The Joys of Modern Life: 58 - Family-friendly restaurants

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The Independent Culture
TAKING SMALL children out to dine is a tricky thing in Britain. You could opt for an Italian bistro. Waiters will welcome you with open arms, carrying the little ones off to meet the chef, who just "loves the bambinos", leaving parents in peace to order a second bottle of Frascati.

But where's the fun in that? It is far better, surely, to visit a "family- friendly" restaurant. Cynics may believe that such places, with their ugly decor, bad food and over-stimulating ball pits, exist merely to generate profits. But I like to think they give families the chance to test personal resources, developing negotiation and survival skills, bringing everyone together, through social education, to bond as a... er... family.

On arrival, you will be placed on a table squashed up next to the ice- cream counter. Your children will whinge and whine, demanding a chocolate whip with hundreds and thousands. You would like to strap them into one of the many high chairs available, to prevent them from helping themselves. Except that none of the chairs is clean, and all the straps are missing.

Try reasoning. "Please sit still, my darlings. Look, the signs say: `Children must be seated at all times'." They won't understand, but it's all part of teaching them to read.

Or bribery: "If you're good you can have chips with your fishcake. Now let's entertain ourselves with these crayons they've given us." No paper is provided. This is just the challenge you need while waiting a further 20 minutes for a waiter. Your children will show great resourcefulness, drawing on tables, carpet and walls.

After an hour, with the children following their drawings up the walls, the opportunity arises to explore your negative attitude towards authority. The over-worked and under-staffed manager, who has no kids of his own and "can't understand what your problem is" will, eventually, grudgingly take your order. You can then relax, knowing that your food, though taking a further hour to arrive, will turn up 45 minutes before the kiddy meals, ensuring that your sprogs eat "adult food" for once. And they won't notice fries are "off".

But a Cajun mixed grill can be heavy going on young tummies.

Just one last hurdle. The cars are spaced so close together that it's impossible to open the doors wide enough to get the children into their seats. Cheer up. Following your complaints, you were given a complimentary pounds 5 voucher towards the cost of your next meal.

Of course you will return. You have to. Your kids thought it was great.