What are your great kid friendly restaurant experiences?
September 5, 2018 8:37 AM   Subscribe

Please tell me about that time you went to a restaurant - as a kid or with your own kids - and the place was kid friendly in some great way.
posted by Foci for Analysis to Food & Drink (54 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My favorite one is on an orchard. Inside the restaurant there is an area with a train set and blocks.
Outside is a deck with tables, too. It looks out on to the orchard and a nice playground with climbing structures and swings.
It's nice to have the play area inside for the kids to play before the food gets served, then go outside after the meal and leisurely drink coffee while the kids play on the playground.
posted by beccaj at 8:44 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also the kids LOVE the flatbread place where you get balls of dough to play with.
posted by beccaj at 8:45 AM on September 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

My favorite ramen restaurant doesn’t allow us to park our stroller by the table but they do helpfully whisk it away and store it for us and bring it back out for us when we’re paying our check. They bring out a full set of kiddie plates bowls cups and utensils, and ask if we want anything less hot temperature wise for them. Extra napkins without having to ask. And they also do this thing where if one of us is clearly holding and wrangling baby then they ask if we want them to bring out one adult’s noodles first, and the other adult’s when it’s time for us to switch babyholding duties. I find it very considerate of them.
posted by sestaaak at 8:50 AM on September 5, 2018 [11 favorites]

We went to a brewery (the type that brews on site, but also has food). They had an outdoor patio with plenty of running space, two big Tupperwares full of toys, a big blanket for the babies/crawlers to hang out on, nothing in toddler reach that was breakable, AND the owner's elementary aged daughter (~8 years old) informed us that she had LOTS of babysitting experience, and that she was going to play with our toddler. Which she did, while we chilled with our beers and food. Every restaurant should come with a built-in older kid babysitter.
posted by Jaclyn at 8:54 AM on September 5, 2018 [8 favorites]

I think that "kid friendly" is too big of a category. Let's say "kid" is 0-12, but that there are different groups within that.

Things that apply to all kids:
- Other diners are not expecting ambiances and are not going to shoot me dirty looks if my kid makes a noise. But even within that, there are categories.
- Bathrooms that are not deep in a basement, in a different part of the building, or require a code to get into.
- Waitstaff that are tolerant of kid stuff.
- Extra napkins.

Things that apply to all eating kids:
- A menu with a variety of things that kids will eat that are affordable and there are some protein options. This usually means mac & cheese, buttered noodles, grilled cheese, burgers, maybe hot dogs, maybe chicken strips, maybe pizza.

Things that apply to smaller children:
- If in a walking area, a safe place to park a stroller.
- Changing table in bathrooms.
- Somewhere for parents to be able to let a smaller child walk around.
- Crayons, coloring pages. Maybe a quiet toy like wiki stix or a ball of dough.
- Non-glass tableware.

But a lot of the things that make a place more comfortable for younger kids can alienate others. For example, there is a newish taproom in my neighborhood that is SUPER young child friendly. But for me and my older elementary aged kid, we sort of hate going there because the vibe is, more or less, letting one's young children run wild. My kid described this place as a daycare center. We went there last week and a 4 year old was climbing on the fence that was attached to our table, shaking it, and spilling our beer. Toddlers were constantly shreaking. My kid is old enough to go to a less-kid friendly taproom and amuse himself watching sports on TV or reading a book. Yet I don't want to annoy adults that don't want to worry about loudly swearing or whatever. When I think about the economics of this taproom, I wonder if there are enough parents of younger children to keep them in business.
posted by k8t at 9:10 AM on September 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

From someone with a young baby -
- I don't expect this at a fine dining establishment, but it's nice when there's a way to roll the stroller to the table and a way to make space for it at the table (this would also make the restaurant wheelchair-friendly).
- There's a changing table in restrooms for all genders. The nicest one I've seen lately had one of the stalls turned into a changing station, with a cushy pad and mobile!
- It's not too quiet but there's also not music blasting louder than conversation level.
posted by beyond_pink at 9:13 AM on September 5, 2018

We went to a casual Italian place with regular seating. But in the back, there was a small square boxed in area with a baby gate entry area. There was counter seating so parents could watch the toddlers while eating. I think there was a play mat and a toddler table/chairs with a small tub of toys. The servers said everyone loved it because they could choose to sit away from the louder family groups and the families didn't feel bad about bringing their kids out for a meal.
posted by IndigoOnTheGo at 9:13 AM on September 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

My family were regular at a specific restaurant in my childhood, to the point where they got to know our standing orders. We would get seated and approximately ten seconds later someone would show up with two gingerales and a plate of my favorite crackers for me, and a bowl of maraschino cherries for my sister. It a) kept us quiet and entertained while our parents looked at menus and such and b) made us feel Very Important and invested in behaving well so that restaurant would love us forever.

