Meltdown Averted: How the Pros Help Prevent Your Kid’s Restaurant Tantrums

kid's restaurant tantrums

Restaurant staffers work overtime to create a warm, welcoming environment. But sometimes minors can cause them major headaches, and threaten to derail the establishment’s carefully crafted dining experience. By thinking quickly and being proactive, staffers can prevent your kid’s restaurant tantrums and make sure everyone goes home happy.

The Picky Eater

Walking through the dining room of Betony in New York City one evening, executive chef Bryce Shuman noticed something awry. A couple was dining with their six-year-old son, who clearly wasn’t enjoying himself. The youngster hadn’t touched the food on his plate, wore a grumpy expression, and was distractedly playing with his iPad. His dissatisfaction was impeding his parents’ ability to have a good time and enjoy their meal. So Shuman decided to try to turn around their experience. He sent a staffer out to the nearest grocery store to buy a bottle of ketchup and frozen curly fries. When they brought out the nicely plated treat soon afterwards, the kid’s face lit up and he dove in. The parents looked equally pleased. “It was a good moment,” says Shuman. “So much of what we do goes beyond simply serving food and wine; it’s about making people feel great. So anything I can do to make that happen, I’ll do it.”

The Young & The Restless

Trummer’s on Main in Clifton, Virginia is used to hosting little diners, who usually don’t require much extra attention. But a few years ago, co-owner Victoria Trummer noticed a brother and sister – aged approximately five- and seven-years-old – were getting antsy during dinner and were itching to bolt. They had already finished their meal, but their parents’ entrees hadn’t arrived yet, so leaving wasn’t an option. The usual iPhone videos hadn’t worked as a diversion, so Trummer decided to come up with a better distraction. She and the kitchen crew assembled DIY sundae platter featuring scoops of vanilla and popcorn ice cream, candy, chocolate pecans, and housemade butterscotch. “The kids and the parents were elated,” she says. “The energy at the table and the dining room changed dramatically.” The experience help inspire the restaurant’s Petit Gourmand program, a high-end tasting menu for children that culminates with a make your own sundae that often makes the adults at the table jealous.

The Bored Ones

There’s an old saying, “When the mind wanders, happiness also strays.” This is certainly true with children in restaurants. Boredom can transform into a hissy fit in five seconds flat. That’s why Grace Abi-Najm Shea, co-owner of the Washington, D.C. area Lebanese Taverna restaurants is proactive in engaging children. If the smaller members of a party appear to need amusement, she uses a variety of techniques. Shea might take them into the kitchen to help make the eatery’s signature puffy pita bread. Another tactic is to bring them around the restaurant and introduce them to other guests, especially those with kids. If the children are a little older, she lets them play host and give guests their menus when they sit down. “The customers love it and the kids feel so important,” says Shea. “And the parents get a break, which is always nice.”Continue Reading

Chef Fathers on Being a Dad + How They’re Spending #FathersDay

Neckties, barbecue tools, and Hallmark card platitudes have become de rigueur around about the third Sunday in June. Most dads, like most moms, will agree that any recognition of their parental dedication is more than welcome. Nevertheless, the true essence of Father’s Day is to simply celebrate the contributions of fathers, and father figures, to their children’s lives. With some fathers trading briefcases for diaper bags, a modern dad struggles as much as a mother to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Enter the chef and/or chef/restaurateur; much like parenting, this is a daily round-the-clock commitment. When the buck stops with you, there are no days off. Working evenings, weekends, and holidays renders family time even more precious. Much like balancing flavors, harmonizing work life and family life can be delectable and rewarding. We rounded up three chef fathers to talk about Father’s Day and what being a dad means to them.

Martin Rios, executive chef + proprietor, Restaurant Martin, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Rios family blog copyMartin Rios of Restaurant Martin in Santa Fe seems to have struck a copacetic balance between work and family. A James Beard nominee for Best Chef in the Southwest, Rios and his wife, Jennifer, who is also his business partner, are doing more than preparing outstanding progressive American cuisine; they are raising two teenage daughters. Emma and Annaliese, 17 and 14 respectively, have spent many an hour back-of-the-house with their parents. Does Rios see them following in his footsteps? “No, I am not encouraging them to follow in my footsteps. If this is the path they choose, I will, of course, support them, but whatever they choose to do is what I will encourage. They do help in the kitchen at home and at work, but we are hardly at home since we are owned by a restaurant!”

