What makes a place truly family-friendly?
For me, it takes more than just offering chips and ice cream on the menu.
Taking young children to a play centre, restaurant, cafe or, dare I say it, pub is a pretty daunting experience for some parents.
It’s awful if you end up feeling self-conscious because your child is slurping away at their soup, hurling chips at their sibling’s head or wailing when you say they can’t have more cake.
We try, f**k do we try, to make them behave in public.
But sometimes it’s just one of those days. The children woke up on the wrong side of the bed and there’s sod all we can do to calm the temper tantrums.
We would have stayed at home, but we needed to get out of the house. It’s a hard call, when you know your kid is likely to kick off in public but if you spend another minute in the house you’re going to start climbing the walls.
To the childless customers, I get it. I used to be the one rolling my eyes as noisy and annoying kids interrupted my lunch out.
But, please try to be a little understanding. Our kids may be irritating you, but remember we have to live with them.
Now I know better. When I go out child-free I smile in solidarity when I see parents trying to wrangle their kids then enjoy my meal even more because I have no kids.
So, to the places wanting to take our hard-earned money and enticing us inside your doors by promising “family-friendly” services, here’s what I would like to see you offering:
1. Have a welcoming atmosphere
This means more than just asking “may I take your order?” with a smile.
I mean you need to cultivate and nurture an atmosphere thats ideal for kids. I’m not saying it should be ok for children to scream at the top of their lungs while shoving chairs over left and right.
But it shouldn’t be filled with the sound of cutlery clinking on plates. Noise should be ok, accepted, welcomed.
There shouldn’t be any frowning when a child accidentally drops their cup on the floor.
We want a place where we feel comfortable.
2. Have a kids menu with more than just nuggets and chips
We’re not expecting a huge range of choices, but it would be great to have more than just chips and something covered in batter.
Maybe a simple pasta dish? A mini roast dinner? Just something that’s hearty but gives a bit of variety to the menu.
3. Have a breastfeeding room – but don’t order us into it
Breastfeeding in public isn’t only totally normal, it’s also illegal for venues to order nursing mums to stop or discriminate against them in any way.
It’s great some places have space for a privacy room, I would totally have used one in the early days when my baby was flapping about like a fish on dry land while I had my nipples exposed.
However don’t order women into it as if it’s the only place we can feed. It’s cool to point it out in a friendly, just in case you need it kind of way.
Also bring us tap water, and lots of it! Breastfeeding is seriously thirsty work!
4. Have a microwave
Invaluable if you’re weaning and have brought your own food with you.
5. Have baby changing facilities for men as well as women
Many times my baby or toddler have needed changing and I’ve been the one who drew the short straw because there are no facilities in the men’s loos.
Is it really so hard to put a child-friendly changing table in one of the cubicles in the men’s loo?
This is 2017, dads change nappies too!
6. Try to have enough space inside the baby changing room for a buggy
When you have two kids you don’t want to leave one shut out on the other side of the door in a public place.
If you can wheel both kids into the cubicle that’s ideal. I’ve sometimes had problems with this kind of thing at play parks or play centres.
I understand some places are limited by space, but it would be great venues could try to think of a solution to this problem so mums don’t have to leave one child alone while they deal with another one.
7. Have a few baby bibs, cutlery and baby/toddler cups
This is highly unlikely to be needed very often, but you could make a mum’s day if you have some to hand when she’s left her items at home.
8. Have some high chairs
It’s much easier for us to contain our toddler if you have a high chair they can use.
9. Make plenty of space between tables where possible
Having a double buggy for my toddler and baby can make it quite tricky to navigate around the shops and eateries.
When it comes to parking it up next to a table, I always feel like I’m just getting in the way.
It would be great if family-friendly places could take into account how much space buggies need to manoeuvre around places. If space is too tight, then maybe have a buggy space where they can be left either inside or in a shelter from the rain.
10. Have some colouring and drawing materials
We try to remember entertainment, but sometimes we forget.
Having a few crayons and some paper place mats with puzzles or outlines for colouring is brilliant. It can make the difference between us savouring our meal or wolfing it down without even tasting it as we rush to take care of one or both kids.
11. Have a toy corner
I’ve seen simple corners with a little wooden train set and more elaborate ones with soft play equipment.
Either will help us enjoy our meal or visit with a little less stress.
I know some of these ideas can be a big ask for small businesses. But you’re asking parents to part with their cash in return for what we expect to be a nice experience.
Yes we are responsible for our child’s behaviour.
But we parents need all the help we can get. So please bear these ideas in mind, if you’ve got beautiful food to serve us we want to be able to really enjoy it and relax a little. Not leave feeling more stressed than when we arrived.
Happy kids mean happy customers!
What do you think venues can do to be more family-friendly? I would love to hear your ideas.