Eating out with kids

How not to be THAT family at the restaurant

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Eating out can be a breeze if your dining destination has a playroom like the one at Frida's Bakery + Cafe, pictured above

Before you had kids, dining out was something you looked forward to. Now, you’re not so sure. What if Johnny has a meltdown? What if Suzie starts screaming, throwing food, or won’t sit still? What if people at neighboring tables get up and move because of your kids?

Having kids doesn’t mean you can never eat out in public again. It simply means you need to be prepared. We talked to several kid-friendly eating establishments in the Hudson Valley for their take on how parents can help make dining out a pleasurable experience for everyone.  

“When I was growing up kids were taught to behave in public,” says Doug Vanoppens, night manager at the Red Line Diner in Fishkill.  “Parents are sometimes too lax. They don’t pay attention to what their kids are doing. They let them run around. There’s always a lot of activity in our diner. Servers are carrying trays and hot coffee. Kids can get hurt. We try to provide crayons and coloring sheets to keep the kids occupied, or give them a cookie if they’ve behaved well.”

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Developing Relationships

“I’m a parent so I understand what it is like to dine out with kids,” says Katina Partesis, who owns the Yankee Clipper in Beacon along with her husband Niko, her sister Tonia, and her brother-in-law Petros. She also worked in childcare for 10 years before going into the restaurant business. “Kids love to come here. They call us the big red diner,” she says. “We develop relationships with our customers and always try to make the experience welcoming and accommodating, say if a family has allergies or food preferences such as no fries for the children. If a child is upset, we take an interest.”

Frida’s Bakery and Café opened in Milton last year after Bob Pollock, the owner of Buttermilk Falls Inn & Spa, was looking for another way to showcase the bread baked by Dave Meltzer’s that he had been serving at the spa’s restaurant. Pollock named the new bakery for his daughter and made their new place more than child-friendly: He made it child-focused with a large, sunny playroom attached to the upstairs dining area and an elevator for easy stroller access. “We have a casual and relaxed atmosphere,” says manager Robin Affuso-Marquis. “We don’t have waiters, just counter service. You order what you want and then find a table. Mothers love to have playdates here because their kids can run around safely in the playroom while they enjoy time with their own friends. We also offer Saturday baking classes just for kids, parent/child pie baking classes, and even gluten free items.”

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The first step to a great experience is to seek out kid-friendly restaurants like these, where the atmosphere makes your whole family feel welcome. Here’s some words of wisdom from the restaurants:

  • Bring children out to eat from an early age and use it as an opportunity to teach them how to sit, behave, and practice proper etiquette.  

  • Establish a relationship with a restaurant and the staff so your children feel welcome.   

  • Let your kids know that going to a restaurant is a treat and include them in the where-should-we-go-out-to-eat decision process. Pick three restaurants that you want to go to and let them choose one.  

  • Establish specific behavior expectations for eating out before you arrive and enforce and applaud those behaviors throughout your meal. You could also reward good behavior with a special dessert.

  • Bring things to keep your child occupied.

The power of distraction

We all know how easily children get bored. At the Red Line and at Yankee Clipper, and at many child-friendly restaurants, children are given crayons and a doodle pad to color. Frida’s offers an entire playroom with toys. But don’t depend on the restaurant to keep your child occupied. Partesis says when her kids were young she’d bring a bag filled with toys to keep the kids busy. The bag was only used when they were dining out so the kids linked going out with the goody bag.  

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With restaurants like these, and so many more child-friendly and child-focused restaurants in the Hudson Valley, there’s no reason to refrain from going out to eat with your kids. It might be awhile before you can embark on a candlelit dinner, but once your children understand proper public behavior, you can graduate them to fancier restaurants over time and save those candlelight dinners for your night out without them.

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