June 2, 2010

Industry Standard: Insider info for those who dine out

The Happy Meal sin

Question: Is it ever acceptable for parents to bring along food from another restaurant for their children to eat in a fine-dining establishment? Answer: Almost NEVER.

It happens frequently, though. Harried parents who want to dine out but have picky progeny feel it’s OK to bring along the “only food their kids will eat.” So they take up prime dining real estate with a bag of fast food. Well, it’s not OK. It’s rude. It’s an insult to the cooks, the chef, the owners. I know — you just want to have a nice, relaxing meal, and you don’t want to have to cajole your kids into eating something beyond their repertoire. Please think twice and examine all your options before you sin.

First, let’s exempt kids with allergies or special culinary needs. If your child can’t eat gluten or sugar, call the restaurant in advance and ask what they can provide. If they can’t make something your child can eat, then ask permission to bring something suitable. Everyone should be OK with that.

But if you’re the parent of a picky eater who will ONLY eat Chicken McNuggets, maybe you have a bigger problem. Perhaps you should try harder to expand your child’s palate. Perhaps you should be concerned about the salt and fat in your child’s fast food.

We recently had a spirited discussion about this issue in the restaurant forum on LouisvilleHotBytes.com. Some parents of picky eaters were adamant: If they were dining at a restaurant, the owners and chefs shouldn’t care if they brought food for their children. But it does matter. First, most restaurants can make kid-friendly dishes, even if they are not on the published menu. Quesadillas, grilled cheese, burgers, french fries, cheesy noodles — these are within reach of almost any kitchen. I know of no kitchen in Louisville, from Proof on Main to the tiniest taqueria, that can’t make something your kid will love.

If you really want to eat somewhere that won’t make a kid-friendly meal, leave the kiddos at home with a sitter. If that’s not an option, I can’t emphasize this enough: Call ahead and discuss it with the restaurant staff. Ninety percent of restaurants will be happy you asked and happy to give the cooks advance notice. Most do this already. If some won’t accommodate your request, avoid them.

Again, a kid with a Happy Meal is taking up valuable restaurant real estate. You and your spouse fit a two-top. You and your spouse and your Happy Meal-toting child take up a four-top. That’s two seats the restaurant could have offered to two other adult diners ordering from the menu.

Parents, put yourself in the business owner’s place: Would it be OK to bring your own clippers into a hair salon and take up a booth while you cut your child’s hair, just because you’re paying to get your own hair done in another chair?

If your children are too picky for fine-dining fare, we understand. All we ask is that you simply leave them at home until they are mature enough to try what we offer. We won’t make them eat foie gras. But what picky kid doesn’t like buttered noodles? All you have to do is ask. We are up to the challenge.

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, and Café Lou Lou. She is currently a chef instructor at Sullivan University, her alma mater. 

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