With culinary arts taking center stage in this family, the proverbial apple might not have fallen far from the tree. Rios, who is also his own pastry chef, is proud of his oldest daughter Emma’s baking prowess. “Emma, has become an inspired baker and always has an eye on a beautiful presentation,” explains Rios. Conversely, Rios’ younger daughter, Anneliese “has become as close to a vegan as she can get!”

How is the Rios family going to celebrate Father’s Day? “By working! Our restaurant is always open on holidays and Father’s Day is no exception. We will work and then eat together as a family at the restaurant.”

Michael Schwartz, chef + founder, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Miami, Florida

Tamara and Michael Schwartz blog copyJames Beard Award-winning chef/restaurateur Michael Schwartz of Miami’s Genuine Hospitality Group, which includes Schwartz’s flagship, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, is the father of “the three best kids on earth; Harry is 12, Lulu is 15, and Ella, my eldest is 18.” Schwartz hails from a family where neither parent did any cooking. “Dad did encourage me to get that first restaurant job. I started out as a busser, and the kitchen lured me in pretty quickly. Today, Schwartz’s children are intricately involved in everything he does, both at home and in his career. Ella and Harry have namesake eateries: ella, a casual pop-up cafe serving breakfast and lunch in Palm Court, in Miami’s Design District, and Harry’s Pizzeria, also in the Design District. Lulu might not have a restaurant named after her, but she does have bottles of wine. Lua Rossa is a California red that is blended annually with Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat winery in Santa Barbara. Lulu is not only the inspiration, but the designer of the label.Continue Reading

Dining with Kids: The Best Special Requests for a Fuss-Free Meal #everydaydining

Let’s not kid ourselves; dining with kids, even the best of them, isn’t always a seamless experience. However, there are ways you can set the stage for success before you go. We talked to Victoria Levin, the general manager at Marc Murphy’s Landmarc at the Time Warner Center restaurant in New York, to get her tips.

blog sizing landmarc - kids and coton candy copy

Landmarc at the Time Warner Center isn’t a kids’ restaurant, but it is a kid-friendly restaurant. Despite its proximity to the posh Per Se in the tony Time Warner Center, Landmarc is the kind of restaurant that can create a cool evening for couples — or a fabulous lunch for the kindergarten set and their folks. Levin says, “In New York, there are a lot restaurants at which children are treated differently. We recognize that even after you become a parent, you’re the same person. You enjoy dining out; you just happen to be expanding your family. So, at Landmarc, we’re bone marrow AND chicken fingers. We’re foie gras AND macaroni and cheese.”

Are you dining with kids? Levin shared five of the best special requests for a fuss-free meal.

Divulge your double wide. If you’re coming to the restaurant with a stroller and need to store it in the restaurant or use it tableside, alert restaurant staffers ahead of time. Sharing specifics about size will allow them to select a table that is stroller-friendly or to be prepared to store it, if necessary. Levin notes, “As you walk into the third floor of the Time Warner Center, there is informal stroller parking that fits about 20 strollers, but some clients want to take their stroller inside, so we do our best to accommodate that.”

Inform the restaurant about your infant carrier. If you’re going to have your newborn snoozing comfortably in a car seat or infant carrier and you want to let sleeping babies lie (which we recommend!), indicate this in your special request. The restaurant can have a chair waiting or a table with ample space around it to make sure your child is safe secure. “We have a lot of families who have come here throughout their pregnancy, and we’re often their first meal. We can turn over a high chair and a carrier easily fits there or if they request a booth, their baby will also fit there comfortably.”

Request a table to help ward off restless toddler syndrome. Got a climber and need a booth? Want a window seat for your pint-sized people watcher? Slug these into your requests so that you can be seated at a table designed to keep your active child engaged. “The most common request is usually a booth or a round open table so parents can step around to help their child. We can’t always guarantee these requests, but having them in advance is helpful,” says Levin. The back of the children’s menu also functions as a coloring book of sorts and the restaurant provides crayons to help occupy young diners. The restaurant also has a feature called “Kids food first,” which is exactly what it sounds like: Your child’s food comes out before yours.

Prepare the restaurant for picky eaters. Not every restaurant is able to accommodate picky eaters, but many are – including Landmarc. Peruse a restaurant’s menu beforehand, and if one of your children requires something off menu, indicate that in the special requests section. Levin says, “Because of the variety of our menu and the flexibility of our kitchen, we can do most simple things. We do get a lot of kids who come in who want the fancy stuff, though!”

