It’s time to admit it! Kids are not the same as we were growing up. Well, I guess a little. They can still talk back, tell fibs, and drive moms and dads crazy while simultaneously reminding us why we love them so much. But today’s kids are so much more sophisticated than we were. I grew up in a two-parent, full-time working household where both parents traveled for their job. By definition I guess you could say I was a latchkey kid. Being a latchkey kid defined what we ate for our afterschool snacks and then what we ate for dinner. Let’s just say, I ate so much boxed, frozen, bland food that not only do I rarely allow my kids to have those items but I don’t even touch the stuff now. And in fact, like many of my peers, have done a complete 180 when it comes to what I eat and what I’m introducing to my kids.
Gen X and Gen Y parents are introducing their kids to new foods and flavors like we’ve never seen before. To my friends who tell me ‘my kid will only eat x’ I say poppycock! We have one rule in our house when it comes to food – you have to try everything once. And it’s become quite an adventure for my kids, now 9 and 6. Last night my 6 year old ordered a Nova on a Bagel from a food truck! Plus he’s already asked me where the Pastrami Project food truck www.pastramiproject.com will be next because he wants to try the Lox on a Bagel next.
My daughter who is also adventurous with her flavors, and abides by the ‘try everything once rule’ took it very seriously during our Pastrami Project visit. She waited for each of us to order what we were having and then had a bite of each one of ours before she ordered her food. And yes, she even tried the Nova. Surprising to me, she liked dad’s Pastrami Reuben the best and so she decided on a Pastrami sandwich (sans the Reuben components). But I have to agree with her. I have never liked pastrami and this stuff was amazing. I wanted it to last longer than it did on my tongue. What I learned is that pastrami is one of those foods that can’t be duplicated by making it months ahead of time, wrapping it in plastic and sticking it on a shelf. Fresh pastrami, more notably this pastrami, is something I would eat again and again. And so would my kids.
So if you are one of those people that says “my kid only eats ____” (aside from those kids that really do have picky eater issues), catch yourself and come up with a new set of rules. You have to try everything once. I mean come on, really, are you gonna try and tell me this food doesn’t look mouth munching delicious?!
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A few months ago, there were several national restaurant chains that found themselves in the media spot light for reasons they would have preferred to avoid: serving alcohol to kids by accident. Last year a North Carolina restaurant posted a sign that read “screaming children will not be tolerated.” Just this week a Pennsylvania restaurant announced his ban for any children under the age of 6.
When the alcohol incidents occured, I refrained from comment – I used to work in restaurants and understand how it can happen. Although they were terrible accidents, they served as long-overdue wake up calls for some places to change their operational procedures. Then when the North Carolina restaurant posted their sign, I quietly provided my opinion on the matter. However, with the latest publicity from poor handling of situations with customers with kids, it’s time I weighed in.
As a kid-friendly restaurant consultant, I work with restaurants to help them realize the value of the family consumer, what it means to the bottom line and how easy it really is to serve this customer and make their employees and other customers all happy at the same time. I’m not trying to sell anything, it’s just the way it is and I know so from many years of research and conversation with parents who take kids out to eat as well as the restaurants that serve them. So as The Restaurant Mom, industry consultant, a voice for the consumer, and mom of 2, I see both sides of the idea of banning kids from restaurants.
On MyKidsPlate we fully recognize that there are kid-friendly restaurants, there are restaurants better for what we call grown ups night out, and there are restaurants that are a hybrid of both. Patronage of restaurants is determined by consumers on many things including the food, the atmosphere, and the location. Some restaurants are located in areas that have higher demographics of seniors, for example. Some restaurants are pretty clearly, by their branding and atmosphere, not geared for dining with young kids and that’s ok too. Different strokes for different folks, right?
