Dining with children

The cost of a dinner out balloons rapidly when you’re paying for a sitter in addition to your steak frites – often 5o% or more. Also, we rather enjoy our kids and think learning to behave at a restaurant is a damned important life-lesson (see “sulking, iPod-listening teen”). So 9 times out of 10 they’re plopped in the seats right next to us, more or less behaving themselves. It’s valuable family time. But that’s not to say there aren’t tricks of this trade.

First and foremost, you must pick your restaurant wisely. Mexican goes smoothly enough for us, though the kids sometimes fill up on chips, leaving us playing whack-a-mole as they bounce around, bored and full, while we rush through our tacos.

Whether it’s Chinese, Japanese, Thai or Korean food, our kids are always game for Asian food. It’s the crab rangoon, for one, but ultimately it seems to be noodles and rice. They’ll eat it anytime, anywhere, with anything on it (but especially soy sauce).

The Japanese steakhouse – with all the cornball humor, spatula-flipping and shrimp-flinging that goes along with it – is a nearly perfect kid meal. You get food right away, it’s always at least decent and the little ones get a mini-pyrotechnics show (all while mom and dad suck down Asahis). Everyone’s happy.

Most Columbia restaurants are at least minimally kid-friendly, but a few go above and beyond:

Broadway Diner: Not only are the triple-berry pancakes delicious, they are preceeded by a tub of (admittedly shabby) old toys.

Cafe Berlin: Toys and books are available inside, but the real winner is the hula hoops outside on the patio. While waiting for your Starving Artists (or a table), the kids burn off energy and entertain everyone.

Sycamore Restaurant: No, I wouldn’t take Junior and Little Miss here at 9:00 p.m. on a Friday, but if it’s 5:30 on a Thursday night, the kids will get a lesson in finer dining and you’ll all be eating very well. It’s noisy too, which helps.

Shakespeare’s Pizza: Not only can kids watch the action in the kitchen or play some pinball during the (significant but worthwhile) wait, the staff will toss them some dough to eat/get in their hair/make snakes with. Good times.

Regardless, screaming or wandering kids never have a place in any restaurant. If things get out of hand we whisk the kid to the car, end of story.

John Mariani of Esquire has compiled eleven tips for dining out with kids – they jibe very closely with what works for us. Anyone have other tips or kid-conducive restaurant nominees?


Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

5 thoughts

  1. In addtion to those already listed, we like to take our young grandkids (Junior and Little Miss) to lunch at Steak N Shake where you can get a decent burger and a great shake while the kids are building a car out of a kit. Plus, it’s fast. We’ve also had good luck at Macaroni Grill since the cooks will always gladly set something on the grill on fire for your dining enjoyment. And what kid doesn’t like mac and cheese?

  2. When we had Junior there one time, a former student, now one of the chefs, set the aforementioned fire on the grill. It encompassed the protective cover around a nearby pipe-a little extra excitement for all.

  3. Mother-of-four, here. Set expectations. As soon as they are old enough to understand what you are saying, you tell them what to expect.

    Eat lots of fun stuff at home. Weird stuff, exotic stuff. I am lucky; my Chinese dad and relatives helped me set the example of “odd” food. Never had to worry about weird food out. We’d already had it, “in.”

    I have never chased a child through a dining room, home or abroad. You just don’t make that an option.

    Unfortunately, in these “enlightened” times, the child gets to rule the roost. And we all get to suffer the indulgence.

  4. “If it’s 5:30 on a Thursday night, the kids will get a lesson in finer dining and you’ll all be eating very well. ” Yup. That’s our Sycamore strategy. We go about 5, 5:30. We also like Uprise and even though it has the jazz/elder crowd, Murray’s. Murray’s at 5 works for us too (right before the elder crowd rushes in).

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