crayons (big box of 64 Crayola Crayons is less than a $4) and paper at the host stand. Even broken crayons work. Or get creative like The Granary Tavern and give the kids an etch-a-sketch. This classic toy will entertain kids for eons.
- Seating options for families: Most families with young kids will need some room to squirm, mine included. Don’t seat us at a high-top so my youngest can teeter precariously while waiting for his meal to arrive. Booths are a parent’s best friend. Outdoor seating is also a plus. Bonus if you have fun activities such as corn hole like the Rivershed.
- Quick service: While my ideal date night would include a leisurely chef’s tasting that last 3-hours, if I’m dining out with my kids, it needs to be MUCH quicker. Offer to bring out our kids’ meal first while I start on my appetizer (or better yet, a cocktail). Bring us the check at the same time you deliver dessert. Kids have an attention span of a gnat. The less downtime, the less chance they will have a meltdown.
- Friendly staff: I can’t stress this one enough. Some of the best dining experiences from people we know are attributed to the staff that went above and beyond. That time when the wait staff brought hot water to warm a bottle and extra napkins? Fantastic. Or the time the manager brought over a live lobster tableside in a bowl from the lobster tank so the kid can get a closer look? So cool! And the time when a toddler knocked over mom’s entire glass of wine, drenched the toddler’s meal in wine, and the restaurant immediately replaced the meal (and more importantly mom’s wine) without charging extra? Amazing.
I don’t appreciate the 20-something hostess rolling her eyes when she sees me with my kids walk through the door. Instead, greet us with a warm smile and bring us to the corner booth. Offer the kids some crayons and drinks with lids. Bring mama a nice glass of wine and offer suggestions for the kids.
There are plenty families like ours that practice table manners everyday and come fully prepared to show kids what it means to be “restaurant-friendly”. Did I mention we’re pretty great tippers too? We don’t need a three-ring circus entertaining us. Just some friendly (and patient staff) and we’ll take care of the rest.
— On behalf of all restaurant-loving parents