If you’re a parent, you’ve probably found out the hard way that there’s a lot more to being a kid-friendly restaurant than just having a child’s menu.
The atmosphere, acoustics and layout of the restaurant, and the patience of the staff are more important than a special menu.
The first and most important step in ensuring a pleasant experience is knowing where to go. You don’t have to exclude fine-dining establishments, but you’ll want to choose restaurants casual and loud enough to tolerate noise and energy.
While it’s a good idea calling ahead to inquire if a restaurant is kid-friendly (high chairs, kids menus, special tables, et al.), an even better plan is to have already scoped out a place.
Felipe Valenzuela says he’s noticed a pleasing trend among customers who bring small children to Zivaz Mexican Bistro, which his family owns and operates.
“It seems like almost all of the people we get with kids have come here previously without their kids, so they’re already familiar with the restaurant,” he says. “I think that’s an excellent tip, checking out a place to know what to expect.”
Here are some tips culled from different sources, including parents and restaurateurs, to help ensure a nice meal for you, your kids and nearby diners. Plus, we’ve compiled our list of favorite kids’ menus.
TIPS FOR PARENTS
Timing is everything: Avoid breakfast, lunch and dinner rushes, if at all possible. It’ll make things a lot easier on you and your server.
Don’t try to bring your children if it’s close to their nap time or bedtime. You’re just asking for behavioral trouble.
The right tools for the job: Rather than expecting your naturally messy small child to suddenly become a neatnik, buy and bring Tabletoppers, disposable place mats with adhesive strips to secure them to the table. Also bring bibs, sippy cups and utensils your child is used to, and don’t forget small toys (ones that don’t make noise).
B.Y.O.F: Bring your own food for kids to snack on before the meal arrives. As counterintuitive as it may sound, bringing hungry children to a restaurant is not a good idea, as hunger is right up there with fatigue and boredom as a root cause for behavior problems.
Don’t fence them in: Order your meals as quickly as you can, then take your child for a walk around the dining room – if you can do so without interrupting other diners – or outside. It will optimize your chances that your child will sit still when the meal arrives.
Don’t order your child’s meal so it arrives before yours, as any boredom or fidgetiness you alleviate by having their meal arrive early will be lost when the child is finished and your meals arrive.
A little busing of your own: Clean up what you can of your child’s mess, including crayons thrown or dropped onto the floor or carpet, as they can be worse than a banana peel at causing someone to slip and fall.
Make it worth it: It takes extra work, time and patience to wait on a family, so give your server a generous tip in appreciation.
Here are some kid-friendly restaurants. Some are listed for their imaginative kids fare, others for kid-friendly amenites and practices.
CANDELA RESTAURANT LATIN AMERICAN CUISINE 5845 N. Oracle Road, 407-0111
Highlights: Kid’s menu includes Connor’s Bistec ($7), grilled beef with egg plantain or potatoes and a side of rice.
EEGEE’S 21 locations
Highlights: Kid’s meals come with Ham or Turkey Sub ($3.19) an eegee beverage, cookie and prize.
FRENCH TWIST CAFÉ 10110 N. Oracle Road, 797-1127
Highlights: Kids can get adult-sounding items, such as Ham & Cheddar Crêpe Pinwheels ($4.95), thinly sliced ham and cheddar cheese wrapped in French crêpes and sliced into pinwheels, with creamy honey mustard dip
GHINI’S FRENCH CAFFE 1803 E. Prince Road, 326-9095
Highlights: Among the items offered for kids 10 and younger are Strawberry Crêpe ($3)
GAVI ITALIAN RESTAURANTS • Gavi Italian Restaurant 7865 E. Broadway, 290-8380 7401 N. La Cholla Blvd., 219-9200 • La Taverna di Gavi 6960 E. Sunrise Drive, 615-1900 • Piazza Gavi La Locanda Degli Amici 5415 N. Kolb Road, 577-1099
Highlights: Its full lunch and dinner menu for children up to 12 years old includes Fettucine Alfredo ($7). All children’s entrees come with a salad and drink.
622 N. Fourth Ave., 795-0523
Highlight: Tarascan Taco ($3.95) with rice or beans.
LITTLE ANTHONY’S DINER 7010 E. Broadway Blvd., 296-0456
Highlights: Coloring paper and crayons provided; balloons are tied to tables and chairs. Servers often organize kids games, such as limbo.
MAGPIE’S GOURMET PIZZA 605 N. Fourth Ave. 628-1661
Highlights: Good pizza, crayons and coloring books at all of its locations. More importantly, this one of its six locations has an enclosed courtyard, providing a safe area for kids to roam.
OREGANO’S PIZZA BISTRO 4900 E. Speedway Blvd., 327-8955
Highlights: Pizza is about as kid-friendly as you can get. What makes Oregano’s special is that kids get a big ball of pizza dough to play with.
SWEET TOMATOES 6202 E. Broadway Blvd, 747-3684, 4420 N. Stone Ave, 293-3343
Highlights: Kids can serve themselves at the buffets. Servers swing thorugh the dining room with chocolate-chip cookies. At regular Sunday pajama parties, kids eat free and can come in their pajamas.
TACO BRON 6910 E. Tanque Verde Road, 722-4302 and 3200 N. First Ave., 903-9326
Highlights: The Tanque Verde location has a jumping castle every Sunday, and kids eat free at both locations Sundays as long as an accompanying adult purchases an entree. Kids get their choice of quesadilla or beef or chicken taco, plus beans, rice and a small drink.
THE ECLECTIC CAFE 7053 E. Tanque Verde Road, 885-2842
Highlights: For lunch or dinner, kids can order the Child Club ($6.75), peanut butter, fresh strawberries, fresh bananas and honey. It also has several children’s breakfast items.
ZIVAZ MEXICAN BISTRO
4590 E. Broadway, 325-1234
Highlights: For lunch or dinner, kids get one taco, two quesadillas or two flautas with beans and rice ($3.45).