And I don't mean variety as in steak house, burger joint, japanese fusion, java hut, etc.
I mean category as in how friendly a restaurant is for your average family of four. And hey - I happen to be a member of a family of four, so I'm an expert.
Some restaurants are great for kids, some not so much. I hate going to some restaurants where my kids might be a little unruly or loud and I get nasty stares... Hey buddy, you're in a Denny's, get over it. If we were in The Melting Pot I could understand those stares. But when you're in a restaurant billed as "family fare," you got no place to be staring at me.
And as a heads up - you may want to take notes, because this is usable in every day life!
So here are the different types of restaurants I've come up with:
- Fast Food, Type A - Yes, there are two types of fast food restaurants. While all are generally kid-friendly, not all fast food joints are the same. Type A are the ones with Play Areas. The coveted play areas are a must for moms (and dads) who want a few minutes to chew in peace. These are especially nice in extreme weather conditions (snow, rain, 10,000* heat, etc). Some of these can even get a "+" after their A when the play area doesn't have dining tables inside and the kids must go into a fairly sound-proof room in order to play. Ahhhh...
Restaurants that fit Fast Food, Type A:
- Fast Food, Type B - These are the fast food restaurants that do not have those magical play areas to occupy your children while you're cruising Facebook on your iPhone. Still fast, still incredible non-nutritious, but it's more of an in and out type thing.
Restaurants that fit Fast Food, Type B:
- Fast with Service - These aren't necessarily fast food, but they are quick and someone serves you instead of you having to round up your whole crew just for more Dr. Pepper. These are also generally cheaper than the 'Family Friendly' restaurants. Mom & Pop places fit this bill as well as other quick service places. This is also where Little Old People go and they don't seem to mind the antics of little ones because they're "so incredibly adorable" (and yes, I have heard that several times).
Restaurants that fit the Fast with Service category:
any meat & three diner
- Family Friendly - this is the widest category of restaurant. Family Friendly is defined as any place that provides your child(ren) with a colorable menu and a variety of crayons (bonus points if they have the little individual boxes of crayons). The kids have their own menu, they're occupied and you feel like you are a grown up again because the place serves margaritas. This is usually the place where people out on date night or business meetings give you the evil eye for bringing your children into a restaurant. But hey - they have the crayons, so they're just as welcome as you are Mr. & Mrs. Abercrombie. Get over it.
Restaurants that are billed as Family Friendly:
- Borderline - These are the restaurants where kids go, but they aren't necessarily the best place for kids under 8 or so. There might be a kid's menu (or they can order the "smaller portion"), but it's really not the place for small kids. I take mine there anyway because we usually have a group of kids and people can't give nasty stares to 5 kids all together because in those numbers they usually play well. But these restaurants are best reserved for special occasions that do well kid-free.
Restaurants that are Borderline:
Wild Wing (simply for the noise/drunkenness factor)
Olive Garden (ok, I realize this may be "Family Friendly," use your discretion depending on your kids)
- No Kids Allowed - Now, there's only a few places I can think of that falls into this category, but that's because I live in a small Southern town and we just don't have these places around here. But these are the restaurants where children should not go. There may be a few reasons why - expense, lack of crayons, opulent decor...I'll also include any place where the alcohol menu is bigger than the food menu or where people are scantily clad. If you need to hide your children's eyes, they shouldn't be there.
Restaurants where you should hire a sitter:
Hooters (scantily clad)
The Melting Pot (price/opulence)
Tiger Town Tavern after 3pm* (drunkenness, but lunch time is usually okay)
So there you have it - the ranking of restaurants according to kid-friendliness. Maybe you should print this out and keep it in your purse for quick reference. When you pull up to a place you can whip out your list, check for kid-friendliness and decide if it's a place your wee ones can safely eat.
*If you are unfamiliar with Tiger Town Tavern, this is a local bar in Clemson that is frequented by college kids who have just turned 21 so that they can drink themselves into a stupor and get a free t-shirt announcing the legalness of their age. You can sub this with your local drunken pub.