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An Open Letter to Restaurateurs:

Over the holidays I spent a lot of time in restaurants. I went to everything from fast-casual to white-table-cloth establishments, and I found that all of them were all but ignoring one important group of customers – children.

I know what you are thinking: Why aren’t you going to those “kid friendly places” that have the clowns and balloons and video games? Isn’t that where parents go? My answer: Have you been to one of these little corners of Hell? Ok, maybe that’s a little harsh, but I am an adult and I want to have a clown-free evening! Can’t I do that and still have my child enjoy the experience?

An article in The New York Times touches on this quandary as it tells the tale of a group of Brooklyn moms who were banned from going to a local bar with their kids. Though I am talking about restaurants rather than bars, one of these moms made me think when she said, “[Going to this bar is] one way of denying that your youthful exploits come with a shelf-life… Psychologically, you feel like, ‘Oh, my life hasn’t changed that much.'”  So I’ll admit it, maybe I am still going to all the same restaurants that I went to before my three year old was born because I don’t want to admit that things have changed that much. But should they have to? Can’t restaurants do a little better job servicing our kids (and their parents)?

So, restaurant owners out there, I have some suggestions and observations that I would like to share:

Rethink your kids’ menu. If you had kids or were thinking about them, you would know that everything needs to have a fancy made-up name (think “super princess burger” not “hamburger”). And don’t be afraid to veer from the old standbys. The happiest my daughter ever was at a restaurant was the time she was able to order a “chocolate sandwich” from the menu. It was simply Nutella on toasted honey wheat bread, but she stared at it in awe and quietly ate the entire plate-sized sandwich without a single peep for 20 minutes. If this restaurant was local I would go there once a week.

Crayons are nice, but can you mix it up a bit? We went to a restaurant last year that brought over “Wikki Stix” when we were seated (for those of you unfamiliar – click here). They even let my daughter pick her favorite colors and brought extras when she had used all of her initial set. She was entertained for the entire meal and I was blown away. And how simple was that little idea? We now go to that restaurant at least monthly.

Kids are customers too. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a restaurant where the waiter completely ignores my child. I am not expecting them to tell me how cute they think she is (even though she really is cute), but it would be nice if you said hello to her when you were greeting us. And can you work with me on when you are delivering my child’s food? I know best when it should come, and believe me it changes with every meal, so involve me — and for the love of god don’t bring me scalding hot food! Let me tell you my friend, that is one quick way to lose your tip and our business. For good.

So, long story short, Mr. and Mrs. Restaurant Purveyor; I want you to think about kids and their parents. We are an important and underserved target. And if we are going to spend our hard-earned, disposable income in this economy, we are going to choose the restaurants that are doing it right and leave the plain hamburgers, crayons and scalding hot fries behind.

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