once upon a time
Several years ago, in my pre parenting age, I was visiting a friend in Germany who was already sporting a toddler. We spent many an hour in the local cafes and bars in her Berlin neighborhood enjoying a quaff or two and it never occurred to me that her son, and the service personnel who attended to us, were anything but pleased with our adventures. He ran around the spots we visited, enjoyed the jungle gyms out back, and deftly dodged the waiters legs and they his adorable little noggin. He drew on the old menus they provided and discussed his various needs with very patient staff members. Eating out with him was such a non-issue that it never occurred to me, when I returned home and began pro-creating a few years later, that it would be different on this side of the pond.
us vs. them
Or maybe the difference is just in my perspective. Back here at home a few years later, once our little angels were up and about, our dining out lives crashed into a painful reality: there are restaurants for adults and there are restaurants for children. The restaurants for children are bright, loud and scary if you are over the age of about twelve. And if you deign to take your super minors out to the adult establishments, be prepared to desert your date and take your toddlers outside to burn off energy in the parking lot while waiting for the food to arrive. Then dash back in, gobble down your meal, pay your $100 tab and make a run for the door all within the space of a single episode of your favorite sitcom. And even with all of this dashing about, expect more than a couple of glares from staff and table neighbors. Then there are the restaurants that won’t even allow kids….at least not if they make noise or want to sit somewhere. Fun, right? I quickly learned that doing the dishes at home after dinner was a much more pleasurable experience.
can’t we all just get along?
Is there not a way to create an experience that is pleasing to the short set, the tall set, and the staff who serve them? Fast casual is always an option, but what if you’d like to enjoy a full meal and a glass of wine? In the US the trend seems to be to create themed restaurants or restaurants for children that parents are welcome to visit. I appreciate the effort, but can’t we designers come up with a solution that serves the needs of all concerned? Do we adults really need to dine in a playroom if we don’t want to cook and we want to spend some time with our children? In my search for answers, I found Fiii Funhouse in Buenos Aires, Argentina (h/t Design Milk) and Kukumuku in Vilnius, Lithuania that were tasked with creating a dining experience for all. Both seem to be making the effort, but adult comfort is still the sacrificial lamb.
all photos courtesy iris cantata arquetica
here’s the problem
With many young adults waiting longer to have children, and if our school district’s growth is any indication, there is a large segment of our population with both money and children. These parents work long hours and would love to have someone cook for them. This market seems pretty valuable to the savvy restaurateur IMHO. So how do we please this very large demographic? Of course part of the issue is addressed by management and staff’s attitude toward children. And design can step in to offer some solutions……because that is what design is about. Defining problems then solving them. The problem here is parents want to dine out with their children without being in a fifty footcandle playroom full of hard surfaces that bounce the babble to a deafening pitch. It’s time for some design thinking, and I’m starting with a brain dump. You can take it from here. Call me if you want my help.
let’s solve it people
Engage the children.
- videos/tv (silent would be nice)
- a playroom with supervision….over there!
- roll around space, wiggle room
- pleasing colors that don’t hurt adult eyes
- climbing structures (again….over there!)
- a view into the kitchen
Quiet the roar.
- sound absorbing materials on ceilings and walls
- cork or other sound absorbing flooring
- carpet (cleanable)
- upholstery (cleanable)
Entertain the children.
- books on tape
- crayons and paper
- nice, patient servers
Create a safe environment.
- higher lighting level in play areas (not in dining areas!)
- supervision (in addition to parents)
- safe toys
- multiple seating options to accommodate various ages
Dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets are not the answer.
- create an interesting children’s menu (duh)
And to keep servers happy…
- slightly higher prices and tip-free dining (so servers aren’t paying their bills on a wish and a prayer)
- children’s discounts on nights that would otherwise be slow
- supportive management
We can do this….and it seems to me it would benefit everyone. The key words here are dine and children. The two don’t need to be mutually exclusive. What do you think?
Keep in touch,