Saturday, October 22, 2005

Child-friendly=family-friendly restaurants?

While on holiday I could not help but notice how much space some restaurants have 'invested' in play areas. One restaurant we went to had a space that could easily take another 35 to 40 diners devoted to children. They had built a wonderful obstacle course and soft play area that my son kept wanting to return to.

When I first worked in the UK the only children we saw at restaurants were Chinese ones, in one particular Chinese restaurant. There was, and still is, no play area for the children. Children were expected to sit quietly during the meal and ate just like adults.

The only distraction was a fish tank.

My own childhood experience of restaurants was just like that. We sat at huge round tables. We sat and made polite conversation. We sat and answered questions by relations we do not recognize at wedding banquets, etc. We sat and ate what the adults ate. When we got bored we were taken to the aquarium to watch the fishes.

Some restaurants have other types of fish tanks. Occasionally a member of kitchen staff would appear with a net, scoop up a fish from the tank, show it to the person who ordered fish, and return to the kitchen. Twenty minutes later we would have succulent steamed fish on the table.

In recent years I've noticed a movement towards more children being taken to meals at restaurants and pubs. The Italian pizza/pasta outlets seem most open to having young kids about. Colouring pencils/crayons and pictures/puzzles became a standard even at department store restaurants. Balloons are a hot favourite. One pub-restaurant near us thrives on being children-friendly. It is also my son's favourite.

But the noise level is horrendous for those not used to children.

I am not sure the whole idea of taking children to a restaurant is so that they could run wild in a soft play area while grown-ups eat and struggle to have a decent conversation amidst all that noise. While I appreciate distractions that would keep my son happy, I am not sure I like him disappearing between courses to play with new-found friends.

And what do children eat at these places? Chicken nuggets, hot dogs, hamburgers, scampi, all served with baked beans or peas with chips, spaghetti bolognese or pizza. O, and ice cream concoctions of one kind or another.

A large part of me wishes him to learn to sit and wait and eat a meal with the rest of the party. I look forward to taking him to a proper 'grown-up' restaurant when he's old enough to stay up late, to eat 'grown-up' food just like I had to as a child. Otherwise what's the point of taking a child to a restaurant?

Am I being old-fashioned, asking too much of this younger generation, or am I right in thinking that I am not the only one who thinks that some restaurants have gone a bit too far in being 'child-friendly'?

Back to Organic-Ally.

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