Dear generic family friendly restaurant,
Let’s not pretend that eating out with small children is a fun experience for anyone – we are at our table wondering why we ever thought it was a good idea, and you’re wondering when our unruly children will stop unlaying all the tables that you’ve paid someone to lay so beautifully. But we still do it – sometimes out of necessity, other times because we kid ourselves that it’s going to be more relaxing than eating at home, but also because we know that our children need to learn how to behave. And let’s face it, however inconvenient we are, you probably make a significant profit out of us; which makes me think you would actually like us (and our children) to return.
So when trying to entice families back to your chain, the thing to remember is this: very rarely do we base our decision on the quality of the food – one pizza/pasta chain really isn’t much different from another. And parents are unlikely to be kicking back with a glass of white and enjoying their meal – it’s more likely that we will be attempting to shovel down some pizza whilst trying to prevent a toddler from clambering onto an adjacent table.
If you have made our eating out experience as stress-free as possible (and we know it’s never going to be completely stress-free) then you will be our restaurant chain of choice. Here are a few ways you could help:
- Open at 11.30. Most small children will happily eat an early lunch, whereas adults without children tend to eat at a more civilised lunchtime. By getting the families in early, you could be starting to get rid of us by the time your child-free customers are arriving – surely a win-win situation.
- Have some child-ready tables set up, and by set up I mean have nothing at all on them. We honestly do not mind sitting down at a table free of glasses and cutlery – just bring everything as you serve us. This would avoid those awkward moments when the waitress/waiter desperately tries to remove all breakable items whilst children flail their limbs around in a bid to knock everything off the table.
- Even better – if you have a room out the back, a basement or an annexe then consider putting families with small children here. Again, we don’t mind being shut away from people who would rather enjoy their meals without finding a 2 year old flinging himself around on the floor next to their table. It makes us feel that maybe this eating out business isn’t so difficult after all.
- Have an appropriately priced children’s menu. This is where Prezzo wins hands-down, having one menu for under-5s and another for older children (I have no business interests in Prezzo by the way, I just enjoy the more reasonably priced menu). I resent paying £7.00 each for my 2 year olds to eat from an ‘under-12s’ menu. I’m sure I’ll still resent paying £7.00 for them when they’re 11, but it doesn’t seem so wrong once they’re almost teenagers.
- Provide enough crayons (and pots). One pot of crayons between three children is never going to work, even if the pot is stuffed full of crayons. It’s all about having your own pot, especially if you’re 2. Yes, children have to learn to share but a restaurant isn’t the easiest place to be reinforcing this lesson.
And finally, it would be a huge help if you would apply the following rules when serving families with small children:
- Bring the children’s food first.
- Do not serve children with scolding hot food. Having asked approximately every 10 seconds when their food will be arriving, children are understandably distraught when their food is finally put in front of them only for it to be immediately removed because it is so hot it would scold anyone’s mouth. Every adult around the table is then frantically trying to cool it down while children are working themselves into a frenzy. We are more than happy for you to leave the children’s meals on the side for a few minutes until they have cooled down to a more appropriate temperature.
- Do not serve children’s meals on heated plates. When faced with the situation outlined above, heated plates and bowls are less than helpful.
Just a few ideas which would make dining out a slightly easier (but still completely draining) experience for parents – I hope you’re able to use a few.