Thursday, April 14, 2011

Kids in public

Took my kids out to dinner the other night at Red Robin, which we usually like because they have both acceptable grown up food and kid food, they are reasonably priced, they have a little game room at the front to distract the kids, and they sell beer which on occasion is a requirement. It's one of our top default out-to-dinner-with-the-whole-tribe destinations.

Normally they do a really good job there. Last night, not so much. Rather than rehash what went wrong here (don't worry -- I'll passively/aggressively rehash it in a second) I'll just list out some ideas that may help servers and restaurants better meet the needs of their customers, enable said customers to spend money, and encourage the same customers to leave more tips.

If someone walks into your restaurant with a child or children under 10, please always do the following things.

  1. Always remember the golden rule parents have when taking their children out in public: Get your children out of public as fast as is humanly possible. This not happening has never once been good for anyone.

  2. Constantly look over to me, wherever you are in the room. If you are not in the room, constantly get in the room and look at me. Look down just long enough to jot down orders in your little book for your other tables and to avoid running into a busser and hilariously destroying a bunch of dishes. I am not necessarily going to need very much from you, but when I do, I need it NOW! Don't make me bust out an "Excuse me" from across the restaurant.

  3. Be ready to take my order the second I sit down. Your kids menu has the exact same food as every other kids menu. My kids already know what they want (or, quite possibly never will, but I'll already know what I want to order for them). I'll know what I want. If I'm waiting on someone, assume that I know what they want and can order for them. If, heaven forbid, I'm not ready to order, see rule #2 above.

  4. Under no circumstances should you go on break while I am there. Ever. If you do, turn the ticket over to someone else and make them aware of rule #1. Do not deliver our food, check on us, then be gone for a half an hour, because I'll be ready to leave 5 minutes after our food arrives.

  5. No matter what happens, be gracious. I'm not any happier about my kids being here than you are, but at some point they need sunlight or they'll get a Vitamin-D deficiency, and sometimes I don't want to dip from the unending pot of mac-and-cheese with hot dogs cut up in it. We are here, deal with it. Acting perturbed isn't going to do anything but help me break rule #1, which isn't good for anybody. I know we are messy. I have plenty of disposable income to make it up to you. Don't make me feel like an a-hole.

  6. Bring my children's food as soon as it is ready. Make mine soon afterwards. Push my food to the front of the line. Trust me, people will understand.

  7. Do not serve my children food that is 3 billion degrees. I understand they only eat fried things and those things are fried in very hot oil, but delivering food that my children can't eat for 20 minutes and will burn themselves on isn't any better than bringing it 20 minutes later at an appropriate temperature.

  8. For the love of God do not say the word "dessert" or any examples of it in front of my kids. I'm well aware that your restaurant serves it, and if I want some I'll ask you. In fact, if I want some, I will have almost certainly already ordered it at the same time as my meal.

  9. Little known fact to non-parents: kids never actually eat food at restaurants. I can't take this food with me for future use as a car air freshener or home penicillin kit if I don't have boxes. I won't want to wait on those boxes. Give me some boxes when you give us our food.

  10. Offer me my check within 2 minutes of my food hitting the table. You can always go add more stuff to it if you need to, but I need to be ready to pay now. Be fully prepared for me to hand you my credit card at any point. Always be ready to take my money and take it quickly. Nothing will lose you a tip faster than a long wait to actually complete the transaction (note: that is also true when I'm out without kids).

So that's pretty much it. Hitting on all of that stuff will assure you a 25+%  tip every time. Anything less and I'll blog your butt and send the link into corporate.

Finally, in honor of my son's fifth birthday, here's a bonus tip.

  • If I ask you about a damned birthday cake and singing as I'm ordering, assume I'm not interested in waiting for 10 minutes after all of us are done eating in order to go and track down the hostess to hurry you up because you've already broken rule #2. This will result in a pre-tax tip of 15%, which, quite frankly, you were lucky to get.

To the good people at Red Robin corporate who may be reading this, please don't fire this guy. He was really nice and didn't come anywhere near breaking all of these rules (he was polite and professional, but really, really hard to track down and everything took FOREVER even though we beat the rush), but as a family-friendly restaurant I would encourage you to make sure your people know that families dining with you have special needs, and doing a better job meeting them will help you (and your staff) make a lot more money.

Please note that some of our follow up experiences at Red Robin have been much, much better.


  1. I think there needs to be one more rule regarding bathrooms. Either 1) Point out the clearest route to the bathroom as part of your greeting, or 2) please place families with young impressionable bladders close to the bathroom to avoid any mopping.

  2. Must be a girl thing. I pee waaaay more often than anyone in my family, so I've already sort of conditioned myself to look for the bathrooms when entering any establishment like a hitman looks for all of the exits when walking into a room.

  3. Good stuff. I think I will print and take this with me for all future family outings.

  4. Maybe we should print up some flyers.

  5. when I was a waiter in Boston, the phrase we used was "turn and burn": get the family in and out as fast as possible. most of my customers appreciated it, especially when there were really little kids involved. some, of course, did not. by the way: if the server is at least "a little" friendly to my boys, they can earn an extra 5% on that tip. "Oh, they're so cute." BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE!! Easy Money.

