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.

10 Extra Special Valentine’s Day Special Requests

With Valentine’s Day coming up this weekend, we’ve been thinking about special requests a lot. A LOT. Our data team has been crunching data. We’ve been looking for trends. And, we’ve been sifting through years of requests, looking for our favorites. Some are heartfelt, some are desperate cries for help, and some are deliberately cheeky — and they’ve all left us hoping the restaurants were able to fulfill these requests (particulary #1 — we sincerely hope you survived, dear diner!).

1. “Can you make it extra romantic and nice? A booth will be preferable. My girlfriend is a bit on the crazy side, and I would like to spend Valentine’s Day without getting screamed at. PLEASE HELP ME SURVIVE VALENTINES DAY!”

2. “If at all possible, we’d like a waiter with a ponytail/longer hair and/or accent.”

3. “Draw a puppy on a piece of paper and leave it on the table!”

4. “I want to get lucky with my girl tonight :)”

5. “A free meal for being so darn good looking!”

6. “I am sending my girlfriend here along with one of her friends. I am in Iraq right now and would like you to accept my credit card for this dinner.”

7. “[Female name, redacted] is breaking up with [male, name redacted].”

8. “No requests, but we’re just five ladies without dates on Valentine’s Day. Feel free if you’d like to give us chocolates or glasses of wine to fill our hearts with love.”

9. “I’m asking my date to prom, and I’m bringing cupcakes that say ‘me’, ‘you’, and ‘prom’ on them. Could our server or the manager bring them out as a special desert? Please and thank you!”

10. “Tell Libby she smells like Amish turkey.”

Valentine’s Day Diners Are Getting More Demanding

The soft music of Argentine tango, or a live jazz ensemble playing away in the background, long-stemmed roses laid across the table, candlelight, a warm greeting with glasses of Champagne, a table by the fireplace, or near a window with a spectacular view of the sunset — these are some of the things many couples look forward to for the perfect Valentine’s day dinner.

Some of these aspirations get reflected in the requests diners make to the restaurant while making their V-day reservations. At OpenTable, we have a treasure trove of these requests dating back to 2004. When we laid them out in chronological order, we started seeing some interesting trends.

Continue reading on the OpenTable tech blog Ingredients.

How Restaurants Handle Your Special Requests on Valentine’s Day — Plus Tips from Top Managers

RequestsValentine’s Day is one of our favorite holidays, but we’ll be the first to admit that it can be a high-pressure day for some couples. After reviewing thousands of special requests, it’s clear that there are a lot of people out there seeking romantic redemption at a restaurant on February 14. Diners’ special requests on Valentine’s Day range from the vague (“Make it extra special!”) to the particular (“When paella is ordered, if possible, shape the meal into a heart.”), but the overall theme of the many requests restaurants receive is that everyone wants their Valentine’s meal to be something special (some need it to be more so than others). We talked to three restaurant professionals for their take on diners’ requests, and they reveal everything from what’s a bit too much to what they want to hear more of — and why you should let them handle the heat.

Under Pressure
“Valentines Day with new girlfriend. Help me out. I am clueless.”

Restaurants see a solid uptick in special requests on Valentine’s Day– and given the perceived stakes, it’s not surprising. Jeff Benjamin, author of the forthcoming Front of the House: Restaurant Manners, Misbehaviors & Secrets, partner in the Vetri family of restaurants, and general manager at Vetri in Philadelphia, notes, “The expectation levels on Valentine’s Day are higher — sometimes artificially higher. We can tell when one member of the party is very nervous. If it’s a first night out with that date or maybe it’s a ‘Hey, I’m not so sure we’re going to continue dating and now all of a sudden we’re out on Valentine’s Day’ kinda thing – that’s a lot of pressure.”

Philippe Vongerichten, director of operations at Jean-Georges restaurant in Manhattan, agrees. “Valentine’s is one of those nights, almost like New Year’s Eve. You have men who don’t know what kind of flower their girlfriend likes. They’re panicking. They’re not used to making romantic moves. Our job is to make sure they get the best service and that everything goes well — and that they forget about any stress.”

At Lucy Restaurant & Bar at Bardessono in Yountville, California, as at Jean-Georges and Vetri, the staff phone all diners who place special requests to discuss them in detail. This helps the restaurants create a plan and to get a read on future guests. General manager Guy Barstad says, “You can put private notes in OpenTable on a particular reservation, and I might type, ‘This diner seems a little nervous,’ if that’s the case.

The ordinary and the extraordinary
“Can I have a Brazilian band playing music and red roses?”

While common requests include diners seeking booths, window seats, or private/quiet tables, as well as flowers, each restaurant gets its share of unusual requests. At Lucy, “We had a customer who made a reservation for our very last seating, and he and his date sat in the bar and waited until every other diner left, had me blow out all the candles in the dining room, turn the lights down as low as possible, and the two of them dined in the dark. And, they loved it,” says Barstad.

At Vetri, Benjamin says, “Several years ago, a man with his wife were coming in, and it was a first time out for them since they’d had a baby. The gentleman sent a script for us [related to a forthcoming present] ahead of time. The staff and I had fun with it at first, but we could tell midway through that his wife was getting uncomfortable with it. And, none of us [at Vetri] had thought about the effect these exchanges would have on the surrounding diners in the room. So, midway through, we talked with him about it, and he said, ‘You know, I overthought it; maybe tone it down a little.’ We ended up just bringing the gift he’d bought her with dessert at the end, and he was very happy.”

At the elegant Jean-Georges, a guest requested that staffers throw rose petals as he and his date walk through the entrance, a request they were unable to meet. “We’re very sorry, but this is not Coming to America.”

Managing Everyone’s Expectations
“I will be dining with a woman named [redacted]. Please tell her how beautiful she looks.”

While almost all restaurants will do their best to meet your special request, it’s a good idea to temper your own expectations. For example, while staffers may not be able to pave your path with rose petals or feel comfortable explicitly telling your date how beautiful she looks, they may find another way to carry out your wish. Says Barstad, “We actually compliment diners on a regular basis, but we come from a place of, ‘You took some time to get ready and you look great!’ With any ask, he reveals, “If you request it, and we have it or can tastefully do it, it will happen.”

One of the ways restaurants meet guests’ expectations is to let them know if they cannot be met on a particular night, says Benjamin. “You don’t want to start off with the idea that you’re going to underwhelm someone. If we can’t give someone the table they requested, for example, I can say ahead of time, ‘I guarantee you that everything else other than your table choice is going to be perfect, and we’re going to make everything special for you.’”

Oftentimes, when a restaurant cannot fulfill a request, it’s because, says Vongerichten, “Guests are scared of their wife or valentine and are trying to throw too much at it [the evening].” Instead of overthinking it, let the restaurant create the experience for you. Embracing the foundations of fine hospitality, the Jean-Georges staff makes sure everyone feels important. “When most people come through the door on Valentine’s Day, they love being recognized as if they were a regular guest. We can tell who the host of the dinner is, and we’re sure to greet that person by name.”

Didn’t make a special request? Don’t fret. “Even if you don’t make a special request, you’ll still be treated special,” says Vetri’s Benjamin. “First-time diners are just future regulars.” Getting ready to make a special request? Barstad, Benjamin, and Vongerichten offer up their tips for one on Valentine’s Day, below.

Book early to help secure your ask.
“Make your Valentine’s Day reservations as early as possible — that way you get everything you ask for,” advises Barstad. “We can see when the reservation was made, so if someone tells me in December that they want a window table on Valentine’s Day, they’re likely to get it. If someone requests that on February 13, the odds are that it is unavailable.”Continue Reading