(At a certain point that restaurant also started giving the two of us Christmas presents every year but I recognize that is ridiculous.)

We also had a favorite takeout place where they would write my name on the chocolate pudding in whipped cream any time we called our order in ahead of time, which blew my tiny child mind.
posted by Stacey at 9:21 AM on September 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

There was this place called Snappers near where I grew up in Savannah. It was right on a creek front and they had a dock out along the back of the restaurant you could go out on. I don't know that it was particularly safe (I remember it being super poorly lit and kinda rickety) but it was nice to be able to go outside and pull periwinkles off the marsh grass instead of waiting patiently at the table until the food came. Also you could trick your parents and say "sorry, little brother can't come in to dinner because he got eaten by a gator and now he's dead" and it would be at least plausible given the setting.
posted by phunniemee at 9:25 AM on September 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

I mention this because of how successful it is, not because it's a great dining experience, but all three of my kids LOVED the McDonald's that had enormous playscapes. They'd play while I got the food, they'd eat, and probably play some more. Obviously, great dining was not the objective, but I think it's a very effective example of what you're looking for.
posted by ubiquity at 9:28 AM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Seating - particularly booth seating - arranged in such a way that we can sit as a family and feel relatively secluded from the rest of the dining room. This is particularly important because I have a child with autism and for us to eat out we need to be able to contain the stimulation he gets while also giving him a safe space to be himself.
posted by anastasiav at 9:30 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

A niceish but not fancy beachfront restaurant had fish tanks our kids could look at, white paper tablecloths to draw on with crayons, and the kid's lemonade came wrapped in a lei and with a small plastic fish toy.
posted by skynxnex at 9:32 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

the single biggest criteria for me with 6 and unders is the ability to pay before the meal is served or shortly there after. waiting for a check when 3 of your children have decided to throw a rod at the same time is the biggest suck
posted by Dr. Twist at 9:53 AM on September 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

There's a place near us that's on the beach, and they have a whole outdoor play area that's basically a giant sand pit on the back side of a dune. It abuts an outdoor seating area, and it's full of digging toys, and kids can just run themselves ragged out in the sand and then circle back to where their families are sitting for a quick bite to eat or a drink every so often, while their parents sit and eat fried shrimp and drink beer all afternoon. A+
posted by saladin at 9:58 AM on September 5, 2018

As a kid, I went to a restaurant (and then took my kids to the same restaurant) where you could feed the fish through a hole next to the table. The restaurant is on a pier in St. Augustine's in Florida. I think they gave us stale bread to feed the fish. Definitely a kid pleaser!
posted by jraz at 9:58 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

My kids loved the place that had adult food at kid portion. So they could get a small steak and baked potato! And the other place that had fancy kids drinks that weren't ice cream or expensive (as they knew I would say no to either or those)
They both also love the places that have tablets that they can use.
posted by Ftsqg at 10:01 AM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

WEIRD SYNCHRONICITY. Jraz, I'm in St. Augustine: I'm referring to The Beachcomber over on A Street, you're talking about the now-defunct Santa Maria downtown, which is currently locked in redevelopment hell.
posted by saladin at 10:02 AM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Our favorite restaurant: brings our 4 y/o daughter a covered cup of water as soon as we sit; has a kids' menu that includes things like the best grilled cheese in town and noodles with butter; brings kid orders within a few minutes of ordering - like, they bring that grilled cheese order to the kitchen and cook it ahead of anything else on order in the restaurant so my kiddo has it in 5 minutes; has friendly staff that are kind when our kid knocks over her milk; brings the check quickly; has crayons and paper. They have my unfailing love for the time that the baby spit up on the floor and the big kid dropped her sandwich and they cleaned up after the baby and gave my kid a second sandwich for free. (yes we tipped well!)

