Once in a while my friend Sporto, of the South of the Border Café in Grand Marais, takes me to task for my frequent warm and fuzzy column topics. This week’s Unorganized Territory is once again family-themed, but I think it’s one that Sporto might enjoy because it’s about restaurants.
As co-owner of the Grand Marais restaurant known as SOB, home of the world’s best beef barley soup, Sporto can likely relate to problems with kids in restaurants.
The topic is on my mind because of our Father’s Day brunch adventure. We decided to go to another favorite restaurant of mine, Cascade Lodge, forgetting that Father’s Day is likely one of the busiest days of the year. We also set the kids in our party up for a tough time by arriving in stages and not ordering food immediately. Our group included grandchildren RaeAnne, 9, Carter, 6, and our sweet little grandniece, 2-year-old Sofie.
The kids were actually very well behaved. I had some little cars tucked in my purse which kept them entertained for a little while. Cascade has a selection of games, so we borrowed their dominoes and that kept the kids busy until the food came. Cascade’s pancakes and crepes are delicious and everyone ate well. It was only while waiting for everyone else to finish eating and for the bill to arrive that little Sofie started getting antsy.
Her mom and dad, DJ and Jessica, took turns strolling around the restaurant and finally her dad and my husband, “Grandpa Chuck,” took the kids outside and off to the beach. The rest of us chatted for a while longer, discussing the challenge of keeping kids amused while dining in a restaurant nicer than McDonald’s. All in all, I think our brunch adventure went well.
I had to laugh this morning when the topic of dining out with children came up on NBC’s Today show. I don’t know why, but the Today show hosts tackled the subject and offered tips. One of them I can completely agree with. Today’s Al Roker said when he dines out with his kids, he tells the server that his family has a “45-minute window” to be seated and served before there are meltdowns. Good advice.
The discussion at brunch and on the Today show reminded me of our nightmare dining experience when our older son Ben was a toddler. We were in the midst of a move from one post to another so we were living in what the Army calls transient quarters—basically an economy hotel. On the night before we were to fly out to our next posting, we decided to go out to dinner at the Officer’s Club.
Our 10-month-old was a well-behaved toddler and we had taken him out to restaurants before. Not the ritzy Officer’s Club, but other eateries and he was able to sit for short periods. We figured we could amuse him with some toys and treats. We were wrong.
It really wasn’t baby Ben’s fault. He was just being a kid. He couldn’t help that the high chair they brought out had a metal footplate and he was wearing the clunky toddler shoes of that era. He quickly discovered that banging his hard-soled shoes on the footrest made a clang that echoed through the dining room.
We should have left immediately and gone to the little snack bar down the street. But we distracted him and he quit banging—for a little while. But as we waited and waited for our food, he got bored and started again, slamming his little feet harder and harder, delighted at the racket he could make. To quiet the noise, we tried to hold his feet—and then he screamed. As we gulped down our expensive dinner we smiled apologetically at the other diners as he alternated between banging and screaming.
Eventually it dawned on us to take off the heavy shoes. But by that time, our poor little guy was tired and frustrated and nothing would make him happy. Mortified, we paid the bill as quickly as we could and left trying not to make eye contact with the annoyed couples at other tables.
So yes, a 45-minute window is a good idea. As is selecting a family friendly restaurant. There are many of them in Cook County, fortunately. And I don’t think any of them have metal highchairs, thank goodness!
Even when freshly washed and relieved of all obvious confections, children tend to be sticky.