Kid stuff

D.C. has lots of grown-up restau­rants that wel­come fam­i­lies. Here’s how to stay in their em­brace.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY BECKY KRYS­TAL becky.krys­tal@wash­post.com

WEEK­END A tip­sheet for par­ents try­ing to make a restau­rant out­ing work.

When you have young chil­dren, it can be easy to give up on go­ing to restau­rants al­to­gether. Too much has­sle. Too much un­cer­tainty. Too much chance of the stink-eye from other din­ers.

But there are plenty of restau­rants that roll out the wel­come mat for fam­i­lies, and plenty of con­sci­en­tious par­ents who en­joy eat­ing out with their lit­tle ones, with­out in­ci­dent.

“Ninety-nine per­cent of the time, every­one is su­per-re­spect­ful,” said Gareth Croke, par­ent of an al­most-3-year-old and a part­ner in the kid-friendly pub Bound­ary Stone and the pizze­ria Al­lPur­pose.

Of course, it doesn’t al­ways seem that way; bad be­hav­ior and its con­se­quences typ­i­cally make for bet­ter sto­ries and lead to more heated de­bate. Case in point: A “classy, in­ti­mate” Ital­ian spot in North Carolina re­cently made na­tional news when it banned kids younger than 5.

Still, there’s no need to stay home with your bud­ding gour­mand, es­pe­cially if they’ve shown them­selves in­clined to try new things. Wher­ever you choose to go, try to con­sult with your kids. If they’re in­vested in the de­ci­sion, they’ll be more likely to co­op­er­ate and have a good time.

We talked to par­ents, both inside and out­side the restau­rant in­dus­try, for tips on how to make eat­ing out a great ex­pe­ri­ence for every­one.

It doesn’t hurt to call ahead.

The fact that restau­rants are in the hospi­tal­ity busi­ness means they should do their best to make all din­ers, re­gard­less of age, feel com­fort­able. But there are cer­tain times when you should alert a place that you’re bring­ing chil­dren.

One is if you will need equip­ment such as a high chair or booster seat, be­cause restau­rants of­ten have lim­ited sup­plies. Plus, the host stand can be ready at your ar­rival rather than hav­ing to scram­ble as you’re be­ing seated.

It’s also a good idea to give the restau­rant a heads-up if your child has any se­ri­ous al­ler­gies, so the kitchen can be pre­pared or let you know whether it can han­dle di­etary re­stric­tions.

Don’t as­sume you can bring your stroller inside.

Here’s an­other in­stance when call­ing ahead is use­ful, be­cause not all restau­rants have room to store your large stroller, and not all places make it easy (steps, nar­row en­try­ways, etc.) to even get one through the door.

For ba­bies, you may want to con­sider a sling or other wear­able car­rier. For tod­dlers, an um­brella stroller that is lightweight and col­lapsi­ble is a good op­tion: Stow it un­der your ta­ble or at the coat check.

Con­sider eat­ing early or at off­peak hours.

“We try to dine out early be­fore the bulk of the peo­ple get there,” said Tina Smith, who uses her Do DC With Kids blog to share some of the restau­rant ad­ven­tures she and her hus­band have with their 2-year-old daugh­ter. That means eat­ing lunch at 11 a.m. and din­ner around 5 p.m.

If you must eat at the height of the din­ner rush, as might be the case if you’re go­ing out with a group that in­cludes non-par­ents, make a reser­va­tion. This saves your kid’s pa­tience for the ac­tual meal, not wait­ing in line.

And if you want to eat closer to your kid’s bed­time, Croke sug­gests choos­ing a restau­rant near home, where travel time is min­i­mal.

Noisy restau­rants can be bet­ter for chil­dren.

You may want quiet din­ing rooms for a date night or other adult-ori­ented spe­cial oc­ca­sion. Par­ents can use the din of a high­deci­bel spot to their ad­van­tage: At one re­cent din­ner, Smith’s daugh­ter de­cided to scream at the top of her lungs, but the place was buzzing loud enough that “no one no­ticed,” she said.

De­spite best ef­forts, out­bursts hap­pen. Just try not to be some­where that it’s the only thing your fel­low din­ers hear.

Have an es­cape plan if your kid’s not hav­ing it.

“I think if your child is freak­ing out, you have to take him out­side,” said Fred Her­rmann, fa­ther of a 9-year-old boy and vice pres­i­dent of op­er­a­tions for kid-friendly lo­cal chain Ted’s Bulletin.

