Eating out is a big part of traveling - whether it be to other cities or just a new local neighborhood. Travelin' Junior has been to all kinds of establishments, and we've noticed a few trends about the types of restaurants he likes the best (the ones in which we can actually enjoy our meals, as opposed to the ones we have to flee abruptly because TJ is throwing a fit). Here are some things we've found help make for kid-friendly restaurants:
- Easily Accessible - Pick a restaurant that is easy to get to, with convenient or free parking, or within walking distance. If you have a stroller in tow, consider whether there will be space to store it at the restaurant. Also, check in advance that a high chair/booster seat is available.
- Yummy Menu - Ideally, the restaurant will have a kids menu with food your child will like, but also look for entrees on a regular menu that your kid might enjoy, like macaroni and cheese, grilled chicken strips, or a turkey burger. A bread basket is great for young kids to nibble on, and free chips and salsa is always a big hit with slightly older kids.
- Quick Service - Actually, this should be number 1 on the list. Maybe numbers 1 through 5. It's just that important.
- Lots To Look At- This is a big one if dining with small children. TJ's attention has been captured by TVs, fans, pretty lights, nice artwork, good music, other children dining in the same restaurant, looking out a window at a busy street, and facing toward the restaurant's door so he can welcome new customers.
- Bells & Whistles- Some restaurants really cater towards children. Crayons/coloring pads, stickers, and special sippy cups go a long way toward making TJ happy. One of our favorite Mexican restaurants made TJ a complimentary "baby pizza" and he was happy for, well, minutes. Which can be like hours in family dining time.
It's not always easy to pick out the kid-friendly restaurants when eating in an unfamiliar neighborhood or city. You can do some advance research for kid-friendly restaurants at sites like lilaguide and yelp. Or, do a walk by. A good rule of thumb: if you see several other children eating in a restaurant, it's probably safe for you to venture in with your child too. Also, don't think popular or trendy restaurants are necessarily off limits- just try them at off-times. You've probably noticed that many restaurants have two waves: the kids zone (around 5-7 p.m.) and the people-who-have-time-to-order-coffee-and-dessert zone (7 and later). On the bright side, they never run out of the catch of the day when you're the first diners!