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Check, Please!

Check, Please!

We are a family with two working adults.

Unfortunately, this means that there are two adults who are exhausted by the time dinner rolls around. Now we try and plan for this, obviously, as we are not made of money and cannot eat every dinner out of the house. But there are times where we just throw our hands in the air and say, “That’s it. Hop in the car.”

We have our basic favorites, which usually rotate around two things:

  1. They have something I like to eat.
  2. They are good with my kids.

That’s it. I’m SO easy to please. And yet, there are many, many places we don’t frequent because they fail miserably at Number 2. I’m pretty consistently amazed at how many establishments not only ignore their younger diners, but seem to be counter-intuitive to them eating there.

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So, if you happen to be in charge of an eating venue and you would like my business, here are some hints that have worked masterfully well for us in the past. Feel free to pick three things from the following list.

Have kid-friendly drinks and cups.

Until my youngest was three, we kept our own cups in the car. I couldn’t believe how many places would bring us a drink for a child in full-size cup. Lids and straws are not only to our benefit, but MAN, do they save you some serious clean-up later. Sprite is a great kid-friendly drink, but we have a picky drinker who hates fizz. So have a juice, lemonade, or milk (the best!) back-up for us. Also, if we ask what drinks you have for kids, please do not offer up “Diet Pepsi”.

Keep my kid entertained

I’m not asking you to put on a three-ring circus for my kids, because learning to self-soothe in a restaurant is part of the life skills I want them to gather on their own. But crayons and coloring packets go a long way. The best places have tactile stuff for my kids; I love pizza places that bring out a small bit of dough for the boys or the quirky diner that hands out mini Etch-a-Sketches.

Pizza dough makes the wait SO much better.

If my kid is little? They need food, pronto.

Oh, you will forever win me over with the additional effort of bringing out food for them before the rest of the meal. Have you ever had to corner a possum? That’s what a hungry toddler at a restaurant is like. I can keep the entire dining room to a dull roar if you bring out their food when it’s ready – or even better, supply me with crackers or bread for them until it is ready.

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If my kid talks to you, please respond. Please, please, please.

I’m not asking you to start a discourse with them about the price of tea in China, but my four year old is now at the age where he wants to be acknowledged as a person. Can you blame him? So if he orders his own meal, please look him square in the eye. Treat him like he might be paying the bill. (He’s not.) It means the world to him, and that translates to a much happier Momma.


I know you have a dessert menu. Of course I do. I’ve probably been thumbing through it while longingly caressing that picture of a brownie with ice cream. But dessert is a power-play in my house. I control dessert, and the less you bring it up, the better for all of us. Nothing will set us down a spiral of self-destruction faster than you offering said brownie to the child who wouldn’t eat his dinner.

What other criteria makes you a happy dining parent?


View Comments (25)
  • I don’t believe we should expect restaurants to all be kid centered and if a child is disrupting your dining experience it is probably a parent problem not a restaurant problem.
    I’m shocked you would judge a restaurant on whether or not they provide entertainment or bring a snack for your child. What about bringing your own snack and crayons or using the moment for teaching your child patience and contentment?

    • Oh, I don’t expect restaurants to be kid-centered. In fact, we have a list of places here that we WON’T take our kids to because we know they can’t meet the expected behavior. When I was younger, going to a “princess luncheon” was a big deal that merited our best behavior, so we plan to model something similar to that.

      But as far as “family establishments”? Yeah, I kind of have things that make it easier to take my kids there.

  • Crayons and activity sheets do go a long way, but when my daughter was that young it didn’t really work for her. I’ve always brought my own stuff if I thought I needed it, but now she’s 6 so we just kind of talk like normal folks unless I have to issue mild threats.

    Rebekah- I don’t think she’s expecting restaurants to center around her kids. I think she’s talking about what things she looks for when choosing a place for her family to eat. If they want her to come eat at their restaurant, do this stuff. Capitalism! 🙂

  • You know, I’ve found most of the restaurants here in HSV to be very family friendly. We purposely plan to go out when we know there are a ton of kids (like 6 instead of 7 or 8). I do bring my own toys and occasional snacks, but nothing made me happier when our waitress at Cheddars asked if we wanted our daughter’s food (who was around 15 months) to come out with our salads. Can we say lifesaver?

    and rebekah – yes, not every restaurant should be kid centered (when dh and I get the rare date night we like “adult” restaurants), but if a restaurant wants FAMILY business or atmosphere, they should at least consider what they offer, which I think is the point of this post.

