Restaurant critics suffer all kinds of afflictions as a result of their curious jobs, but solitude isn’t one of them. The Gobbler’s 3-year-old daughter, Penelope, is just beginning to terrorize waiters around town, and we recently included an abbreviated list of our 7-year-old daughter Jane’s favorite dessert joints in the magazine’s roundup of the best places to eat in 2007. Since then we have been barraged with requests for tips — okay, one person wanted to know — on how to dine out in restaurants with young children. The short answer is that it’s easy, sort of. In the Gobbler’s experience, most restaurants in the city, including many of the very expensive ones like Le Bernardin and Le Cirque, will go out of their way to accommodate young children. All you need as a parent is experience, endurance, and a high capacity for shame. And the Gobbler’s rules for dining with kids.
“Monsieur, may we please sit in Siberia.” If it’s an even remotely fancy restaurant, ask — no, beg — for a table away from the crowds, in a dark corner, by the swinging kitchen door.
Make it quick. Get your orders in within five minutes. Forty minutes is the optimum dining time with kids. Anything beyond that and you will soon be staring into the Maw of Hell.
Abide by the toddler ratio. For every child 5 and under in your dining party, subtract six minutes from the optimum dining time. So if you have, say, six toddlers at the table, expect chaos to ensue in exactly four minutes.
Let little Johnny eat that carcinogenic cherry. The Gobbler is a firm believer in the benefits of a well-made Shirley Temple.
Find a booth. In the Gobbler’s experience, booths are ideal venues for children’s feasts. They are discreet, self-contained, and highly sturdy.
Appoint one table Nazi. Take control of the table and rule it with an iron fist. But choose one parent to bark commands; the other should offer moral support. If you have two Nazis at a table, they will invariably come to blows.
Distraction is all. Crayons are good. Portable PlayStations are even better.
Short glasses, please. Tall ones promote spilling, although it will probably happen with the short ones, too.
The great sugar backlash. Nothing quiets a table of children like sugar. For every minute of silence, however, expect three minutes of insanity.
Find the toilets. Map your route, and be ready. In the heat of battle, preparation is all. — Adam Platt