Children + restaurants = bad news. Everyone knows that. It’s a fact of life – you take the trouble to book a romantic table for two at a nice place down the road and odds on, you’ll be sharing it with a squabbling bunch of teenagers or a squawking baby. We’ve blogged before about the horrors of children in restaurants and even mused on possible solutions, but very few restaurants, apart from the chains, really take the fact of kids eating out on board. Until now…
Millenium & Copthorne Hotels have just launched their very own children’s concierge service, which not only aims to make the kids feel as welcome as the parents, with child-size robes, ice cream on arrival and a teddy bear, but also kits the family out with suggestions on local family-friendly activities and places to eat. Hampton Court Palace, perhaps not your obvious draw for the under-fives, has just introduced their Very Hungry Caterpillar menu to encourage younger visitors to eat more healthily rather than be seduced by the (somewhat dear) restaurant offerings. And Wagamama, which should have copped on sooner, wethinks, have also started a range of child-friendly portions, an in-house magazine and school visits.
Because, after all, a happy child makes for an unstressed parent. And so often, restaurateurs and hoteliers just don’t get it. Half the reason the child ends up deeply bored and spiralling into the tantrum of the century is that they rarely get a second thought from the staff. A boring, beige children’s menu; portions served on too-hot plates (like, hello…?); milk heated to just under volcanic and then having to be cooled; uncomfortable high chairs, no little people’s cutlery; not even the slightest attempt at entertainment, like colouring books or pencils; food served too slowly so the manic, swivel-eyed parent is forced to pacify them with endless lumps of bread, thus ensuring the food, when served, is rarely eaten. It’s a litany of small disasters that combine to make eating out with children one of the most stressful things to do. And never mind about the other diners.
Jamie Oliver, speaking recently in London, said that food education in Britain has become ‘unforgivably bad’. And that shouldn’t just apply to the school curriculum. There are various books flying off the shelves in the children’s section about how French children don’t throw tantrums or food and are happy to snore at the table till gone midnight in the manner of a slightly belligerent, drunken uncle. And although that scenario is wishful thinking for most Brits, the essence of the argument is that the French start them young at eating out and restaurants absolutely expect a child to be with the parents, eating the same menu, perhaps taken into the kitchen briefly to see what’s going on; the staff are more than hospitable, they are on board with the whole concept of educating children about food.
Is it such a big thing to ask? That the diners of the future are as accepted into restaurants as equals to other diners? That they are accorded a little respect, and such a little goes such a long way, particularly with the parents, who will only look upon such an establishment benevolently and visit time and time again, assured of a welcome? It’s time to turn it around and make sure the kids are alright. If they don’t feel at home eating out, you can be sure places to eat out will be thin on the ground in 20 years time.