Chicken fingers to the left. Chicken fingers to the right. For years, the issue of kids in restaurants and children's menus has divided chefs and patrons alike. From New York--where one Brooklyn pizza shop (yes, a pizza shop, for Christ's sake) was forced to provide tike-specific dining options after the stroller set's boycott almost closed the restaurant. Another NY chef refuses to offer a children's menu. Instead, he gladly offers smaller portions of the regular menu's dishes for the bantam guests. New York is also the place where -- horror of horrors -- New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton brings his daughters to "work" with books when they become bored of dining at some of Gotham's finest eateries.
The Big Apple isn't the only battleground over rugrats. In Columbus, Ohio, the chef at Latitude 41 banned chicken fingers, replacing it with organic chicken teriyaki. Some businesses, like Walt Disney Co., have capitulated half-heartedly by nixing the automatic fries from plates.
And of course, let's not forget food blogs and discussion boards where writers and commenters release tirades behind the safety of electronic anonymity.
Those are other places. How do kids, children's menus and attitudes about their presence in restaurants play out in Dallas? A new child brings along with it a paradigm shift. The same applies to restaurateurs.
Chef Scott Gottlich, co-founder of Bijoux and The Second Floor Bistro & Bar, has two children. The Second Floor, located in a hotel, has a children's menu presented only to parties with kids. Whippersnappers can eat pancakes for breakfast, a Margherita pizza for lunch and a burger for dinner -- not to mention chicken fingers.
"When you become a parent," says Gottlich. "Your priorities change. You become more tolerable and sensitive. You learn to let things go. A chef may be cooking the food, but it's the diner who is having the experience. You want them to walk away happy. A seared foie gras sandwich isn't going to work."
Bijoux's menu is decidedly not child friendly, offering dishes like oysters and veal. Nevertheless, children are welcome at upscale Bijoux, where Gottlich offers smaller portions of regular items. But, he says, "If you have a child who can't sit still for 10 minutes, you shouldn't be taking him out for a meal that might take two hours."
There's nothing like a toddler throwing a tantrum to ruin a date that ostensibly leads to sexy time. This might be why some restaurants present families with a children's menu listing safe eats. More often, the underlying reason is that children's palates are underdeveloped. Beyond that, the staff would prefer to avoid the ambience from being disrupted by unruly tikes.
Chef Stephan Pyles says he has never witnessed a pipsqueak meltdown in his restaurants. "I once saw a 3-year-old boy who set up the Indy 500 across the table with this Hot Wheels." Pyles may be one of the lucky few to have gone unscathed by children in the fine-dining arena. Then again, Stephan Pyles isn't a family restaurant, and parents know this. "We have items that appeal to kids. But we don't have a children's menu. We have flatbreads and pizzas and are pretty flexible to the needs of diners." If given the chance, kids will surprise you, says Pyles.
Obviously, with understanding on the part of diners (breeder's included!) and restaurants, taking a child out to eat doesn't have to be the Spanish Inquisition. The donnybrook surrounding children's menus and children in restaurants needn't be as melodramatic as a child who clearly missed his nap struggling with peas on a white tablecloth.