January 6, 2010

Industry Standard: Insider info for those who dine out

Fed and not heard?

OK, people: Those who favor keeping children home and away from restaurant dining rooms, step to this side of the line. Those who maintain that children are people, too, and thereby have a right to go anywhere their parents or guardians accompany them, step to the other side. Now, prepare to dance — because it’s not that black and white.

First off, let’s disregard restaurants with attached playgrounds, video arcades, ball pits and life-sized animatronic characters. Those places are obviously courting the families-with-young-children crowd, and therefore children are certainly welcome. And let’s leave super-high-end-fine-dining restaurants out of the equation, too; hopefully no one’s taking any ill-behaved brats to the French Laundry in Napa Valley, or even to Le Relais here in Louisville.

But should children be taken to Applebee’s? To Palermo Viejo? To Proof on Main or 732 Social? Depends on the child.

Your child doesn’t need to be a perfect little gourmand to accompany you when you dine at any given restaurant. Most restaurants (even the higher-end ones) have a plan for feeding the younger set, regardless of whether they have a published children’s menu. You can almost invariably order buttery pasta, a grilled cheese sandwich or some sort or chicken fingers no matter where you go. However, your child does need to meet certain behavioral standards to be welcomed by the restaurant staff and fellow diners.

Rule No. 1: Children should be reasonably quiet. Of course there may be the occasional loud outburst, but these should be held to a minimum. Infants are often better companion diners than toddlers and children under the age of 10 because they tend to nap a lot, and they bring their own food.

Rule No. 2: Children should remain seated at the table unless accompanied by an adult (on the way to the restroom, for instance). There is nothing more frightening to a server than colliding with a toddler while carrying a heavy tray of hot food or breakable beverages. Don’t leave children unattended or allow them to run wild in the dining room, disturbing other patrons or staff.

Rule No. 3: Ask the server to bring the children’s food as soon as it’s ready, without waiting for the adults’ entrees — lord knows, hungry children are more likely to be unruly. If you have brought along a child whose behavior is touch-and-go, have an escape plan ready. Tell the server that if things go south (i.e., a screaming meltdown), you’ll want your food boxed up to-go, and you’ll make yourself scarce as soon as humanly possible.

Rule No. 4: Clean up after your children if they make a mess beyond their plates or the tabletop. No tip justifies your server or busser having to pick Cheerios or animal cracker crumbs out of the carpet, one by one.

The bottom line is, do take your children out to eat. Start with child-oriented restaurants and graduate to adult venues as their behavior and palates evolve. Learning to dine out with proper manners is simply part of growing up — as it should be!

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, and Café Lou Lou. She is currently a teaching assistant at Sullivan University, her alma mater.