I recently took part in a free scoff as a ‘Mystery Shopper’ with the Soil Association. Apart from adding an inch to my waistline and requiring me to boil wash the children, I got the chance to rate how family friendly various restaurants are. Eating out is a modern phenomena – I certainly can’t recall eating out other than on holiday when I was young. Modern families eat out most weeks, in pubs, cafes and restaurants. With a nation that’s getting fatter and dining out choices made more on price than quality, the Soil Association is trying to change the way in which families are fed outside the home.
We used to eat out a lot, Cardiff has a number of family friendly restaurants and Pubs on our doorstep. I wanted my children to be able to be confident and responsible consumers and manage to behave in a suitable manner. This can be very stressful. I switch between trying to micro manage the budget, angle in a smidgen of vitamins and pop in the odd glass of Vino to keep me sane. And we need to look like a functioning family that get on well and not the true savages I feed at the table every morning. My kitchen floor generally has to be cleaned with nuclear bomb once a week to remove traces of Weetabix and leftover sweetcorn from the floor. There is always telling off, there are always arguments about what’s been eaten and I always pick on the kids leftovers. (I now figure that I would be at least half a stone lighter if I sweeped their plates straight into the bin!) This doesn’t necessarily translate itself into a relaxed and intimate family dining session in public???!!
As part of our ‘Mystery Shopper’ experience we were sent to a number of chain restaurants in Cardiff. All of these had family menus. We ate in restaurants with no childrens cutlery, with a tv on the end of our booth, with no high chairs, with plates piled high with beige food of no discernible origin and ‘fresh fruit’ that came in plastic bags! The kids loved it! I scribbled furiously into my Soil Association spy feedback form, and praised the Lord for the expenses. It made me much more aware about the little things that I would take for granted and things that were generally missing from the ‘chains’ we visited. Isn’t this why people seek out little family run businesses?? However, you can see why families are queuing round the block to get in these chain restaurants. Service is prompt, the meals are very cheap, plates are piled high, there are no pushing random looking vegetables around the table and you don’t worry about the state of the floor afterwards.Plus there is always someone elses child behaving MUCH worse than your own!
Our research highlighted a number of things for me, see if you can spot them next time you eat out with your children.
- Is there water freely available, on your table without being requested?
- Are there different portion sizes for your toddler and your 8 year old?
- Is the menu trying to be healthy and ethically sourced ?
- Is the food for the children reflective of what’s available for adults?
- Are there things available for the kids that doesn’t involve spending money or a TV?
- Does the person who serves you engage with your children?
If so then they may get a visit from me and the Kids