Dining out with small children does not have to be difficult.

Good Restaurants for Babies & Kids

by Sheryl Faber

Finding a restaurant that welcomes small children and families can be a challenge. It's important to look for key characteristics that can make your mealtime a pleasure both for your family and for other guests around you. Don't think you have to stay home just because you have small children; there are inviting venues available that provide relaxing and enjoyable dining experiences for all.

1. Atmosphere

Stepping into a restaurant with elegant table linens and flickering candles -- something you probably used to appreciate -- may make parents of small children cringe. Pale carpets, upholstered seating and dim, romantic lighting are all elements to veer away from when choosing your dining accommodations. Easy-to-wipe tables and chairs, hard floors, seating available for (hopefully short) wait times and diaper changing stations in the restrooms are all elements to look for when choosing a great place for your family to have a stress-free meal.

2. Supplies and Equipment

A restaurant with kid-friendly apparatus can make your meal even more pleasurable. Solid high chairs, booster seats and enough space around tables makes seating comfortable and accommodating, giving everyone room to enjoy their meal. Crayons, coloring pages, place mats with printed activities and even play areas with blocks or toys that keep children occupied are also welcome. Plastic bibs, crackers and readily available hand wipes are little extras that come in handy for a restaurant's youngest guests. Reusable plastic cups with straws and tight-fitting lids are also indicative of an establishment that has kids in mind.

3. Menus

Children's menus with enticing choices are also good indicators of a restaurant that caters to the younger crowd. Look for favorites such as macaroni and cheese, chicken fingers, hot dogs, pasta and hamburgers -- or whatever particular foods your kids eat. Healthier fare is also a plus -- items such as fresh vegetables, either raw or cooked, as well as green salads, cut fruits, juices and milk appeal to health-conscious parents. According to an article on BusinessWeek.com, "Apple slices do not a healthy kids' meal make." Parents are demanding more emphasis on fresh and wholesome food items for their youngsters.

4. Service

Service is always important when dining with the younger set. Servers who interact with children and respond to their needs can be one of the most important aspects of eating out. Reacting to situations, such as spilled milk or dropped silverware, is always a good indicator of the restaurant's attitude toward children, as are servers who anticipates a parent's needs. Cutting foods into small pieces, wrapping up uneaten meals and bringing extra plates when parents share their food with small children are all little gestures that show that the restaurant is in tune with today's family dining needs.

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