Worth noting: the owner has three relatively young kids, and many of the servers have kids. The only thing that would make it better is a change table in the "mens" room, but both bathrooms are single-person, so really a man could use the "women's room" that does have the change table.
posted by john_snow at 10:03 AM on September 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

There’s this Indian restaurant on the edge of town that has a play area with tons of toys for kids. It’s lovely, because although my daughter is a pretty adventurous eater for her age, we don’t eat Indian food often enough for her to remember that she likes it. But she remembers the toys! And this lets us not worry about the speed of the meal.
posted by eirias at 10:07 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

As a parent, these are the things I look for:

Changing tables that are clean, not hidden in the disabled stall, and in both the men's and women's rooms. Step stools under the sink if kids can't reach it.

Food that comes out quickly. Milk and apple juice on the menu. Cups with lids that aren't Styrofoam.

High chairs with working straps.

My 5 year old loves a restaurant that gives him something to do (but not crayons, those are boring) - he is quiet and content when given cheap toys that need to be assembled. His favorite restaurant has a variety of board games for kids. He is a big fan of kids menus with pictures on them.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 10:13 AM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

On a basic level, have drinks that are kid-friendly (i.e. NOT just soda) and cups with lids. Definitely offer some crayons with either blank paper or, ideally, a paper tablecloth. Bring out something to snack on right away; my kids love when it's popcorn, but bread is the usual thing and fine --just don't let young kids sit there hungry/hangry.

My own kids were most impressed by a fine dining place we went to that had them decorate their own raw sugar cookies before the entrees came out. . . then brought them their baked cookies, still warm, with a scoop of ice cream on the side for dessert. This was a pretty simple set up - I think just a couple of types of sprinkles or colored sugar in little ramekins - but my daughters STILL talk about it!
posted by katie at 10:17 AM on September 5, 2018 [11 favorites]

It's nice when the waiter or waitress offers (or is receptive to our request) to bring out the kids' meals as soon as they're ready, even if that's earlier than the grownups' meals.

(Since my younger kid is a slower eater, an earlier start for him means we all finish our meals around the same time too.)
posted by ejbenjamin at 10:35 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding kid portions of adult foods: our local Indian place has a "baby dosa" that is not the size of an entire table; the ramen place has a "chibi ramen" with all toppings optional. Also, kid portions of veggies or fruits! Most kid menus are all simple carbs and chicken tenders.

Also kid-friendly: no TVs with trailers for scary crime shows or news programs showing crying anguish from all parts of the world.

I love coffee shops that have a changing selection of children's books to quietly read.
posted by xo at 10:43 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have two stories. The first was a restaurant that we went to for brunch, and the waiter told us how adorable our child was, brought her water (in a glass, with a lid/straw), and a smiley face made out of fruit and a french fry. There were high chairs and changing tables in both the men's and the women's. Also they made something called a tostada benedict which involved smoked pork shoulder, brisket, and green chile hollandaise.

Another time we went to dinner to a restaurant which had two Michelin stars. We're sitting there and in walks a very French couple with a 1 year old in tow. Now we also had a 1 year old at the time, but we hadn't brought ours along because it was MUCH too late for a 1 year old to be out and about.

The servers acted like it was perfectly normal. One found a children's book from somewhere in the back. Another pushed two of the heavily velvet covered chairs together to make a bed. A blanket was procured.

The child eyed all of us, fussed a bit, then WENT TO SLEEP ACROSS THE TWO CHAIRS. Didn't make a peep for the rest of the evening.
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:45 AM on September 5, 2018 [10 favorites]

Good acoustics - I hate having to yell for my kid to hear me.

Menu options that are accessible and small portions but not just the cliched kids faire. E.g. yakisoba noodles at a sushi place, a small burrito with mild salsa at a Mexican restaurant. I hate having to order chicken strips at a specialty restaurant because every regular entree is enormous/expensive/adventurous/spicy.

High chairs AND boosters.

Lightweight and/or smaller cups with lids.

Nthing extra napkins, ideally without having to ask.

