Family-friendly restaurants turn eating out with kids from a headache-inducing nightmare into a pleasant experience. Contrary to popular opinion, families are not relegated to a lifetime of McDonald's, Chuck E. Cheese, and other burger or pizza places. There are plenty of restaurants that are suitable for parents with children, even young children, in tow. Many of the best restaurants for families are chains, making it simple to find excellent choices regardless of the region where you live. Once you know your favorites, you can also visit them when on vacation.
The following restaurant chains have locations throughout the U.S. and are good options for families because of their menus, not to mention their attitudes towards serving families with children.
For a moderately-priced and family-friendly meal, consider Chili's. Chili's offers books, crayons, and coloring sheets to entertain kids while you are waiting for your dinner to arrive, and the music is usually loud enough to drown out any temper tantrums that can cause embarrassment in quieter restaurants. In addition, the restaurants feature interesting artifacts and pictures, all guaranteed to keep little ones occupied. The kids' menu features timeless favorites like burgers, chicken nuggets, pizza, and macaroni and cheese, in addition to unique offerings such as:
- Grilled chicken platter
- Cheese quesadilla
- Grilled chicken sandwich or grilled cheese sandwich
- Corn dog
In addition to fries, Chili's offers a wide variety of kids' side items, including:
- Cinnamon apples
- Fresh pineapple
- Mandarin oranges
- Corn (kernels or on the cob)
- Mashed potatoes
- Steamed broccoli
- Homestyle fries
- Salad or celery sticks with low-fat ranch dressing
Denny's is ideal for budget-conscious families. Kids' meals are affordable, and so are regular meals for the parents. What's more, Denny's offers side choices beyond the usual French fries. Kids' choices include:
- Vegetables with dip
- Goldfish crackers
- Mixed fruit
- Mashed potatoes
Denny's is famous for offering breakfast all day, making pancakes, a kids' favorite, a popular choice. Kids' options include chocolate chip pancakes and many sports theme-decorated pancakes.
Kids' drink choices include milk and juice in addition to soda. For added fun, Denny's gives children tasteless color packets to jazz up their water or juice. Crayons and coloring sheets are on hand for quiet entertainment at the table.
The Melting Pot
For a one-of-a-kind dining experience, try out The Melting Pot. Be forewarned, this is not budget-friendly fare, but it is ideal for special events or occasional splurges if your kids are old enough to sit quietly at the table. The Melting Pot is a fondue restaurant, featuring creamy, cheesy concoctions. Kids will have a blast dipping bite-sized bread, vegetables, and apples into the fondue, and they just might not notice that they're eating healthily. For dessert, this restaurant offers a dizzying array of snack-sized treats, all designed to be dipped in chocolate sauce. Salads and entrees are also available. In 2004, Child magazine named it the best restaurant for families.
Ruby Tuesday offers a fun, low-key environment for family dining. Although details vary by location, all Ruby Tuesday restaurants feature fun music and a friendly staff. The kids' menu includes:
- Pasta Marinara
- Grilled cheese
- Mini burgers
- Macaroni and cheese
- Chicken tenders
- Fried shrimp
- Chop Steak
For side items, choose between French fries, mashed potatoes, broccoli, grilled zucchini, sugar snap peas, green beans, apples, or grapes. As with adult meals, children can visit the salad bar for a small added fee on top of the meal price.
Criteria for Finding Family-Friendly Restaurants
To cater to families well, a restaurant needs to have more than loud music and dancing clowns, although those do help. A restaurant fit for the entire family should provide a balance of convenience, entertainment, and good food. Given the choice, many children would never go beyond a menu of chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, soda, and French fries. While many family-friendly restaurants do offer those favorites, they offer healthier options as well. In addition, good dining options for parents with children should feature:
- Comfortable seating for children of all sizes
- Changing tables in restrooms, preferably in both male and female facilities
- Relatively quick service
- Books, crayons, or other engaging at-table activities for kids
- Friendly staff
- Music, television, or other entertainment away from the table area
Tips for Eating Out with the Family
Try as you might, there are times when you have to go to opt for restaurants that may not be ideal for kids. With a few adjustments, any restaurant can be a success for both you and your children:
- Try to plan your meals at off-peak times so that you are not waiting for a long time to get your meal. Making hungry kids sit for long periods is like inviting crankiness to your table.
- Although it may seem counter-intuitive, offer a snack before leaving for the restaurant so that nobody is starving while waiting for dinner to arrive.
- Take your own quiet activities, including: books, crayons, coloring sheets, and quiet handheld games.
A little careful planning can go a long way into making each dinner out a success. If your kids are having a good time and are quietly sitting at the table with you, you will be able to enjoy your meal out and your family time together.