As a food writer…I take my children out to eat – A LOT.
We go to both chain and high-end restaurants. The investigation of food and its production tugs at my very core: the job is easy, as the subject of cuisine is a deep-rooted passion.
I come from several generations of food lovers: my own immediate family is no different. Mark, Ellie, Ava and I are each of us, cooks and critics. We gain as much from our own hand-crafted meals, as those of a great chef.
We feel confident about taking our children everywhere to dine with us.
People always ask us: “How can you take your kids to fine dining restaurants? I know its your JOB – but don’t your kids go crazy? It seems like a waste of money/time/energy!?!” We also hear, “I could never take my kids there. They would embarrass/mortify/insert-synonym-of-kill me.”
I don’t pretend to believe that all kids can go out to fancy restaurants It is an activity that many adults do not enjoy – so why subject your kids to it?
I DO know however, that many parents are afraid to try — afraid to break into the realm of “haute cuisine” with the kinder set.
I know that we as a foodie family have had it somewhat easy. My connection to the world of fine dining is cemented by my congenial working relationships with chefs and staff. My food experience has provided me with an open door into a world that glitters with luxury cuisine and glamorous lifestyles. I know that behind these niceties lies a rigorous amount of work and dedication that are worth exploring at any age.
Mark and I have always loved to eat out – even before we were parents (and before my role as a writer). We enjoy great food and artistry. We have a deep respect for culinary craftsmanship. Our girls in turn, have watched this passion in my work. We have transformed it into a shared family activity. They watch me asking questions of chefs and food producers. They travel with me and we consciously engage in food discussion: How is the food presented and prepared? Where does it come from? How is the wait staff? What are the flavors? How do they make you feel? What is the execution of the dish?
They share their insights, and at times, even blog about their reactions. Their wonder and marvel brings the food to life. Their amazement provides us with connection – both on a visceral and familial level.
We share our love of food, the same way we share our enthusiasm for nature, wildlife, music and travel.
Here are a few helpful thoughts to consider if you want to take your kids out for a fancy dinner:
1.) How well do your children behave at home? Do they have good manners at home and school? If you can confidently say, “Yes!” then you can consider venturing out with them beyond your local chain restaurant. Can they sit still at the table? Do they make conversation? Do you regularly engage them about food and table conversation appropriate for fine dining establishments? Fancy dinners can be long – 2 to 3 hours in some cases. This is tough for the little people – not to mention, fidgety adults. Do your kids like to dress up? My girls relish the opportunity to get fancy. Their carriage and demeanor reflects their best behavior. It is adorable to see and it is something we are very proud about.
Let’s face it: If your kids don’t sit still or behave at home, they are not going to magically surprise you when you dine out. It will ruin your night if you try to struggle with fits and meltdowns. Better to make a great meal at home and share it with your family in comfortable territory.
2.) We have clear expectations for our children’s behavior: We talk to our girls about what we expect of them when they are in our home and when they are out in public.
This includes the world of food. On the home front, I have subscribed to the,”they eat what we are eating philosophy” and we set the rule that our girls try the food that we prepare. As far as family meals are concerned, we do not make separate dinners for our girls.
I am a little “old school” when it comes to this philosophy. I have pulled the, “Tough S***! You are going to eat that or not at all!” card with my kids ( No, I do not actually say that but I sure do think it). I don’t accept whining or picky eating. We say our “grace and thankfuls” before every meal and I look at my girls and reiterate that food is a gift and blessing. (My husband is a social worker and we have both worked with people living in deep poverty – more on our deeply held beliefs on “To whom much is given, much is expected” later.)
As a result, my kids have great palates and enjoy the variety of food typically offered at high-end restaurants. If you have picky eaters, gourmet cuisine served up presidential style, may not be the best fit. Know your restaurant – research the menu online and see if there is match with what your kids like to eat.
2.) Timing is everything: This is true for both your kid’s age and the time of day that they get hungry. They both play in to setting yourself up for success. Ask yourself — Are they just too young? We did not take our infants to five-star dining. We waited until the girls could sit without high chairs and entertain themselves.
When we dine out with the girls, we also take the early reservation. This purpose is two-fold: our kids get to eat when they are hungry at their normal dinner time; when we hit the “slippery slope/witching hour” of exhaustion and grumpiness, we are ready to hit the road. We also avoid some of the more “romantic” duo-diners who make reservations later in the evening. We avoid the risk of interrupting their special night out.
3.) Even well-mannered kids can lose it. Set your expectations with them before you go. We talk to our girls and help them understand what to say when they are asked for their coat, served beverages and their dinner plates. A well-timed “Thank you” is always in order. We talk about good eye contact and smiling. We also let them bring sketchbooks and pens. We ask them to complete drawings at the table. Small toys or figurines also help keep the girls entertained.
4.) Give the restaurant a head’s up! Call the Maitre D’ and ask the him/her about the best reservation time. They may tell you that kids under 12 years-old are not encouraged. In that case, go elsewhere. We have found that most places are delighted to serve us and to meet our children who, frankly, will become their future clientele. Let them know that you have children in your party and to seat you at a place that will be best for the restaurant. As a former manager myself, I am keenly aware of this as a benefit. Ask about the menu: is it prix-fixe? Can you order “à la carte” for smaller appetites? Every restaurant we have dined in has been more than gracious about this.
The theater and presentation can be a big “wow” factor for young and old alike. I encourage you to take the leap in to the world of fine dining. It has brought us great pleasure to share our passion with our girls and we have made wonderful memories.
(Writer’s note: This subject is worth exploring and one that I will, in no doubt, write more about. I would love to hear your feedback and ideas.)
#foodstory, #livelovefood #typeaparent