I was a waiter once, too. I know how hard your job is. The long hours on your feet, the crazy kitchen crew, the crappy staff meals, and the even crappier tips. But what trumps all of that is waiting on a table with children.
Oh, I know, I used to roll my eyes when I saw them coming in the door. Before long, I knew, I'd be reciting the specials over the sound of screaming, snotty-nosed brats. Sooner or later, one of them would knock over a glass of juice and I'd rush over to the table to clean it. Next thing you know, I'm in the weeds. All because of that kid. I'm sure he didn't mean to do that to me, just like I'm sure he didn't mean to drop his cup of Cheerios all over the floor. Some parents would pick up after them, others would not. And why is it that tables that require the most work are always the worst tippers? You learn a lot about the highs and lows of humanity being a waiter.
But four years ago a funny thing happened: my wife had a baby. And a couple of years later, she had another. So now I'm on the receiving end of eye-rolls from waiters. And I get it. But as someone who eats out for a living, I'm not about to stay at home every night until my children are young adults. I take them out to eat as often as I can. I want to raise good, polite eaters. I want to take them to places I want to eat. I want them to be exposed to new foods from around the world. I want them to realize that restaurants don't have to have games and Happy Meals to be fun. So, yes, I'm the guy standing outside with the double-decker stroller, peering in as you're finishing up that staff meal of kitchen-sink pasta. Now, you could do the minimum and hold out until the real diners arrive at 7 p.m., or you could embrace your job and show parents, kids, and all the old folks a good time. After all, you're probably going to be in the same boat as I am in a few years. So in the spirit of the season, I want to give a little something back to all of you waiters, from Brooklyn to Berkeley. Here are some ways you can make me and my kids happy. Why should you care to know them? Because you'll be happier, too. Take my advice, and I'll pick up every last Cheerio. I'll also tip you better than anyone. Because, as I said, I know how hard it is being a waiter--almost as hard as being a parent.
If we show up at 5 p.m., greet us with a smile and a warm welcome--not a sigh. Who else is going to show up at that time? If I get there at 8 p.m. with kids in tow, then you can roll your eyes and try to sell me the most expensive bottle of wine. My wife and I probably need it.
Don't assume my kids are going to be horrors. When dining out, I care about the well-being of you and the diners around me as much as I do my kids'.
Don't assume that just because we have kids we won't spend on food and drink. We'll put away as much as we possibly can in a flat 60 minutes.
Offer us a booth if you have one. We don't want to be in anyone's way, and I like a big booth even more than my kids do.
Offer a high chair or a booster if you have one. If you can accommodate stroller parking (God, I hate writing that phrase), then great. If not, just politely ask that parents leave strollers outside. No need to be rude.
Bring on the crayons, if you work at that kind of place.
Skip the place settings for kids under 1 year old. And what are you thinking putting a full tumbler of water, an empty wine glass, or a hot bowl of soup in front of a 9 month-old? You're asking for trouble.
Offer the kids straws. Kids love straws! And if the juice can arrive in a cup with a lid, even better.
Don't freak out if we break out the snacks for the little one. It'll keep her quiet, and we will pick up after them.
We don't want a kids' menu. Ever.
If you've got anything to snack on before the meal starts--vegetables, bread--offer it. I try not to take my kids out to eat when they are on the verge of starvation, but still. You'll be my hero.
Keep a close eye on our table. The faster we get in and out, the faster you can relax.