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Restaurant Talk: Dining Out With Kids

By Nick Freshman - ARLNow.com

Monday - 4/1/2013, 11:10am  ET

Restaurant Talk is an occasional feature written by Nick Freshman, a native Arlingtonian and co-owner of Spider Kelly’s and Eventide Restaurant in Clarendon.

Cafe Caturra in the Arlington Ridge Shopping CenterFood trucks? Sure! Cupcakes? Bring it on! No subject is too risky, so let’s go right for the perpetual hot button topic of almost every live chat or website about food: Kids.

I enter on all sides of the conversation here: I’m an operator who deals with families all the time, I’m a Dad who loves to eat out with my daughter, and I’m a diner who often likes eating out with just grown-ups. A lot of you fall into the latter two categories, so you can surely appreciate how nuanced the topic is.

Here is the deal: some kids are angels eating out, some kids have a hard time in restaurants, and sometimes it’s the same kid on different days. Some parents are like Baby Whisperers with their kids, some parents struggle more, and sometimes it’s the same parents. Also, we could all probably stand to take a deep breath and relax just a little bit.

It’s just that simple. And it’s just that hard.

As an operator, I love kids. Their parents spend money, after all, and there are a ton of advantages to marketing to families. In Arlington, families represent a very lucrative demographic; I’d be crazy to ignore them. Also, as stated above, today’s family at brunch could turn into next week’s anniversary dinner or next month’s mom’s night out in the bar. We have always prided ourselves in welcoming kids into Eventide and Spider Kelly’s. We have families ourselves.

And let me be very clear to point out that the responsibility for ensuring everyone has a good time is on us. It’s our job to make all our guests happy, and that’s what we try to do.

But we could all use a few ground rules.

When I became a parent, I realized that the restaurant business had actually prepared me well. For work, I had to learn to be ready for anything at anytime. I had to learn to keep calm and trust my preparation. Parenting was the same except infinitely more wild and unpredictable. The best part about kids is you never know what will happen next, but that can make plans and events and dinners maddening. A sense of humor helps a lot, but it won’t always save the meal.

Here are a few tips that I valued as a dad, and that establishments will value as they do their best to accommodate you:

  1. Bring Cash; Get the Check Early. I know, no one carries cash anymore and cards process quickly, but it saves a time-consuming step. I ask for the check when the food comes. If things go south, no problem.  I can pay the check and be gone before things really break bad.
  2. Bring a Snack. We strive for everything at Spider Kelly’s to come out in less than eight minutes, but that can be an eternity if your kid has plummeting blood sugar because you forgot to feed her after soccer. That was me more than once this past season. Snacks on hand can make all the difference.
  3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Something Your Kid Will Eat:  I don’t know how anyone could shun the donuts at Eventide, but kids’ tastes change by the minute it seems. Don’t be afraid to go off menu if you can’t find anything for your kid. And don’t be shy about placing an order right when you sit so it comes out quickly. Happy kids and parents mean good tips for the servers. They should hop to it.
  4. Bring your own entertainment — as long as it is quiet. Even if your kid is a budding food nerd, it’s hard to keep them busy through an entire meal. Just remember that the table behind you probably doesn’t want to hear Shrek 2. Doesn’t anyone color anymore? My office is papered with my daughter’s handiwork. Many restaurants keep supplies on hand, but your stuff is always the best.
  5. Pay attention to your children. Seems basic, right? But it isn’t. This isn’t date night for you, so please keep an eye on your kids. Even good kids get into things, and all kids can get bumped by grownups not accustomed to looking out for them. I see it all the time at Spider Kelly’s, and it honestly scares me a bit. The later it gets the more we encourage parents to keep their kids on their hips. It’s safer for everyone.
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