  6. Really agree. I'll never tip anyone as much as someone who makes my kids smile. You could bring me the wrong food and still make out like a bandit.

  7. keep ur kidz homeApril 17, 2011 at 7:34 AM


    Allow me to offer a differing view. As one who has raised their kids and prefer not to have to raise yours also, here's some supplemental "rules"

    1. Your kids are not entitled to receive preferential treatment every where they go. They are not entitled to go to the front of every line, and not entitled to have one on one personal attention at the expense of every one else in the establishment.

    2. If you expect your children to be exempted from rule #1, I'm sure you're also of the opinion they are entitled to stand on the seats and make cute faces at the people in the adjoining booth. These are the same people who have finished their meal, but can't get the attention of the server because they are too busy entertaining your precious little ones with balloons, singing, and costumed mascots.

    3. Please practice manners and etiquette at home. If every server and fellow patron has to change their behavior to accommodate your party, please reread this rule.

  8. I agree that children (least of all mine) don't deserve preferential treatment to the detriment of other patrons. I expect nothing from other patrons in regards to my children apart from not rolling their eyes the second they see them or making loud comments about them when they've been keeping to themselves. If you'd rather not dine with children, I completely understand, but if that is the case might I recommend not going to dinner with some place that specifically caters to children (you'll notice this post was not written is response to an evening with kids out at Morton's, but to a place that has its own online kids fan club and hands out crayons when you walk in past the video arcade).

    That said, I do expect special treatment for my children from the server at said family-targeted restaurant. Their whole job, while on the clock, is to serve their patrons. Some require more care, which should result in a higher income. At least with children, as opposed to say Meg Ryan's character from When Harry Met Sally, they generally only need attentiveness and not a bunch of special orders (also, their disruptions, when they do occasionally and unfortunately occur, are far less likely to be obscene). I'm not asking for the server to chain him or herself to our table, I'm asking that they be attentive, which they should do for everyone in their restaurant all of the time anyway. Children are just an amplifier in this regard: a bad server can get away with that with adults by and large, but with kids the margin of error is much louder and food-throwinger.

    In sum, I agree my kids shouldn't inconvenience other diners, but they can damn well inconvenience the person we are paying to inconvenience, and the better that person deals with it the more money they can make (from my table and those surrounding mine). If they have no interest in that, they should seriously consider their life choices, or at the least the restaurant where they choose to play those choices out.

  9. This should be required reading at all family-style chain restaurants. Everyone should know that the tip is not just proportionate to their service, but will also include hazard pay/clean-up service if my kids are especially messy, obnoxious, or rude. So don't mess with me or piss me off when you see my kids freaking-out and spilling sugar packets.

  10. Those guidelines are spot-on. We've got four kids under the age of 7, so about once every two years my wife guilts me into taking them out in public to eat. There is about a 30-minute window at best where there is a 50% chance that it won't go miserably. Time is definitely of the essence.

    Funny stuff. Enjoyed it.

  11. I actually talked to the restaurant manager about this and he was great. They track a bunch of metrics on time, but it's hard to quantify the actual service experience. Fill out those surveys!

  12. Yep. I want in and out. Don't even care how the food tastes.

  13. I agree with both your points and the opposing points made by a previous comment.

    The thing is - how are children ever supposed to learn how to behave in public if we NEVER take them out in public? This is why family restaurants should be perfect places to take kids - they are supposed to be catering to families and the waitstaff should be trained on how to do that. If you want a nice night out without your children - or anyone else's children, go to a place that is NOT supposedly kid friendly. It may cost more, yes. But you are paying for the ATMOSPHERE in those places - NOT the food.

    Thankfully, I have three kids who are just angels sent from heaven and behave in public. Or it was the massive amounts of beatings they received that I hid from Child Protective Services. Or maybe a combination. Who knows? (and no, I didn't really hide the beatings from CPS. They are very well aware that a wooden spoon used to be my best friend. She went everywhere with us. And I mean everywhere. Just the sight of the spoon made the kids stop doing whatever it was that they were doing.)

    * as a side note, I am from the south, were we refer to everything as a beating. It doesn't really mean beating as in abuse. If I smacked my child's hand, I call that a beating.

  14. Excellent advice. #3 made me laugh. My kids order chicken fingers and fries at every single restaurant (actually, at every meal). If only we could arrive at our table to find plates of room-temp chicken fingers, fries, take-home boxes and the check-- life would be good.

  15. As a woman reading your blog, I feel like an unwanted guest in the man cave. :) Enjoyed reading your blog and this post in particular - can very much relate. Also like the header photo. Congrats on being FPd!

  16. I can relate on all levels to your post. As a former slave... I mean server I took care of lots of families with mixed results ($$$). Now that I am a parent, the shoe is on the other foot. I am looking forward to reading more of the opposite perspective, since I am trying to relate to my suburan husband.

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