Thursday, October 8, 2009

Yes, You Can Enjoy Good Food And Entertain The Kids At The Same Time!

Walt Disney World offers up many top-quality restaurants for you to sample. With the advent of the Disney Dining Plan and Free Dining offers, more and more people are taking advantage of these renowned restaurants on their vacations when they might have normally opted for less-expensive meals. But just because these restaurants are more accessible than before doesn't mean your kids are completely ready and willing to experience them. With a little foresight and some consideration for others, you too can enjoy these grown-up meals with your whole family... and maybe even broaden your children's taste at the same time.

Children are permitted in all Walt Disney World Table Service restaurants except the very high-end, very expensive Victoria and Albert's. Even the most well-mannered of children would probably not gain much from the menu there, which really does cater to a mature palette. As much as I love and advocate for children, I agree with the policy here. If you wish to experience it, arrange for babysitting (a big topic for a future post!) and by all means, enjoy it.

In a previous post on the basics of dining at Disney, I listed my choices for the most kid-friendly table service restaurants at Disney and some of our readers listed theirs in the comments. But you don't have to stick to those suggestions. Do you want to try Citricos with your kids? It's in the Grand Floridian, which is shi-shi enough all by itself. The fare is Southern European. My kids have recently proven to me that they are just not into risotto, but I sure am and I have found the food at Citricos to be very well-prepared and delicious. So can I bring the kids?!

Well, of course you can. And Disney will let pretty much anything fly. We've seen people in their shorts and flops, kids running around playing tag, chairs being rocked back and forth until they fall... you can do it all at a Disney restaurant. But we prefer to take the opportunity to teach our children how to behave in a nicer restaurant. I have these flash-forwards of my daughter on her first date when she is 25 and completely graduated from medical school (*ahem*) and she doesn't know why the waiter drops the napkin in her lap. Then, in the middle of the meal, she says, "Wait everyone! Quiet!" And then belches loudly and laughs. Nononononoooo... this is not what we do in nice restaurants.

To ensure cooperation from our offspring, we do limit the number of times per trip we take our kids to the nicest of the restaurants Disney has to offer. And we set some expectations with them. Sitting still is first and foremost, and then practicing their best manners is just after that. We also use it as a chance to dress up a bit. My daughter will wear a ball gown and tiara anywhere if given the opportunity, so she's not so tough to convince. For my reluctant son, I don't attempt anything as rash as a tie (although he'd look totally SMASHING in one), but I do go with a collared shirt. I might even add a sweater vest if he is less surly that particular evening. My husband and I dress up a bit as well. Sure, theme parks are about vacation, but by fussing a little over clothing and distancing ourselves from our theme park wear, we send a message to the kids that the evening is special and different and their little inner-adult sometimes comes out. (Sometimes... but not always).

We try to bring some small toys to entertain the kids at the table. Sure, it's not great manners to have Ironman and Wolverine fighting on the white tablecloth (hey... in my son's world, it happens). But it does tend to keep him seated at the table and helps pass the time until food arrives. Disney restaurants are also completely prepared in case your own props don't do the trick. They have crayons and coloring sheets and they will bring the kids' food before yours is ready instead of holding all food for the table. Don't be hesitant to ask for them to do this. We try to order for the kids immediately upon arrival. Then with that done, we can peruse the menu for ourselves a bit more leisurely. Their food sometimes arrives shortly after we've placed our order.

Speaking of food, get what you know your kids will eat. Don't fret that you are at a nice restaurant and all little Suzie wants is a hot dog. If it's not on the children's menu at that restaurant, ask anyway. Chances are, if it's typical kidfood, they can get it for you. That said, these are great opportunities for kids to try new things. But let them sample from your plate rather than ordering something that they may turn their nose up to. You never know what sorts of new, grand things they will enjoy, and being at Disney always seems to put my kids in a better frame of mind for branching out. My daughter tried a tomato-based soup at Marrakesh when she was three years old. She had been pretty against the "red" food group up until then. Especially the subset of "liquid." She really enjoyed it!

So brave those nicer restaurants with your kids. Just be smart about it and don't overdo it. A fancy restaurant every night will eventually wear on them. And of course, that will wear on you.

Do you have other suggestions for preparing your kids to enjoy a white-linen restaurant? Leave them in the comments! We love to hear from you.


Unknown said...

I know I hated going to "nice" restaurants as a kid, but now like to eat at those places. I'm sure I'm going to get a taste of my own medicine when it's time to take our kids to a nice, linen tablecloth restaurant at WDW

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