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by Rob Kleine
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by Rob Kleine


Without fail, it begins like this:

"Hey, I don't feel like cooking. Want to go out to night?"

"Sure, that sounds relaxing!"

"No fast food, right?"


"Girls, Emily and Kelsey, go potty and brush hair, we're going out for supper!

"Yes Daddy!"

"Yes, Dad!"

The next thing I know, we're queued up at a restaurant waiting to be seated. Visions of a calm, enjoyable dinner out, dance in my head.

Here's my ideal scenario when dining out with my kids: We are seated promptly at a roomy table or booth well removed from the traffic pattern. Background music, if present, is playing at a low volume. No TVs are visible. A commodious non-smoking section is well separated visually and olfactorially from the designated smoking part of the restaurant. The server appears immediately with crayons and paper for the kids. S/he then greets each child and helps them find the kid's menu, informs parents of the specials that day, and gathers beverage orders from all. Returning promptly with the beverages, and a few extra napkins for 'must in case,' the server might offer menu suggestions to indecisive kids. After taking orders, the server should promptly bring mom and dad's salads. A nice touch is to bring a package of crackers for each kid. The crackers give the kids something else to do when they tire of the crayons and exploring their beverage. Entrees appear a short time later, as parents finish their salads, kids finish with their crackers, and before the kids get too antsy and start asking repeatedly, "Where's my dinner?" Even the most patient kids get impatient fast when killing time in a restaurant waiting for their meal. After delivering the meal, the server stops back often to assure all is well and to see if more napkins are needed. As dinners wind down, the server inquires whether desert is desired. If yes, the dessert is promptly delivered to the table. After dessert, or if no dessert is desired, the server promptly produces the check and waits to see if you are ready to make payment. After providing the server your credit card, s/he beelines to the register, processes the transaction as quickly as possible, and immediately returns the receipt for your signature.

So, how often does dining out go like that? In my experience, almost never. Indeed, dining out with kids seems to signal servers to engage an abbreviated service delivery script. Our dinner tonight to the Easy Street Cafe typified many of the frustrations we experience when dining out with the girls. On entering, the blasting music immediately rendered all conversation impossible. The hostess pointed us to a small table located in a noisy high traffic corridor. This table appears to be the designated the parent's-with-kids table. While assuming our designated seats, the girls eyes immediately became glued to the two TVs clearly visible from their seats. The guy at the adjacent table promptly rammed his chair into Susan several times. A lovely start.

The server arrived a while later, delivered menus, and asked for our drink order. The girls couldn't decide between ginger ale or ginger ale with a cherry. The server became visibly impatient and offered to come back later for the beverage order. The girls decided they wanted cherries in their ginger ales. The server departed and quickly returned with the drinks.

"Yes, we need another minute to decide on our dinners, thank you." A few minutes later, the server returned for another attempt at taking our order. Kelsey, distracted by the TVs, forgot what she wanted. Emily vacillated between wanting chicken fingers with dino fries and grilled cheese. The server impatiently offered us another 'minute to decide.' With prompting from Susan, Kelsey remembered she wanted the kid's size pizza. Emily settled on chicken fingers. I chose something I hoped wouldn't take an eternity to prepare. I think, "gee, it would be nice to know what today's specials are." I don't bother to ask about the specials are reserved for adults with no children at their table. Sue ordered the Gardenburger, the only item on the menu that approximated a vegetarian offering.

Salads and rolls arrive. Becoming ravenous, the girls attack the dinner rolls with a vengeance. Their eyes remain glued to the TVs. The blaring music of an unidentifiable genre continues to stifle conversation. Salad and rolls are finished. Empty bottles are removed from the table. No refills are offered. I guess parents with kids aren't allowed to have more than one beer. Salad bowls are removed from the table. The 'when will my dinner get here?' mantra begins. And continues. Eyes remain glued to the TVs.

The entrees arrive. Finally. I'm now exhausted from the aural assault on my ears and from entertaining our patient but not when they're hungry girls while we wait for the food to arrive. ("Emily, sit down in hour chair please." "Emily, please get off the floor and back onto your chair." "Emily, please stop blowing bubbles in your drink." ). The eternity ends and our food arrives. Kelsey, cramped for space at the small table, promptly spills her drink. I attack my meal with purpose. All I can think of is, "how soon can we end this meal?" Sue looks at me from across the table and says, "we're not coming back here again!" Emily pecks at her meal trying to figure out which of the identical looking strips are the chicken fingers and which are the giant French fries. Sue explores her Garden Burger. It is artfully garnished with a heaping mound of potato chips. We eat.

Seizing an opportunity, our server swoops by and removes dishes as they approximate emptiness. I guess she's eager to see us go. The check arrives. Hmm ... I guess parents with kids aren't allowed to have dessert here, either. That apple black Betty on the desert looks mighty enticing. But, if the server doesn't want to ask about dessert, I'm not going to help her. Besides, I'm more than ready to exit. The server executes the credit card transaction with unusual swiftness. (On several occasions we've waited more than 15 minutes for the server to return with our credit card and the receipt.) At last, we're free to escape to the quiet of the outdoors! Once outdoors, Sue and I look at each other. We needn't say a word. Yes, it would have been more fun to have had dinner at home.

Here's a quick summary of things servers often fail to do when we eat out with our kids:

Servers don't:

  • Greet the kids
  • Bring crayons and paper to keep the kids busy and happy. Several requests are often needed before a server remembers to bring crayons. When dining out with children under 3, always take with you to the restaurant a bag of books, toys, and craft supplies that will keep your child happily occupied.
  • Offer to assist the kids with their menu choices
  • Review the specials of the day
  • Pace the meal in a manner appropriate for a meal with kids
  • Ask if we would like another drink
  • Ask if we want dessert.

How do I know that servers don't do these things because the girls are dining with us? Easy, we've eaten at several restaurants with and without the girls accompanying us. As a rule, Sue and I get great service when we dine out as a couple. Yet, the server failures listed above dominate when the girls dine out with us.

So, why do we keep dining out with the girls? I suppose the eternal optimist in me is responsible. I keep thinking, "these restaurants will get it, we'll have a pleasant meal tonight." Yes, one day, they will get it. Maybe.


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