Servers who like kids and will (at least try to) talk to them.
posted by arrmatie at 10:46 AM on September 5, 2018

I just realized the question is asking for anecdotes, not criteria. My daughter chose to go to a very un-fancy Mexican restaurant for her fifth birthday. When I told the owner this, she brought out a little piece of cake which was definitely not on the menu. It was delicious and the kid was tickled.
posted by arrmatie at 10:56 AM on September 5, 2018

Fancy pub we like immediately brings out a free toddler sized serving of blueberries as soon as we sit down with our toddler. Keeps him entertained immediately AND it’s healthy (which is good cuz he’s going to scarf French fries as soon as the food comes)
posted by nanhey at 11:22 AM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is such a tiny thing but the waiter asked if we wanted the kiddo's entree brought out right away even if ours took longer. YES PLEASE.
posted by synecdoche at 11:24 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Not quite your typical restaurant experience, but I'll always remember the neighborhood pizza place that offered make-your-own-pizza birthday parties. After my brother had a party there one time, I always felt like it was kind of "my" place (and I always felt like I was just as experienced a pizza-maker as the guys behind the counter.)

Also I've found IKEA is awesome with particularly young children: tons of space to maneuver, family-friendly physical accommodations (high chairs, carts to move a whole family's trays around easily), somehow it's not too loud, kid food that includes baby food (and includes kid-friendly vegetables!), family-friendly restrooms, etc. From when I was a kid, I still remember how awesome their kids cups were (and the fact that being a lidded cup, my parents let me keep my drink throughout the store).
posted by mosst at 11:25 AM on September 5, 2018

Also this one higher-end Italian restaurant where the server asked us whether the cheese pizza should be made "without the green bits." I can remember plenty of other times where me or my siblings were reluctant to eat something because of a garnish that the menu had neglected to mention. Less significant to many adults, but very significant to many kids.
posted by mosst at 11:27 AM on September 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

My kid is 3. Expedited service is the most important thing to us. Like, I’m trying to relax and all, but lingering over a beer before ordering is not a thing we can do at this point in our dining-out lives. Just get my order and bring the food ASAP. Kid food first, if you have to choose. If service is slow, we are never ever coming back with the kid.

There is s place here that has not just a kids menu, but a special dish designed for toddlers, which is pretty much what you would give them at home, but on a nice plate... tiny cubes of cheese, apple, a few veggies, and a mini-bowl of half-cooled tomato soup. If you order it, they offer to bring it out immediately.
posted by juliapangolin at 11:28 AM on September 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

I like places like Max Brenner, where not only are the desserts over the top chocolate ridiculousness, but the regular kids' menu items have some element of fun in them. Like, the fries are "shields" that you "paint" with a ketchup paintbrush (pastry brush).
posted by missrachael at 11:39 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

These are all super amazing and useful - keep em coming!
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:49 AM on September 5, 2018

If the restrooms are gendered, it's nice when the men's room also has a diaper changing table. Not just the ladies' room.

There's a brewpub I sometimes go to that has a whole corner for kids to play - one of those mini kitchens with all the accessories, an easel with chalk, etc. Sometimes kids can't sit still and it's nice when they can walk around this area. Definitely a step above crayons and coloring menus.
posted by Knowyournuts at 12:05 PM on September 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Nthing easily accessible bathrooms and changing stations, room to maneuver without feeling like you're disturbing other diners, kids toys or a play area, bringing the kid food out as soon as it's ready. I like to see some relatively healthy options on the kid menu, like a side of fruit or veggies, but that depends on the type of place you're in.

In terms of specific experiences I went to a brunch place with my toddler and they sat us down, then immediately brought out waters for the adults and a sippy cup of water for the kiddo, plus a set of plastic kid cutlery for her. It was a little thing but I really liked that they just did that automatically as part of the usual service, it made it feel like they considered kids and families to be part of their intended customer base instead of an afterthought.
posted by cpatterson at 12:17 PM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I remember my coworker mentioning years ago (when their kids were 1-3 years old) that they liked 'fast casual' restaurants in general, because the food is arguably a step up from complete fast food garbage but paying up front makes it easy to make a quick, clean exit in the event of a total kid meltdown.
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 12:41 PM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a four-year-old, and a restaurant’s ability to accommodate kids is more important to me than any effort to entertain and delight them. A few months ago we went to a super-kid-friendly restaurant with a play area, and although the kid had a great time with the toys, he had zero interest in eating his actual meal, and we had to keep getting up to check on him because the play area was not in our table’s line of sight. (Also my food was disappointing.)

