RVA Family: Dining with tiny humans

Kids’ behavior when eating out works on a continuum. So which Richmond restaurants are most able and willing to help us navigate the unpredictability inherent to dining out with tiny humans?

For the sake of our sanity, my wife Kat and I have built eating at a restaurant into our budget once a week. It’s a luxury to not have to plan for, prepare, and clean up after a meal. Sometimes we splurge and have a beer or–when the spirit moves us–a dessert.

But, even at home, a meal with our kids is unpredictable. Are they cranky? Did they demand a 4:00 PM snack that ruined their appetites? Will they only eat the complex carbohydrates on their plates or will they ingest some protein? Will they push their plates away in disgust and storm off to their rooms, stomping and throwing whatever’s within reach?

At restaurants, believe it or not, kids tend to be better behaved than when at home. Kids act their worst around those who they trust to unconditionally love them. It’s safe to throw ketchup on the floor at home, because although it will make mom and dad super angry, they know that at the end of the day we’ll love them. At a restaurant, a server’s love has to be earned.

So, while our kids are generally better behaved in public than at home, it’s a continuum, and they aren’t perfect. While we avoid most meltdowns, food is sometimes rejected stubbornly, and impatience can lead to crankiness and tears.

Because of this unpredictability, we tend to go to the same restaurants over and over again. Most weeks, we go to The Mill. The food is great, the servers know us and our kids, and the kid’s meals are highly to-go-able if we need to make good on our threat to leave the restaurant early. It’s a known quantity: we know we’ll get a table, we know the kids will find something to order, and we know we can take it home when they choose not to eat that night.

This known-quantity stuff is important. Trying a new restaurant is not without anxiety, even if you don’t have kids: What food will I order? Will we get a table? Where will we park? Add the stress of bringing children along (Will they hate our children on principle? Will the kids eat anything? Will I pay $10 for something my kid won’t eat?), and it’s enough to make a person only eat at Panera.

Now while The Mill is great and we’re not going to stop giving them our business–Kat and I are interested in trying out different places from time to time. Some places are fancy and will require us to leave the kids with a sitter. However, some places would be great for our family–if we could only get over the inertia that’s keeping us from trying them.

As we look at where to try, we look at your websites, restaurateurs. Do you have a kid’s menu on your website? This is our first indication that we’ll be welcome at your establishment. Is that kid’s menu reasonably priced? The cheaper we can order a meal for our kids that they may or may not eat, the more likely Kat and I are to order your higher-margin beers. Do you open at 5? We’ve trained ourselves to eat at babies-and-old-people o’ clock to minimize potential evening crankiness. None of this is to say every restaurant is for families with kids, but if kids are welcome in your establishment, let us know! We want to give you money–we’re tired of Noodles & Company.

There’s also strength in numbers. Recently, we ate at The Daily in Carytown for the first time and were relieved to see that we weren’t the only family there. Nothing makes a family feel welcome more than, well, evidence that families are welcome. An, that maybe our kids won’t be the worst behaved kids in the building. We had a delicious meal, our children were welcomed as patrons, not a burden, and added another restaurant to our “low-stress” list.

What local Richmond restaurants do you like to dine at with your tiny humans? Where do you like to eat grown-up food while your offspring eats an artisanal quesadilla? Leave suggestions in the comments below, and I promise not to steal your table.

Photo by: smohundro

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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Tiffanie on said:

    The Betty has a great kids menu!

  2. Karen on said:

    Mekong. All day long.

  3. Bryce yancey on said:

    The dairy bar for lunch/breakfast, station 2 has kids menu plus plenty of brews for the big kids, burgerworks in the west end is fast and kid friendly, if not a true restaurant atmosphere. We are looking for more spots too!

  4. Betsy on said:

    We have always had luck with our three yr old at the Mexico Restaurant chains. They usually sit you in a “family” section with other kids, and service is really fast.

    Joe’s inn in Bon Air is also family friendly!

  5. Jess on said:

    The Daily is a great suggestion: delicious food and very welcoming. We enjoy eating at Supper, though it’s a bit small and stays quite busy. But they have high chairs and there are usually other families there too.

  6. Paul on said:

    Can Can is actually excellent with kids.

  7. Ryan on said:

    Giovanni’s in Mechanicsville, though stay away on Friday evenings (almost 30 min wait) otherwise you are seated immediately. Chuy’s in Short Pump – my 4 year old loves it and asks to go.

  8. Kristen on said:

    We love Joes inn. They have a great kids menu! :)

  9. Jenn on said:

    We are big KidsDineFree fans in our house because the restaurants in the program are touting themselves as Kid-friendly plus we eat out enough as a family to make it a really good deal for us. A few of our favorites in the program include: O’Tooles, Baker’s Crust, several Mexican restaurants (Mexico, Nuevo Mexico, and Plaza Azteca), Extra Billy’s and Sushi-O

  10. Sarah on said:

    Strawberry Street Cafe has always been very kid friendly. Maldini’s and Galaxy on Southside are great too.

  11. Julie on said:

    I’m a new mom to a three and a half month old. So far, we’ve had great experiences. Dairy Bar was good and Family Meal was excellent. We went after the lunch rush and every one was super accommodating and very nice!

  12. Erin on said:

    Joe’s Inn (in the fan- despite being closer to the other one, I’ve found it to be downright awful) is always a go-to for us. 821, Pepe’s on Midlothian (or any Mexican for that matter), Galley, Kuba Kuba.

  13. karen on said:

    Pelon’s Baja Grill!

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