  • when i take my children out to eat i expect them to behave and sit down during a meal and not expect a restaurant to entertain them. i have a “busy bag” full of toys and coloring books for the kids to play with. if it’s not kid friendly we reserve it for date night.

  • One of our little tests for a waiter/waitress when we dine out with any or all of our four kids is whether he/she thinks to bring extra napkins. It just shows that they are thinking and are aware of what type of customers are at that table. Also, if your restaurant has a kid menu, it pretty much needs to include macaroni and hot dogs as options. Thanks for the enjoyable post!

  • No matter where we go I like having a waiter/waitress who has experience with kids. When the don’t they’ll sit a drink or hot plate right next to an 18 month old! When we take our three out we definitely try to go to family friendly places with all the above qualities.

  • We actually love when the servers bring the check right after we get our food, knowing that we may have to bail as our 1 year old’s attention fades as he finishes eating and he starts getting crazy. Nothing like waiting forever to pay for your food while your child melts down!

    • THIS. Totally totally agree that bringing the check ASAP is key with my kid. She can behave for 45 minutes, or even an hour, through crayons and food and singing songs and every other part of the adventure. But when it takes you a half hour to bring me the check? It is really hard to take it, because the food has been eaten and crayons are now boring and we have already looked at everything in my purse. I LOVE it when servers want me to leave as much as I want to leave.

  • So, Sarah, where do you especially like because they meet those criteria well? I had a good experience with Big Ed’s Saturday while having great service from the tire store across the street from them. Los Mariachi’s is my (8 year old) daughter’s favorite place and Terranova’s never disappoints.

  • iPads. Greatest invention ever. While they go away as soon as the meal comes, with a kid who doesn’t handle waiting well, this make eating out, together without taking shifts walking and driving around. Makes a huge diffence. As such, places that have free WiFi are nice. Even better: places that are fast. We love Mexican food for that very reason. It certainly helps that Mexican rice is one of the few things we can get the boy to eat without a fight.

  • As a former waitress many moons ago, I would also like to mention something that parents can do to make the dining experience better and safer for young people. KEEP YOUR CHILD AT YOUR TABLE AT ALL TIMES IN ALL RESTAURANTS. Yes, I am shouting. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen parents let their children walk freely in restaurants. Not only is this a kidnapping risk in crowded places, but waiters with large trays full of hot food and breakable plates are not looking down to see if there is a 3 year-old in the path. I have also been a customer in places where strange children would just walk up to my table and talk to me, which I found annoying, but the smiling mother across the room clearly thought was “cute.” I have watched kids allowed to run freely (literally) and cause spills and near falls. Just because a reastaurant is kid-friendly does not mean that the employees are free babysitters or that the other customers should have to endure your running and yelling children. Yes, my child looks longingly at your hooligans, but I hope she is learning a lesson about appropriate restaurant behavior.

  • Couldn’t agree more. I also usually request my check after they bring our meals so we can pay right away.

  • The only thing I would add is make the kid meals cheaper…$5 for Mac n cheese….with fries that mine won’t eat? Would love to see kids free at more places, or an a la carte menu for the kiddos. Great article though!

  • “Have kid-friendly drinks and cups.” <– This! It drives me crazy when we go somewhere and our five year old and three year old end up w/drinks as big as our. It's a waste and they sure don't need that much of whatever we end up ordering for them.

  • I totally agree parents shouldn’t let their kids wander in a restaurant. But servers should also be careful around kids (well, and adults, too). We had a server years ago that passed a plate with a steak knife over my toddler’s head. The knife fell off and luckily missed her, but it did make me angry it came so close. Also, don’t put hot plates within their grasp, and don’t pour coffee over their head. They are short and so they are easier to reach over, but it’s just not safe.

  • Great article!

    We like to dine at Cantina Laredo because they serve both gourmet Mexican and kid-friendly chicken and fries. Believe me, I would love for my children to expand their palates and I do offer them new things, but sometimes I need a break from the dinner war and would like to dine somewhere other than McDs/Chik Fil A. 🙂

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