Things I’ve appreciated in restaurants when dining with a toddler/preschooler:

- Bringing out a small snack while we wait. In one above-and-beyond case, the server noticed our kid wasn’t interested in the meal and brought out some bread for him to munch on instead.
- Decently large tables and/or compactly-plated adult foods. Some places have kid-appropriate cups and utensils but then the grown-up entrees come on three different plates and the table’s small so you end up with a bunch of breakable stuff within reach of your kid anyway.
- Related to the above: proactive pre-bussing to take care of unneeded-plate clutter and any spills.
- A lenient plate-sharing policy.
- Kids menu items that have both fruit and fries on the side.
- Being open at 5 (less crowded, less rush to get the kid back for bedtime)

One thing I would like to see more of: providing information on allergens/allergy-safe practices up front, either on the menu or on the restaurant’s website. It can be hard to find a restaurant that handles food allergies well.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:55 PM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I went to a restaurant with several other couples, including a four-year-old. They asked up front if anyone had any allergies (which is great for everyone, including me), and when they brought out meals to people with allergies, they specifically said "and here's your [meal] with no [allergen]." They also asked the parents if they wanted kiddo's food brought as soon as it was ready, which was very cool. I am pretty sure her water and drink were brought out in sippy cups too.
posted by radioamy at 12:59 PM on September 5, 2018

I have a four-month-old. She doesn't eat food yet. She doesn't even sit up unassisted yet. Based on the few times we've taken her to restaurants, then, we value:
- having one of those high chairs that you can turn over and just put the car seat in;
- changing tables in the bathrooms. (BOTH bathrooms, or one unisex bathroom, not just the ladies' room.)

As a kid who ate a wide variety of food, I liked that some of the restaurants we went to regularly make smaller portions of the grown-up food. I'm not sure if restaurants near us now do that, but when the little bunny gets a little bigger we'll probably get tacos a lot because she can just eat less tacos then the grown-ups do. (But I'm hearing some people say "has a kids' menu", so I'm guessing this depends on how picky your kids are.)

Also, all the bigger kids at the noodle place we went to a few days ago seemed to appreciate the window that looked into the kitchen, where you could see the man who pulled the noodles. (My kid didn't appreciate this, but I did.)
posted by madcaptenor at 1:17 PM on September 5, 2018

With my 3yo the other day they bought out a little plastic tub of Lego Minifig bits and a drink of squash as soon as we were seated- when I told my MIL that she booked a table for her birthday straightaway.

But in general, I want to be able to look at a website and easily know which one of :
a) children genuinely welcome and catered for
b) children fine, we have crayons
C) children tolerated, but begrudgingly

the restaurant is aiming for. I don't mind which it is, but id rather know than have to be on eggshells all night.
posted by threetwentytwo at 1:50 PM on September 5, 2018

I'm European, but Northern European so it's not really a broader culture, but I grew up going to good restaurants. Actually my first memory that is not enhanced by family anecdotes or pictures is from a restaurant where I have figured out I must have been about two. Because of a snow storm, we were the only guests, so the staff had plenty of time for playing with me, showing me the kitchen, giving me all the desserts I wanted and generally making me feel very good about life. (I never asked my family about this till I was adult, and then together we figured out it must have been my aunt's 20th birthday).

Anyway, I think there is a balance here between kid-friendly staff and restaurant-friendly kids. As kids, we were always taken along even at high-end restaurants, but we were also taught to not race around and disturb other guests or run in the way of staff. As a reward, we had all our favorite dishes. But since we were encouraged to eat food, these could be everything from snails, to mussels, to lasagna, to big-ass steak frites. And often more than one dessert. Our family tried to teach us to have conversations instead of sprinting around, but we were also allowed to run outside on the street (which I guess is practically impossible today?)

I've tried to pass on my own upbringing to my kids, and though I have vivid memories of being sweaty, tired and even depressed on multiple occasions, I don't regret it, and now I have civilized adult children. I do remember my little one impressing a party of young adults by devouring an adult portion of moules frites at a fancy place without a word. That was a succes. But I also remember the two of them running around screaming at a so-called child-friendly place with a playground to the point where I pretended they weren't my kids.
posted by mumimor at 2:12 PM on September 5, 2018

I’ve been to cafes, pubs and restaurants that have had very cool things, outdoor areas with petting zoos, a cat to pat or chickens to feed, life size connect four games or three hung from trees to swing on, one place had a mini maze with a treasure hunt hidden within so given the space there’s lots of things that can be done to entertain them.

