Here at Totally Richmond we often get requests about the best family restaurants in the area, and since we have kids it’s a subject that also interests us.
The good news is that a large percentage of Richmond restaurants now describe themselves as child-friendly, but it’s easier to say than deliver. Just because the manager doesn’t object to well-behaved children in the dining area does not mean that the place is genuinely great for kids.
So we’ve been asking around to pull together our top ten list of things that restaurants should have (or do) to make them great places for families. Whether you run a restaurant and you think it hits most of our criteria, or you’re a family and want to recommend somewhere, just leave a comment at the end of the post!
A kids menu is an absolute must. Keep it simple and keep it reasonably priced because mum knows that little Emma is not going to eat more than half of it anyway. And definitely don’t charge full price for half size drinks, or serve them in fragile glass.
Kids love pizza and ice-cream and parents like a few healthy organic vegetables scattered around to make them feel better about feeding their children junk food. In fact if you start the meal with a few organic nibbles this will not just be healthier, but stop the children breaking into screams of hunger.
Be flexible with the menu. If little Jade wants chips instead of mash, tell the chef he’s not going to lose his Michelin star for this and just serve what the punters want.
It’s pretty obvious that good family restaurants need safe and clean high chairs in decent numbers. Don’t buy high chairs with complicated straps that are hard to clean and designed to trap little fingers, and don’t store in an inaccessible corner so that the waiter has to carry them across the heads of diners to get them to our table. That’s just embarrassing for us.
It’s also always fun to eat in booth style seating because the adults can sit on the outside and the youngsters can mess about on the seats and under the table without everyone noticing.
3. The Table
The first sign that your restaurant isn’t kid friendly is the white tablecloth. No parent wants to leave their table with giant streaks of chocolate ice-cream glaring at them. A nice clean shiny table is more practical and therefore more welcome for us families.
Mums and dads also stress when they see a table covered in fragile, sharp or potentially messy things like mustard or salt in a bowl. If you do want beautiful glasses, steak knives and vases on the table – either move them away from the kids or clear them away just before people like us sit down. Mum and dad will smile. If you want to put lots of things on the table, may we suggest a large supply of napkins?
Parents also like space. They don’t like to be stuffed into a corner on a small table because it makes it harder to get around and pick up the fork that little Ethan just dropped, and harder to move the candle away from him on the table.
Parents often take their children to restaurants not just to avoid cooking, but for a little distraction. All children love to get an activity pack so that they can get into colouring, drawing, quizzing or anything else that will allow mum to have a sip of Pinot Grigio. Colouring placemats are a good solution because they also help reduce the mess on the table. And we’ve even noticed that easy-to-recognise pictures on the wall can help. ‘Mummy look at that funny fish’.
Do not have a silent restaurant. Mum wants the noise from their table to be covered by some background music so that their screams aren’t echoed to every far corner of Richmond.
Whether the kids are in nappies or just beyond, it’s critical to have a clean and accessible baby change space and toilets. Ideally on the same floor as the tables.
For any restauranteur who hasn’t had children, pay attention to this next bit very carefully.
We spend our non-parent lives fastidiously avoiding touching anything in public toilets. We will come up with all kinds of ingenious ways to push handles, open doors and sit on seats without physically coming into contact with a bathroom surface.
But as a parent you’re suddenly going to be faced with your small and curious child touching absolutely everything they can find and in that process you’re also going to be getting your own hands dirty, in ways that you currently cannot imagine. So please please please make sure your toilets are always clean. If not, one day you’ll have kids and the full realisation will hit you very hard. Also, have some paper towels handy as small children get scared by those loud hand dryers.
6. Service & Staff
The staff make the biggest difference. I’ve been in many so-called family restaurants in Richmond to see staff either unsure how to deal with kids or don’t really want them at their table.
What we want is a waiter/ess who will smile when we arrive, and don’t make us feel bad when we make a noise and a mess (because both will happen). Fast service is essential to stop the kids getting bored and many parents will want to order food for little Sophia as soon as they sit down, if not before.
When the food arrives, if there are two small kids sharing one meal, please bring a second plate. If you can serve it on two plates (half and half) we will likely leave a bigger tip because you’ve actually thought to help.
Buggies are a pain for parents too. So please make sure that you can get a buggy through your front door without creating a scene, remembering that some people have double width buggies, and that you can wheel them to the storage area (you do have a storage area, right?) without asking other diners to get up out of their chairs.
It might be nice to ask mum whether she has taken everything she needs from the pram before you pack it away.
8. Outdoor Space
Obviously outdoor space is a premium, and we don’t expect every family restaurant to have this. Children love to run around when grown-ups are being boring drinking cups of over-priced coffee.
But the dream scenario is an outdoor play area with protective flooring (ie not hard concrete) that’s visible from the restaurant itself.
And make sure that it’s enclosed, we don’t want strangers wandering in.
A car park is a godsend when you’re negotiating kids, buggies, toys, tempers and colds – especially in Richmond where so much of the area is controlled parking and requires the added complication of pay and display.
If you do have a car park, please make sure the spaces are wide enough for us to open the rear doors and get the children out of their car seats. And for those of us who like to arrive on bicycle, somewhere safe and secure to lock our bikes would be very useful.
10. Think about the Grown-Ups
We like good food. We want all the things above, but we don’t want to have to eat microwaved junk ourselves. Just because we were stupid enough to pay three times the national average for our houses doesn’t mean we are stupid enough to eat bad food when we take our kids out. And we do like a glass of wine to take the edge off, so make sure the house wine is decent and hasn’t been open all night.
Finally, we want accommodating diners. There’s nothing worse than people tut-tutting about our children’s noise. Please don’t sit us next to those people.
Inevitably that list turned out to be longer than we expected. Do you agree? Do you know of places in the Borough of Richmond that meet this criteria? Or are we just a bunch of whining parents? (and btw – we have a section for the best things to do with kids in Richmond if you’re interested)