Unless you want to spend the first 8 years of your child’s life eating at Chuck E. Cheese, you had better learn the ropes for sizing up a real restaurant and determining whether it is a good fit for your particular brand of kid-crazy.
The question you want to ask your spouse is, “Can we eat here and not hate each other and our children by the end of the meal?” Also consider, “Will we even get to taste our food, or will we feel as if we might as well have used our dollar bills for kindling in tonight’s campfire?”
Of course the answers to these questions change as rapidly as the kids do. When the boys were around one year old and still enthralled with the basic concept of food, I remember sitting at a restaurant outside of Ocean City sipping on a pint of Bass while my boys happily tackled a crabcake and chewed on a straw. If they started to get antsy, we threw them a roll from the breadbasket and that bought us another 15 minutes or so.
Then we entered a restaurant black-out period wherein our boys’ ability to sit still for more than two minutes at any given moment was doubtful. This was when we came up with our picnic table rule. If a place had outside seating with room to roam and no sugar packets in sight, it was our favorite dining establishment regardless of the quality of food. That is also when we started to embrace the lunch-packing ritual on all of our trips.
We are in a shaky middle stage now: we never know what we are going to get, but we feel confident enough to try it out under certain circumstances. Last week the certain circumstances were that we were camping near a restaurant Jeremy and I had visited about 5 years ago. We had a great big steak dinner after a rigorous hike at Sunfish Pond in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
We recreated the steak dinner last week at the Walpack Inn but this time had a much bigger table and created a much bigger mess. The boys behaved spectacularly and I was able to savor every bit of my prime rib.
The deer gimmick helped quite a bit. At the Walpack, they put corn out for the deer, who come right up to the restaurant windows to eat.
The waitress needed a little prompting, and the price tag was certainly not cheap, but every once in a while you just need a civilized dinner out. The boys pitched in to make this a truly enjoyable experience with (as far as I can recall) not a single behavioral issue. How successful was this? Well, for all you parents out there, consider this: I had two glasses of wine (properly sipped) and the boys got refills on their milks with no spills in sight. I’ll take the deer over Chuck E. Cheese any day. I honestly think the boys might agree.