Actually in the venue one of the most important things with very young children is that they get fed first, because if they’re not happy, no one’s happy. Most places get this and bring snacks or their meals to start.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that if you eat at a reasonably nice place, generally what will happen is that adult food will be great. Professional food, made by a chef. The kids menu in the other hand wherever you go will consist of the prepackaged chicken nuggets, fish finger/ frozen burger variety.

I get that they choose what’s most likely to be eaten but the quality is generally crappy, not fresh and pretty awful. It’s possible to serve chicken nuggets or chicken and chips but have them be edible and delicious, The few places that have quality well made kids food were few and far between to the point that we always comment in delight that their food is actually nice. I don’t see why adults deserve good food but children get served processed junk at the same establishment and this is somehow acceptable.
posted by Jubey at 2:50 PM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

We were regulars at a certain Asian restaurant when I was growing up. Over the course of a few visits, the manager taught my sister and I to use chopsticks and improve our skills. This made us love going back to that restaurant to continue practicing and showing off our chopstick skills, which were better than our parents'. It has also proven quite helpful as an adult in social and professional settings.

Second, we have friends who frequent the same restaurant with their children as a weekend lunch date, when the restaurant isn't overly busy. What strikes me when we join them is that even though the servers likely know by now exactly what the kids will order, each time they give each child the opportunity to practice ordering exactly what they want. The kids' speaking skills and confidence have definitely grown over time, and they've learned good restaurant manners in a forgiving setting.
posted by pril at 3:55 PM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Every now and then I go to a restaurant with a toddler and they ask if I want a plate of cheerios while we wait for our food and YES I DO GOD BLESS YOU. Lets the toddler pick away at the cheerios instead of whining.

" A menu with a variety of things that kids will eat that are affordable and there are some protein options. This usually means mac & cheese, buttered noodles, grilled cheese, burgers, maybe hot dogs, maybe chicken strips, maybe pizza."

Contrarliwise, my kids' love restaurants where they have a kid version of the adult menu -- not just burgers and chicken strips and mac & cheese. Like, we went to a fondue restaurant and they had an "kids and adults" option where in addition to the big platter of dippers for everyone, they had a "kid dipper" plate with some more kid-friendly dippers and some sides they could nibble on (carrots, grapes) without dipping. My kids loved trying all the "grown-up" dippers but liked having their own kid stuff too. Or, we went to a locavore place and while they did have mac & cheese on the menu (which my toddler ate), they had basically kid-sized and kid-friendly portions of adult dishes. My then-6-year-old had filet of Lake Superior whitefish, with braised rainbow carrots and grapefruit, which was nearly the same as the adult dish but was a) a petite, kid-appropriate portion and b) each thing was separate on the plate instead of piled up. My 8-year-old had the same steak with mushroom ragout that I did, but his came as steak, mushrooms separately, and sauce in a little dipping cup. He would NEVER have eaten it if the sauce and mushrooms were ON the steak, but since he got to dip and control it, he loved it.

They prefer restaurants where it's not just the same as every other restaurant they've been to, but where they know they're at a hot dog joint or a locavore place or a vegetarian place or whatever. By all means have some kiddie comfort food, but it'd be great if more places created kid-friendly menus that presented that restaurant's specialties, in scaled-down portions with simpler presentations (since kids are often weird about mixed flavors). And I'd feel a lot better about my kids eating interesting things instead of more meh burgers from frozen.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:26 PM on September 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

The pro move, even if it fucks up your ticket system, is to offer the check immediately upon delivery of the food. The server needs to be delicate here, and let the patrons know they’re not rushing them and if they’d like to add anything that’s 100% ok, but there’s nothing worse for the family or the restaurant than a kid freaking out and their parents trying to flag someone down to pay their bill. Being able to pay and bug out at the first hint of the meltdown is priceless.

A server did this for us once when it child was very small and ever since we just ask for a check with our food, and pay immediately. It’s saved our ass at least a handful of times. Having it offered is nicer.
posted by furnace.heart at 5:42 PM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

In Taipei my friends with kids really like the specialized "play restaurants" with areas for the kids but also good food for adults. Some of them get really extra, too, with working carousels and giant playscapes, sort of like upscale Chuck E. Cheese's.
posted by storytam at 7:55 PM on September 5, 2018

As a child, I was one of those horribly picky eaters who would only consume about five ingredients until adolescence, when I added two more. (I am now one of those adventurous eaters who enjoys foodstuffs that frankly alarm my parents.) I was well-behaved in restaurants thanks to my folks having acclimated me to the appropriate behavior--and my not being a very outwardly rebellious child--at the sort of "family restaurants" that were common in the 70s and early 80s. That's where we ate out locally, and the menu included items that worked for my very limited repertoire.

