How to Make Your Restaurant Kid-Friendly

Remember That Children Are Customers Too

Mixed race children having burgers in restaurant
••• Inti St Clair/Blend Images/Getty Images

When I walk into a restaurant with my husband and our four children, I can almost hear the groans of the wait staff. Great, a bunch of kids. Little do they know that my children are restaurant kids. They have grown up in the business and know what is expected of them in public.

They are also savvy eaters. One son orders shrimp cocktail for an appetizer, while the other prefers a Caesar salad. Pasta with Alfredo sauce is always a favorite among all four. When we leave, we always tip well (unlike many other people who say that and then leave 10%, those in the restaurant business really do tip well). Our server bids us farewell with a smile and always encourages us to come back soon.

I realize that my kids are not the norm when it comes eating out. Most restaurants who cater to families have experienced a child’s screaming tantrum and frazzled parents who wolf down their meal and proceed to chase their toddler around the dining room.

While restaurants can’t control kids behavior (oh wouldn’t it be nice though) they can make the whole dining out process a lot easier for parents. Not only will parents appreciate the help, they will be more likely to come back, even after the kids stop having public meltdowns.

Start With The Staff

Many of our staff are college students who don’t have children. They haven’t the faintest clue what it is like to eat out with young children. Train your staff to be as helpful as possible, starting the moment a family walks through the door. If possible, families should be given a larger table (if there are four, give them a table for six) so the kids have room to color or play.

Nothing irks me more than being crammed around a table, trying to find room for all the infant and toddler paraphernalia that is necessary when leaving the house (bottles, baby food, diaper bag, toys, the list goes on and on). The staff should also be trained to treat kids with the same courtesy and respect as older patrons. A server should never show annoyance or disrespect for a child, no matter how bad their behavior may be. Remember, kids are customers too.

Stock Up On Restaurant Kid Supplies

Along with offering highchairs and booster seats, staff should offer coloring stuff, and toys. However, before throwing a basket of army men down on the table for the kids, servers should first ask parents if toys at the table are okay. Ditto for the coloring supplies.

Many restaurants keep special kid packs, like boxed crayons and placemats. We just keep cups of crayons and oversized coloring books handy for our kid patrons, along with a motley assortment of cars and tractors. It’s cheaper and keeps the kids just as happy.

Sippy cups are also a necessity for any kid-friendly restaurant. Have you ever seen a two-year-old try to take a drink from a highball glass or pint? Some chain restaurants give out balloons. I advise against this practice. Not only they are choking hazard for young children, they are annoying to have at the table and in the car.

Spruce Up The Kids Menu

The days of French fries and chicken fingers as the primary meal on a restaurant’s kid menu are fast fading in the wake of the national obesity crisis in the United States. Many restaurants are offering all sorts of healthy alternatives to traditional kids menu, including fresh fruits and vegetables and non-fried items like baked chicken or pasta with red sauce. Here are some restaurant kid menu items that offer a healthy alternative to French fries and hot dogs:

  •  La Tascas offers albóndigas- Spanish-style beef meatballs served with a vegetable& tomato sauce and a baby salad.
  •  Perkins Restaurant & Bakery offers chicken fingers with broccoli and cheese dipping sauce.
  •  Ruby Tuesday’s offers grilled chicken with fresh, steamed broccoli.

As parents grow more aware of the effects of unhealthy food on their kids, they will appreciate healthier menu options.