Kids and restaurants

What’s acceptable dining out behavior for kids? Should parents be concerned about what others think or just let their kids be kids? Find out what two local couples have to say and check out their top picks for local family-friendly restaurants.

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the latest installment of our parenting column written by two sets of Richmonders: Jorge and Patience Salgado (veteran parents of four gorgeous children), and Ross and Valerie Catrow (parenting rookies who have only been doing this “raising a child thing” for a few months). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

Today’s question: How do you feel about kids in restaurants? Any favorite local, kid-friendly places?

The Salgados

It was the first warm day of spring and everyone in Carytown had the same idea. We decided it was the perfect day to window shop and enjoy a leisurely lunch outside with our three kids at the time. Carytown Burger and Fries was a total zoo, about 500 people crammed into the 2 x 6 space where you order. For some reason, maybe it was our winter cabin fever but this did not deter us. We ended up waiting over an hour to get our food, let me tell you it was the longest hour of my entire life. Jorge and I looked at each other, convinced this must be what hell is. At one point, our almost two year old was climbing on top of his head.

“Oh no, we are those people, the people with the unruly, annoying kids in the restaurant.” I said. We both laughed nervously. The only thing worse is being the parent of the kid screaming on a plane. This ended our restaurant time for a while. Honestly, up until that point, I had been happily taking my two little boys to fine eating establishments for years with very little problem. Places a tiny bit fancier than good ole’ Carytown Burger and Fries, but not too fancy – we aren’t exactly foodies.

Do you think there are some places that children just should not be? Does our society have unrealistic expectations; are we still stuck in the “children should be seen and not heard” era? Being a mother of four, the noise, crying, and chaos truly do not bother me. My superpower is being able to function and enjoy myself under all circumstances, but I do not expect others to have the same ability or desire to be understanding in all places. Where do we draw the line? Is it okay to have kids at Nacho Mama’s but not Can Can or Edo’s Squid? Or just the quiet, adult-like children? I’m not sure what the answer is but I don’t enjoy the stress so we save some places for a night alone together or have periods of take out joy.

If you are looking for the kid friendly eats here in our beloved RVA, these are our tried and true.

Joe’s Inn (Southside)

Oh the brilliance of having cheap fast food toys in a basket by the door! My kids beg to go there just to play with junk I would never buy. We could have a 20 course meal there if we wanted. (2616 Buford Road)

Bottom’s Up

Service is a little slow but the wait staff always is kind enough to seat us in a spacious area outside with the other parents and stock us with plenty of crayons and drawing paper. The pizza is worth the wait. (1700 Dock Street)

Strawberry Street Café

Kids eat free on Wednesday nights. The kids think having a bathtub in a restaurant is just awesome. (421 North Strawberry Street)


A favorite for breakfast at our house. It’s always bustling and busy which seems to work for our brood. (111 East Grace Street)

When in doubt, just go anyway and dress your kid in this.

The Catrows

There’s a coffee and sandwich shop up in Fredericksburg with a framed sign sitting on the counter:

“Unattended children will be given an espresso and a puppy.”

Humorous, yes. Some might think a bit extreme. But I think the intended message is justified.

In the 7 1/2 months I have been a parent, I have quite frequently been on the receiving end of blatant eye rolls and annoyed sighs from fellow patrons as I lug my little boy into a local restaurant for lunch. Sometimes I want to stare those people down and say “Are we NEVER supposed to go out in public?” But at the same time, I do see where they’re coming from; I too have spent many a “nice evening out” watching some exhausted-out-of-his-mind kid run laps around the restaurant as his parents enjoy their dinner at the next table, oblivious to (or choosing to ignore) what their child is doing.

The issue of kids in restaurants is tricky. While restaurants are public places (and “public” does include children) that doesn’t mean that when people go there they are signing up for a free-for-all. But, with kids come a little chaos now and then: kids cry, kids spill things, kids get antsy. And as long as they aren’t invading your personal space, I think I little slack needs to be cut now and then.

However, as parents, we think one of our most important jobs is to teach our kid how to be considerate of other people. We can’t do that if he’s never *around* those other people.

When Ross was growing up, his parents took him out every Wednesday to family-friendly restaurants for the sole purpose of teaching him how to behave properly in public – places where good behavior was still expected, but the occasional meltdown would probably go unnoticed by the other customers. It can’t be a weekly event for us at this point (hello, recession!) but we do make an effort to take our son out whenever we can. Like with everything, practice makes perfect. And while we don’t expect perfect behavior from our child, we do expect him to use his manners and show consideration for others. The only way he’ll know to do that is if we put him in situations where he has to.

Luckily, there are a quite a few places around town that are perfect for “restaurant practice.” Here are some of our favorites…

Northside Grille

This is perhaps one of the most family-friendly places in town: wide aisles that allow room for high chairs, changing table in the bathroom, toys set up in the back, and at least one waiter who consistently brings my little guy a package of crackers to tide him over while we wait for our food. (1217 Bellevue Avenue)

Red Robin

True, not Richmond-specific, but this is definitely one of those places where a little squawking will go unnoticed. Plus, there are tons of ceiling fans in that place, a 7-month old’s dream come true. (Find a location near you.)

La Casita

It’s a little cramped at times, but the staff at this little Northside gem is always very sweet to the little ones and will do their best to find you a table that will let you spread out a bit without interfering with other diners. There’s also a nice busy hum without it being too loud, and their ceiling plastered with Christmas lights are sure to put your little ones in a trance entertain your little ones long enough for you to scarf down your food. (5204 Brook Road)

Joe’s Inn (The Fan)

The smoke-free “family” side is can be a bit of a squeeze with a high chair, but their long list of side dishes are great and easily-modified for the little ones just trying out solid food. And I can see their all-day breakfast service being helpful should we end up with a picky eater who only wants to gobble down pancakes. (205 North Shields Avenue)

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Patience Salgado

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