But away from home, my parents and I would look at the menu together, and if there was nothing I could imagine consuming, we defaulted to asking for a grilled cheese, whether it was officially offered or not. My mom would shoot the server a look that was a plea for acceptance and help.

5% of the time they would have to "check" and some manager would come over and sniffily dig their heels in about ordering from the menu and my mom would override her embarrassment to deliver her official speech of "You have bread, yes? You have cheese? C'mon, just make a simple sandwich for the child and charge us what you like, and may I remind you that we are also ordering two full adult meals here?" (Again, this is before the rise of corporate chain restaurants where everything comes in pre-made mixtures and such.)

But 90% of the time they graciously put in the order and returned with a kindly-offered utterly ordinary grilled cheese sandwich with American cheese on white bread. Totally great. Thanks! Commonsense accommodation for the win! And the other 5% of the time, the server would come back with a grin and deliver a sandwich on good bread with a flourish, and some manager or cook would come out to see if the young lady enjoyed the special gourmet three-cheese grilled cheese and tell me how much they enjoyed making it. Holy shit.

I have honestly never forgotten the kindness of the servers to my parents and to me, nor have I forgotten those occasional fancy grilled cheese sandwiches and how they made me feel valued as a person and not just a "child" in a sort of inconvenient pitied pet-like way.

As an adult, I embrace my friends' dietary preferences and restrictions and make something delicious that works for everyone, because I got a hint early on as to how amazing it feels to experience this kind of fundamental acceptance.
posted by desuetude at 11:22 PM on September 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

If the kids want milk, especially chocolate milk, having the server provide the option of serving it with dinner so the kids can opt for their actual meal, instead of guzzling the milk and losing their appetite.
posted by childofTethys at 12:15 AM on September 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

all three of my kids LOVED the McDonald's that had enormous playscapes

Can confirm.
posted by grouse at 4:48 AM on September 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

We've got a local bar (with some food) which recently opened that aims to be kid friendly. This includes

- changing tables in both of their any-gender restrooms
- outdoor patio seating also includes a sandbox area with kid-sized table/chairs next to adult sized ones
- random toys strewn about (there's a TV with a video game console upstairs for older kids)
- sitting/reading area (good for all ages)

Most importantly, in all of their PR when they were opening the place, they stated "We want this to be a place people can bring their kids to" which also encourages a conversation about kids and makes it part of the expectations they are setting.
posted by jessamyn at 12:48 PM on September 6, 2018

Our favorite breakfast place with our thee year old:

- lets us pay when we order
- happily modifies the kids pancake dish to fit our little guy’s preferences
- has a basket of toys inside
- has a *fenced* outdoor patio space for safe wandering
- is friendly to kids in every interaction , from owner to bussers
posted by chuke at 3:44 AM on September 7, 2018

Ok, not a restaurant, but an example of anticipating kids' needs in a generally adult-focused situation: When I was 8, my family went on a European tour that involved a stop in Wengen, Switzerland. We stayed at the Hotel Belvedere. When we got to our room, there was a double bed, and nothing else. My dad called down to ask for a cot, and at the same time my mom opened what we thought was the closet door.

Inside was a second (very small) bedroom stocked with children's books, an elevated bed, crayons, paper, and a warm glass of milk and honey with cookies.

If and when I ever return to Wengen, I will go out of my way to stay there.
posted by DulcineaX at 9:50 AM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

This seems ridiculous, but many years ago--I'm going to guess around 1992--we went to an Italian place in Milwaukee with our kids, ranging from 3 through 9. They seated us in what was clearly a "special place" in back. It had apparently been a rest room before their last renovation, so we were "cupped" inside a tiled area, both walls and floor, so we had none of the usual worries eating with a three-year-old at a carpeted place. I really wish I could remember the name of the place, but all I recall is that we chose it out of the Mobil Travel Guide.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 3:39 PM on September 9, 2018

Haven't forgotten about this post. Thanks everyone for your replies, they were really insightful!
posted by Foci for Analysis at 7:24 AM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

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