To some extent I agree with the Pennsylvania restaurant owner that some parents have become ‘too selfish’ and think this is their world and the rest of us are living in it. I’ve seen those parents myself who let their kids run all over the place, scream and holler, and the like. However, I am getting really tired of hearing people from the non-kid population put all parents with kids into this proverbable bucket that all kids act in such a way. The reality is that it’s not all parents with kids that go out to eat and in fact, it’s less than you would think. But because the ones that are so loud or out of control are so noticeable, it seems bigger than it really is.
Restaurants have a dual role when it comes to serving the public: it’s providing good food but in an environment that the people eating it want to be served in. Consumers today are more individualistic than they’ve ever been, putting themselves into their own social groups. This can be seen clearly through social media especially on Facebook and tools like Meetup. The point is that restaurants have been slow to change their marketing strategies to be geared more specifically to the consumers they want in their restaurants. These different consumer groups have different hot buttons about where they want to eat, what they want to eat, and how they want to enjoy it.
In many cases of kids being loud or running around, it’s because they’re bored. If some of these restaurant experiences weren’t so boring, you wouldn’t see as many kids distracting the other guests through their noise or behavior. You hear it all the time, we are in a media overloaded world. Is there really any doubt as to why going out to eat at a boring restaurant can be boring for today’s kid? If restaurants don’t want kids running around and ‘being loud’ than turn up the volume, literally and figuratively. Restaurants that want families as customers (they do spend more than diners without kids) should be doing certain easy things to enhance the experience for the kids which ultimately makes it better for everyone else. Activity sheets are a good place to start but if they are lame, it’s pointless. Sports bar themed restaurant are popular because they are noisy. But if a restaurant doesn’t want families with kids, then it’s the restaurant’s responsibility to create that environment within the restaurant. A ban based on age for an entire population is inappropriate and over the top. Ultimately it is a punishment for those parents who do their job in teaching their kids how to behave and act appropriately.
Last year I was contacted by a mom who said she was banned from a Chicago area restaurant because her kid was crying. When I contacted the restaurant to get more information, I ultimately heard the “two sides” of the story. In this case, the restaurant manager asked the mom to step outside with the crying child because she was getting complaints from other people in the restaurant. That is how it should be handled and done so with dignity and respect. Each restaurant should have a policy for how they will handle those situations and be consistent with it, not discriminatory. Banning people, based on age or for any other reason is a slippery slope we should not go back down. Seniors can’t be banned based on their age. Do we really need to go there with kids? Personally, I think there is a better approach.
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June 1st, 2011The Restaurant Mom
What a pleasant surprise CRAVE turned out to be. I have been to this restaurant a few times and it certainly has appeal as both a kid-friendly restaurant and one for grown ups night out, depending on when you go – of course. From the outside and from their website it almost seems to chic to go there with kids but the variety on both menus (adults and kids) may serve to change your mind. The appetizer menu includes a range of items with a twist like tempura chicken nuggets, kogi beef tacos, and seafood flatbread. Then their entrees include everything from a surf & turf, to grilled ahi tuna and a chicken stir-fry. Let’s not forget the pasta. We shared the Lobster Macaroni and the Baked Cheese Penne both of which exploded a fireworks display of flavor before melting off into the sunset of my belly. Next time I go back I’m having flatbread and sushi.
Kids at CRAVE. Sunday nights are kids eat free, one per paying adult and CRAVE offers a wider variety of kids menu items than most casual dining restaurants I’ve seen. Sure, they have the traditional favorites of chicken tenders, pizza, and mac-n-cheese but have you ever seen a Sushi Cone (cooked snow crab, sushi rice, and sweet soy reduction in a crepe cone), Shrimp Guppies (cooked shrimp, sushi rice, and sweet soy reduction) or Smelt Roe Sailboats (smelt roe served in a cucumber sailboat)?
If you haven’t been to a CRAVE yet, give it a try. I hope you will be as pleasantly surprised as I was. Check out their listings on MyKidsPlate.com to see their kid-friendly listings, a video and directions. If you’ve been to any of these locations, you can also rate them on these pages.
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