Sam Wilson

Parent-scary restaurants

2004-10-11 12:24

You can't say we didn't try. We did. We tried them all. Every plastic-burgered, flour-sauced, sticky vinyl-chaired "kiddy-friendly" restaurant you can think of.

Let me share something with those of you who do not have children but plan to, or to those of you with children who are still too small to say, 'ee that toy on TV? Let's go to that place. Please? Please? Please?'

The three minutes of satisfaction your child will get from unwrapping that dinkily constructed toy is not worth the horror of actually having to sit in one of those venues for the requisite hour and a half. It really isn't.

There are a whole host of horrid things about parent-scary restaurants. The first is the way the staff are forced to be cheerily perky in a way that the management believes endears them to children and parents alike. It doesn't. It just makes everyone queasy, the waitron included.

'Hiya, folks!' says sad Waitron, emblazoned with mocking smile badges.

Adults all smile strainingly at one another. Children look on uncomprehendingly.

'If I can help you in any tiny little way, just don't hesitate to ask!' says sad Waitron. 'What can I do for you lovely folks, and gosh? aren't those kids cute?'

'Bring menus, you poor person,' I think to myself. 'Bring food, bring drinks, bring the ghastly little toys, we'll tip you well and go home as soon as we can.'

Then there is the Play Zone issue. It is why you are there, ostensibly - the place has kid-friendly facilities. But when you actually sit down and consider these children's play areas - how friendly are they, really?

Somewhere, in a hard-to-reach corner of the restaurant, there is a bullet-glassed box. Inside the box you will usually find the following: two or three extraordinarily violent video games, a truck which will buck to music if your child happens to have a steady flow of two rand coins, and a television tuned to the Cartoon Channel.

'It is a serious indictment on our parenting skills that our children are prepared to spend more than three minutes in that play area,' Andreas muttered to me the other day, as he stared gloomily into his grey-sauced, gristle-ridden plate of food.

'I don't care if the boys will get three buck glow-in-the-dark dinosaurs if they continue ignoring the food in front of them until it is taken away,' he continued. 'Let us not buy into this any more.'

It is true that Hideous Homogenised Kidville restaurants would like us to believe that they are the only alternative available to parents with small children. And they make our kids think it too: targeting their cheesy nuggets and ads directly to them saying, 'Here's where you eat. Bring your parents.'

The good news is, after a few months of diligently searching, we have found it is not true. The real family restaurant is alive and well, and just waiting for us to realise that Disney-style pseudo-cheer is not the only way to go.

Restaurants that believe you don't need a cardboard hat, or a toy or a place to stow your children to enjoy a meal as a family.

Find the ones near you. In years to come, your children will thank you.

  • Sam Wilson is a strategist for a customer publishing company and a columnist for a variety of magazines.

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