Alert the kitchen to allergies. Restaurants love to know about food allergies before you go. The chain of communication begins immediately, and the sooner the front- and back-of-house professionals have this vital information, the more prepared they are to keep your child safe. “We have everything from healthy snacks to our ‘My Plate’ specials, which are great full meals for an advanced child eater. However, pretty much across the board, we can make something happen to suit your child’s dietary needs.”

What are your favorite restaurants to dine at with your kids? And what are your tips for a successful experience? Let us know here or on Facebook, G+, orTwitter.

Dining with Your Mother-in-Law: Mother’s Day Etiquette Tips for Diners from Expert Lizzie Post

Depending on geography — and whether or not you hit the awesome mother-in-law jackpot, Mother’s Day can fill some people with a bit of anxiety. The vast majority of special requests associated with OpenTable restaurant reservations are filled with warm notes asking for a flower or some other gesture or accommodation for “my lovely mother-in-law.” However, there are more than a few of you who seem to be anticipating the day with the same zeal one might reserve for a root canal. A few of the standouts:

“It’s my first Mother’s Day with my new mother-in-law, so I’m trying to impress her.”

“Wife, mother, and mother-in-law will be there. Please help me keep them happy.”

“Have a stiff drink waiting for me because I am going to be with my mother and mother-in-law.”

“Bringing my mother and mother-in-law in for Mother’s Day – yes, I’m a saint!”

We checked in with expert Lizzie Post, cohost of the “Awesome Etiquette” podcast on American Public Media, for Mother’s Day etiquette tips for diners, so you’ll be ready to navigate even the thorniest of situations that could arise on May 10th.

Seat yourself strategically. As a first line of defense against any drama, Post says, “We always suggest strategic seating. Remember, this is your mother-in-law; this is your husband or your wife’s parent, so having them sit next to each other is a perfectly fine way not just to buffer it, but to allow them to have some time close to each other that, depending on where you live, they might not get very often.”

Shrug off any criticism toward your parenting skills, but… If your kids need distractions to make it through the dining experience and that doesn’t sit well with your mother-in-law, don’t take it personally — but do take it in. Post notes, “When I am out to dinner with a friend and their child comes along, it is nice to have those moments when their kid is focused on something else and we can chat. But, I am also an etiquette expert, and I’m going to come down hard on the side of you need to raise your kids in a way that you spend time at home preparing them for what going out to dinner is like. I do not expect a two-year-old to sit through an entire meal for an hour and a half, but I would expect an eight year old to get through that. So, you have to think developmentally.” Also, consider going old school when designing distractions. “Oftentimes what you’re dealing with when you get judgment from a grandparent is the child’s use of a cell phone. Your parents did the exact same thing — except that it was coloring books and small toys. So, I would suggest bringing something along that isn’t quite so criticism friendly from people of that generation. Try a small coloring book, instead,” she says.

Come prepared with polite conversation. In a perfect world, all of our dining experiences would be focused on the delicious food and warm hospitality, but sometimes conversations can veer to sensitive or unsavory topics. Post reveals, “We had people start talking at a lunch the other day about horrible deaths, and I lost my appetite over it. I thought, ‘This is ridiculous.'” When there was a break in conversation, Post seized the opportunity to steer things in a more lighthearted (and appetizing) direction. She says, “I just said, ‘Well, this is a totally different subject, but I’d love to hear about…,’ and I picked something that was a more upbeat conversation topic and redirected things that way – and I had back-up questions ready to go.” If it really becomes problematic and the subject matter isn’t appropriate for the kids at the table, she says, “It’s okay to say, ‘Hey, I’m just getting a little uncomfortable and I’d love to talk about something else.’ and then have something else to go to. You can say, ‘I know you and James just saw a new movie. Why don’t you tell us about it?'”

Be proactive, but not too prodding. If you observe that your mother-in-law has an issue with an order or seating during the meal, try to gently resolve the situation – emphasis on the gently. “You have to poke and prod a little bit. Ask if she’d like a different plate or table. And always say, ‘Hey, restaurants are really keen on getting you what you, want so it’s going to be no trouble to them to get you something better and it’s totally fine. What we care about is that you have something you enjoy.’” If she resists and says no, it’s best to just drop the issue. “If you force it upon her, that might get even more uncomfortable.”Continue Reading