Be ready to act fast if things start go­ing down­hill. Take a fussy child out­side or some­where else in the restau­rant a man­ager can di­rect you to, such as an un­oc­cu­pied pri­vate din­ing area. You can also pivot and have your food packed to go.

Most peo­ple un­der­stand that even the best chil­dren can be un­pre­dictable. You just have to know when to cut your losses. Smith said: “Be­ing will­ing to bail is im­por­tant.”

When choos­ing a restau­rant, look for food that will ap­peal to kids or a kids’ menu.

You’re likely to find an en­vi­ron­ment con­ducive to fam­i­lies at a restau­rant that spe­cial­izes in such crowd-pleas­ing fare as burg­ers, pizza and all-day break­fast. And places that of­fer food par­tic­u­larly for chil­dren are a good choice, be­cause it shows they’re open to young din­ers.

But don’t limit your­self to places with tra­di­tional kids’ menus.

“We learned that kids will eat a lot more than we give them credit for,” said Vic­to­ria Trum­mer, coowner of Trum­mer’s on Main in Clifton, Va., and mother to 2 1/ - and

2 6-year-old boys. The fine-din­ing restau­rant she runs with her hus-

band, Ste­fan, once had a more tra­di­tional kids’ menu in­clud­ing a burger, chicken fin­gers and pasta, but “it didn’t feel au­then­tic,” she said. So for the past few years, Trum­mer’s has of­fered a five­course “petit gour­mand” menu, with such dishes as a plate of pro­sciutto, grapes and cheese, horse­rad­ish-crusted sal­mon and build-your-own sun­daes. It’s gone over well with din­ers, she said.

As par­ents be­come more in­ter­ested in health­ful food, “the trick th­ese days for op­er­a­tors is writ­ing a kids’ menu that still has ap­peal to kids,” Her­rmann said. Croke, for ex­am­ple, had his wife cir­cu­late drafts of Bound­ary Stone’s new kids’ menu to neigh­bor­hood moms, which is one rea­son sweet potato fries are a side op­tion rather than tra­di­tional fries. Other more whole­some items on the menu in­clude hum­mus with cel­ery and car­rots and an al­mond but­ter-and-honey toastie.

Find places where the food is in­ter­ac­tive.

Af­ter all, what’s more fun than play­ing with your food? Kids can en­joy scoop­ing up Ethiopian dishes with in­jera, slurp­ing ra­men noo­dles or build­ing bites with a char­cu­terie plate. Korean bar­be­cue, Chi­nese hot pots and Ja­panese shabu shabu get kids in­volved in cook­ing their own food (if only they were so help­ful at home, right?), but make sure your kids are at an ap­pro­pri­ate age and tem­per­a­ment to lis­ten to you and your nag­ging safety rules.

Be pre­pared with dis­trac­tions.

“If I don’t know the place, I’ll al­ways bring some sort of toy,” whether it’s crayons or a train or truck, Croke said. Some restau­rants have their own stash — Bound­ary Stone has crayons, Ted’s Bulletin keeps toys on hand — but bet­ter safe than sorry.

If you feel the need to give your kid an elec­tronic de­vice, make sure the vol­ume is off, very low or only au­di­ble to the child wear­ing head­phones. If you can have your child sit in front of a wall so that the glow isn’t vis­i­ble to the rest of the din­ing room, all the bet­ter. But most din­ers would rather deal with the glow than a bored tot run amok.

Try not to use toys or elec­tron­ics as a crutch for the whole meal. Her­rmann said it’s a good idea to en­cour­age con­ver­sa­tion at least when the food shows up. Just like with try­ing new foods, if you raise the level of ex­pec­ta­tions, your son or daugh­ter might rise to the oc­ca­sion or even sur­prise you.

Find a place to be a reg­u­lar, where the staff knows your kid and your kid knows them.

Like with many things with lit­tle ones, din­ing out takes prac­tice. If you find a restau­rant to fre­quent, the re­peat vis­its can make for a more re­lax­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Em­ploy­ees who are es­pe­cially at­ten­tive may get your kids’ fa­vorite dish ready as soon as you walk in the door or greet you per­son­ally.

Croke said he has a set of restau­rants near his house, in­clud­ing Big Bear Cafe and Aroi, that have be­come go-to spots for spe­cial dates: just him and his son.

STAN­LEY CHOW FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

STAN­LEY CHOW FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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