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I remember the Great Outing Depression. It started when my son was almost two and lasted about a year: I absolutely refused to let my little “destroyer of worlds” out of the house.
I would have company over instead, in the form of game night, complete with drinks for the adults. One evening, I left my drink on the counter and walked to the other room to change the radio station. When I came back, my drink was spilled and my son had a small stain on his shirt. I lifted him up and smelled his little toddler mouth. Orange, coriander, mixed with caramel and malt. My little boy had just tasted his first “Black and Blue.”
My son is now seven, I’m 31, and I am happy to report he does not have a drinking problem. But something occurred to me that night: He was utterly bored. I decided that once out of the wrath of the “terrible twos,” I would explore this city in a new way. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not some crazy drinker with a kid in tow. I do however, enjoy the frothy-carbonated-delights with hoppy-notes to grace my lips from time to time. As a parent, I need something more than fast food chains. The solution to my child’s restlessness cannot simply be snot-filled indoor jungle gyms, or a printed puzzle page of activities to burn through. I was in search of the elusive “golden snitch,” a place that is a gem, and truly complimentary for the whole family.
According to Restaurant Hospitality, “studies show that 72 percent of parents will return to a restaurant more often when activities are provided.” Child-related activities vary by location. For some, the answer is random video games, or the ever-popular, money-guzzling claw/crane game. Let’s not forget the popular kid’s menu complete with the lame word search, tic-tac-toe, and two to three individually packed crayons. Once the puzzles are done, and I have emptied my change purse to accommodate the claw-crane appetite, boredom inevitably ensues.
“Clank, Clank,” my son begins to make music with the silverware.
Like me, maybe you grit your teeth, attempting to bear the misplaced noise. Perhaps you look to your spouse for some sound advice. In the end, all you can do is remember your training: Firstly, breathe, the kid is bored. Secondly, remind him of the appropriate behavior. Fill the time will a bathroom break if possible. Next, offer to play a game, maybe another round of tic-tac-toe, or “I Spy.” When this fails, offer an electronic device. I suggest playing “Angry Birds” or check out the app titled, “Heads Up.” If the food hasn’t arrived by now, be patient. Give subtle looks of death to your waiter in order to remind them with your eyes that children can and will melt down in mid-smile. Above all, “Distract! Distract! Distract!”
Before I endeavor to any new restaurant, I investigate. Check out local reviews on Yelp, and see what other people are saying about the place. Don’t panic if there isn’t a kid menu but instead look to see if that delicious sandwich sans the greens and fried egg you love so much will do. You’ll find most places will be accommodating to a kid’s likes. Inquire – you’re a parent and people get that. Don’t forget to ask about both mom’s and dad’s favorite drink or one parent will be happy while the other scowls.
Technomic’s Family Style Restaurant Consumer Trend Report (2013) provided the following insight: “Amenities that make the dining experience easier for moms in particular are likely to be well received at family style restaurants.”
San Antonio has become a vibrant city that is taking note of the desire to include all parts of our family in the dining experience. Children along with pets are welcomed to newly renovated parts of town such as the Pearl Brewery complex, the Mission Reach, and select restaurants around town.
The following are my top “go-to spots” around our city, in no particular order:
- The Friendly Spot Ice House 943 S. Alamo St.
- The Cove 606 W. Cypress St.
- The Point Park and Eats 24188 Boerne Stage Rd.
- Scenic Loop Cafe (25615 Boerne Stage Rd.
- Boardwalk on Bulverde 14732 Bulverde Rd.
- Two Bros BBQ Market 12656 West Ave.
- Big’z Burger Joint #1 & #2 2303 N. Loop 1604 W. & 10106 State Highway 151 S.
Each of the aforementioned establishments includes a lovely patio with gated play areas for children where adults can monitor play and engage with their children. These places have what I call “restaurant know-how.” Not only do these local businesses understand kids but they don’t forget mom and dad either. Their remembrance comes in the form of ice-cold drinks. Rotating Texas drafts, bottled beer selections, wine, sangria, and BYOB at Boardwalk on Bulverde are much obliged. In lieu of the dated kids menu, remember that your kids are active – this may call for some extra cleaning up before and after dinner.
So the next time you are “desperately seeking babysitter” on a Friday or Saturday night, consider taking your little love-bugs with you. Allow them to exhaust themselves by meeting friends, playing tag, climbing play areas and general non-screen time activities. Meet like-minded parents and swap dining horror stories. Make your kids wonder if you are talking about them, just a little. Don’t feel alone in your dining woes. Laugh about them over a cold one and appreciate that some places in San Antonio actually get “family friendly.”
Perhaps after enough exploration you will develop your own list of go-to places. When you ask your kid what they want to do on a Friday night they might start responding like mine: “Oh you know, The Point or Friendly Spot.” Above all, remember you’re just a parent who’s thirsty, and that ain’t bad.
*Featured/top image: Michael Robert (nephew); Pierce Miles (nephew), and Caythen Ames (my son) proving you are never too old to enjoy the swings at The Point Park and Eats. Photo by Victoria Pool.
This article was originally published August 2, 2014.