They are normal little girls with a need to move around and explore, and we are parents with a need to know that we can go to a restaurant without fear of being thrown out or ending up with a child in hospital with burns from scolding hot soup.

Through my work, I have discovered that many restaurant owners show reluctance towards a family friendly approach because they don’t want their ambience to be compromised by crying children and themed birthday parties. Other reasons mentioned are concerns around losing other customers if kids become a primary target market. These are valid concerns, but I have also seen some great examples where families and customers without children are equally happy. In these restaurants, families are acknowledged as a valuable target market and not a potential threat to the image of the place. If there is the will and commitment, a family friendly restaurant can also have gourmet ratings or vice versa.

For me, the best experience of eating out with my family starts with a friendly welcome at the door, acknowledging that we are a family with small children, with a subtle indication that they will do their best to make our stay comfortable. It is not so much about the perfect high chair (most toddlers won’t stay in them longer than 5 minutes anyway) or about an elaborate kids’ menu. Our children mostly end up eating my food, so I would rather have the choice of ordering them a smaller portion of what I’m having, or being able to share a selection of starters.

My favorite type of waiter is the one who makes sure that hot drinks don’t come near the edge of the table, and that kids’ food is served first, who automatically brings a bunch of serviettes with our meal rather than the obligatory one for each person; the one who gets a cushion for the toddler when there is no high chair. If our order takes a bit longer, they are creative enough to introduce a ‘starter’ of carrot and cucumber sticks. NOT SWEETS! Yes, children do love waiters who give them sweets before dinner, but parents don’t (at least this one doesn’t!). Basic principle: child friendly should also be parent friendly!

In my view, a family friendly place is one with a friendly and flexible attitude, and one that wants to make the experience pleasant both for the family, the staff and the other guests.

I love Cape Town, and I love exploring new places. And I look forward to seeing more and more restaurants taking up the challenge of becoming the most family friendly in my book…

BON APETIT!

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