So you think you want to take the family to a real restaurant.
By that I mean, not McDonalds, or Burger King or Sizzler.
I mean one where the service is pleasant, the food tantalising and the atmosphere a little more...well...refined.
Your children might be angels. If so, I applaud your decision. I'm of the firm belief that all children should be introduced to the pleasures of fine dining from an early age, if only to elevate their expectations beyond The Golden Arches.
In my experience however, even the most angelic of angels can turn into a handful, when expected to sit still, eat quietly and entertain themselves for longer than ten minutes.
I had a family tradition that once we introduced our kidlets to fine dining, that playing on Gameboys (as it was back then) at the restaurant table was unacceptable. If they were old enough to be eating in a fine dining style restaurant, they were old enough to make conversation and be involved.
I have to say, that at that time, young families dining out was a rarity. It was mostly older couples and singles. So we were unusual. That said, we acknowledged that we were so, and if our children became rambunctious (read 'tired') then we fully accepted that it was time to leave and perhaps dessert, or even 'dinner' was out of the question on that particular day.
It's different now. Everyone seems to dine out and some families seem to have no problem inflicting their tired children on everyone else in the restaurant.
I know it's hard to get a treasured moment together when you have young ones. I've been there. I know that sometimes you just want to feel special, and not like Mum and Dad. Just for a minute.
But consider that some of the other folk in the restaurant may be just like you. They too, may want special time together. They too, may have young children who demand their time 24/7. They too, may need that moment of togetherness that isn't interrupted by 'Muuuuuuu-um, Ethan's annoying me'.
So here's my top 10 rules for family dining 5 star style....
1. Go early. Don't even think about taking the kids at 8pm, where they won't eat until 8:30 or 9 and will then want to curl up and sleep, as kids are fond of doing. An early meal means you're eating by 6:30pm and out of there by 7:30. That probably means arriving between 5 and 5:45pm. This allows for parking, seating, and ordering.
2. Take something with which they can be entertained. I didn't like the idea of game consoles at the dinner table, but in this day and age, maybe the iPad mini is a saving grace. It is after all, the replacement for colouring and crayons, isn't it.
3. Make sure the restaurant you're planning to visit, has family friendly meals. Many 5 star restaurants really don't and you might have your hands full trying to get little Mariah or Johnathon to eat Szechwan Pork Belly or Corn Fed Chicken Breast with truffled stuffing. Or perhaps not. My lot had sophisticated palettes from an early age, so do what suits.
4. Do make sure the restaurant caters for allergies. Most now include a dairy free, vegan, gluten free options, but just ask when you book.
5. Don't wear the kids out before you go. Attending a fine dining restaurant after a massive day out surfing or swimming or playing a sport is not smart. They're not going to last the distance and tempers will be frazzled.
6. Teach the family the correct manners BEFORE you go. This means regularly setting the table for dinner at home, and placing more than one set of cutlery next to more than one dinner plate, and serving more than one course. We almost always have a small entrée like soup or a small salad, French style, before we have our main meal at home. Not only does it make meals at home more memorable, it saves money on large servings of meat, ensures that veg are eaten (in the soup or salad) and sets an expectation of behaviour in a restaurant setting.
7. Choose a restaurant that has an outdoor area, and request a table there. There's a better chance that there will be a spot for little ones to be occupied whether it's with the view or an activity close by or just a space in which to let off some steam. Don't ever let your child or children run around other tables or disturb other guests. Ever. You might think they're cute, and other patrons will make a show of humouring you, but inside, they'll be seething.
8. Dress appropriately. If you're visiting a fine dining restaurant, dress for the occasion. It's a good excuse to drag out the glad rags. I love it when we go to a good restaurant and folk have bothered to dress up. It makes you feel special.
9. Make sure the kids have a jumper, wrap or blanket. Air conditioning can vary enormously and chilly shoulders are common.
10. Finally if things get hairy, it's time to leave. Seriously. Even if it means that one parent goes outside with the child or children and waits for the other to eat, and then you swap. We've done it. You don't have the right to inflict your tired and cranky kidlets on others who may have actually paid a baby sitter so they could have some adult time.
And for us, here are the top 5 restaurant choices for families....
1. Anything on a beachfront. It'll be more relaxed, there'll be space for the kids to let off steam, and you'll enjoy the view.
2. Anything in an upmarket hotel. They'll be used to catering for families as they'll have many as house guests.
3. Something in an unusual setting like a rainforest, bushland, lakeside, or clifftop. The novelty of the associated view, wildlife and potential for chat will make it worthwhile.
4. Anything with a large fish tank. Kids adore fish tanks and will watch them endlessly!
5. Anything with some sort of included entertainment such as a dinner/show option (so long as it's the early evening session). That doesn't just mean the indoor type shows. We've had the most fun ever at some touristy type outdoor dinner + show packages in our own home town.
So that's my thinking. Remember I have 4 children ranging in age from 14 to 34 and three grandkidlets from 4 months to 14 years, so I've got a little experience upon which to base my opinions!
So go, eat, enjoy!
Where I party...