There’s a good reason some restaurants don’t go out of their way to cater to families.
We might be that reason.
Our family of 4 — including an almost-2-year-old and a 3-and-a-half-year-old — doesn’t eat out a lot, unless we’re on the road visiting family. Our most recent trip reminds me why eating out is usually limited to adults-only date night.
We’d been in the car for about 7 hours and made our usual stop in Toledo, Ohio, near the airport, where the restaurant choices are more varied than what is available on the turnpike. We’ve done Chipotle (not terribly kid-friendly despite a new kids menu) and Panera (ditto) and we’d eaten fast food (Wendy’s and Chick-Fil-A) the day before.
Even though sit-down is a risk, that’s what my husband and I thought might work. Healthier options. More room for the kids. That kind of thing. So, we chose Chili’s.
The host wisely seated us in a corner booth, near the door. We put the kids on the inside and started looking at the menu. I was impressed with the kids menu. Not only did it have a lot of options but it had pictures of the food. Isabelle, the 3-year-old, pointed to a chicken sandwich and corn on the cob. How grown-up, I thought. She had passed on the mac and cheese and the corn dog.
OK, I thought. We can do this.
Then she had to go to the bathroom. She skipped the entire way. This scene would repeat itself 4 more times while we were in the restaurant.
Meanwhile, back at the booth, my husband was in charge of the Corbanator. He destroys everything in his path, food included. The poor ladies sitting adjacent to our booth were subject to his non-stop greetings — hi, hi, hi — and pokes. If that weren’t enough, he was trying to climb into the window and eat the end of the blinds cord. Once, while my husband was extracting Corban from the window, Corban flung himself backward and cracked his head on the table. The entire restaurant seemed to go silent.
I wanted to say, “Carry on, folks. This is normal for us.”
Fortunately, we ordered chips and salsa. Throwing food at the children — hungry animals — seems to help. Corban, however, mostly just crushed the chips all over the table and the seat. I’d like to tell you things improved after their food came.
Not so. Now that Corban had more “supplies,” he decided to use the ketchup all over his hands to “paint” the window separating us from the entryway. And when he wasn’t redecorating, he was pulling sugar and Sweet ‘N’ Low packets from the table and dropping them between the booth and the wall.
On one such occasion, when Phil was with Isabelle in the bathroom, our waitress came by to ask if I needed more water. I wanted to tell her to bring a straitjacket instead. For me, not the kids. When my husband returned, we were both pretty much hysterical with laughter. Our kids were wild but they weren’t hurting anyone or themselves. We knew that, for the most part, their behavior was due to the long car trip.
Next time, I think we’ll just have to settle for a McDonald’s with a playland. At least there we’re understood. And accommodated.
So, fellow parents, tell me, am I destined to eat only at kid-friendly places for the forseeable future or is there a way to make eating out anywhere more family friendly? Your experiences are invaluable!