August 2007

Family Friendly Dining on Hilton Head

Author: Teresa Fitzgibbons

Just what is it that makes a restaurant family-friendly? Is it themes and life-sized mascots, kids’ promotions, or chains with standard menus? Maybe it’s none of the above. While such gimmicks often appeal to children, they usually don’t appeal to the adults in the family as too often the food takes second place to the gimmick. Truly family-friendly restaurants offer something for everyone in the family while making it clear that their pint-sized patrons are always welcome.

While most local dining establishments offer kids’ menus, you may want to look for those places that also offer a varied menu so everyone gets what they want. Any place where Dad can get a cocktail and steak, Mom a salad, and the kids spaghetti is sure to be a crowd pleaser. Jump and Phil’s, Hilton Head Brewing Company, Hinchey’s, Reilley’s, Giuseppe’s, and Main Street Pub and Café are just a few of the many local restaurants that have something to tempt any palate as well as appetizing kids’ menus. Each of them also boast staff that welcome families, especially during the off or early hours, are reasonably priced, and are popular spots with local families.

Everyone likes atmosphere when eating out, and kids are no exception. When colorful, whimsical décor that appeals to kids’ imaginations is combined with good food, families truly have a place to treasure. The Coligny Ice Cream Cone and Deli is simply fun inside and it has one of the most extensive casual menus on the island. Food is served quickly, and the rainbow of ice cream flavors can turn meals into magic. The trippy mushrooms in the surf themed Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers is another local favorite. Families know they can’t go wrong with pizza, and the Mellow Mushroom has some of the best pies on the island.

Few local places offer the atmosphere of South Beach and its views of Braddock Cove. The Salty Dog Café is a veritable island institution with its famed t-shirts, live music, and ice cream. Families can take a walk to the beach or stroll through the village when they’re finished eating. Coligny Plaza is another family-friendly dining destination with a number of restaurants, like Market Street Café, Steamers, and Stu’s Surfside Subs, that have outside seating and family-friendly fare. Skillets even serves up live entertainment alongside a menu that is rich in comfort foods.

Shelter Cove and Harbour Town are hotspots with both local and visiting families. Both have live, child-centered entertainment, shops, harbor views, and playgrounds. By virtue of their location alone, the restaurants at the island’s largest harbors are family friendly. A simple glance inside Shelter Cove’s San Miguel’s or Parrot Cove or Harbour Town’s Crazy Crab proves they’re favorites with adults and kids alike.

Diversions are important for children, especially if there’s a wait for a table or food. Older kids may be fine with a television or conversation, but younger children often need crayons, a fun kid’s menu, or murals to capture their attention. Places that provide some sort of amusement for children are definitely places that welcome them. A diversion can be as simple as the activity mats at Truffles or as elaborate as Joseph the Magician at Kingfisher. Both the Old Oyster Factory and North End Crazy Crab have decks where families can watch the water and children can move about while waiting for a table as well as on-site sandboxes or playgrounds. The Old Oyster Factory has live music as well. Kuramas and Kobé both attract families who enjoy watching the excitement of their meals being prepared right before their eyes, complete with juggling, chopping, and bursts of flames!

For the ultimate in family-friendly dining, try Groupers at the Holiday Inn or King’s Wharf at Folly Field. Groupers offers specials where kids eat free and guests can enjoy both the music at the Tiki Hut and the Holiday Inn Pool (Kids must be supervised!). At the pirate-themed King’s Wharf, families can partake in crab races or enjoy the talents of either a magician or Rick Hubbard, the King of Kazoos. Both places are on the beach, providing the perfect place for families to enjoy a little recreation after dinner.

When you’re dining with children, it’s a good idea to avoid places with dress codes, that don’t have kids’ menus, or have later dining hours. Fine dining is not a good idea until children are considerably older and have mastered the etiquette of dining out.

What better way is there to enjoy relaxing, quality time with your family than a stress-free evening out? Isn’t it time you took a break from the kitchen and left the cooking and clean up to the professionals? Hilton Head Island offers options galore when it’s time to head out to dinner with the family.

Tips for Dining Out With Kids

As anyone who has ever been in a restaurant with children can attest, dining out with children is a far cry from dining out with adults. Before you decide to limit your excursions to the local McDonalds, follow a few time-tested tips from parents who’ve mastered the art of eating out with kids:

• Choose a restaurant that’s close to home. Even a short drive can seem interminable to a young child.

• Dine early. Dine out during off hours whenever possible. You get more attention from staff, less wait time, and can often occupy a corner table or booth which gives your family more space and privacy.

• Think about what to order beforehand. Look at the menu as soon as you sit down or even while you’re waiting for a table.

• Place your order on the server’s first visit to your table. Keep in mind that wait staff are usually trained not to rush people, so communicate to your server if you’re looking to get in and out quickly.

• Skip the preliminaries. Go straight to the main course or order a family-friendly appetizer for everyone to share.

• Bring along some crackers or another healthy snack. In the event there’s a wait, asking the server to “rush” a child’s meal and serve them first is not a good idea. Once kids are finished eating, they begin to lose their patience.

• Limit menu choices. Too many choices can be overwhelming for small children. If they’re not able to read, simply suggest two or three items off the children’s menu.

• Stick to familiar favorites. Unless your children are adventurous with well-developed palates, a restaurant is not the place to try something new.

• Make them comfortable. It’s physically impossible for children to stay still as long as adults. Not being able to reach the table easily or an ill-fitting highchair or booster chair can be unpleasant. Fidgeting is often a sign of discomfort. A quick, supervised walk to the lobby, restroom, or even outside can work wonders.

• Offer a diversion. No matter how you try to move things along, there’s apt to be some down time at the table. Bring along crayons and paper, a few books or small, quiet toys. When children are finished, ask wait staff to remove their plates right away so they can play quietly while others finish.

• Pay ahead. Ask for the check as soon as the food arrives if it seems the kids are getting tired, or simply hand your server a credit card.

• Don’t linger. Sometimes the best dessert is a change of scenery. Stopping for ice cream on the way home may be better than waiting for a sundae at the same table where they’ve been sitting for an hour.

Great Expectations

The most important rule of thumb when you take your kids out to dinner is to respect others. Set reasonable expectations and enforce them:

• Do not allow children to walk around by themselves, even to the restroom. Under no circumstances should they ever be walking between or among the surrounding tables or playing on the floor, for their own safety as well as the comfort of others.

• Explain that indoor voices should be used. Children who begin crying or having a tantrum should be taken outside immediately.

• Expect children who have started elementary school to use utensils unless they’re eating finger foods. Teach them not to belch loudly, spit, open their mouths while full of food, or play with food. Saying please, thank you, and excuse me are reasonable expectations.

• Expect older children (later elementary years) to hold utensils, use napkins and keep elbows off the table. Teach them to cover their mouths if they cough or sneeze and not to speak with food in their mouths or lick their fingers. These children should also be able to partake in table conversation and remain seated throughout an entire meal. When children have reached their preteens, they should be able to behave as young adults when dining out.

• Teach your child to be respectful of wait staff. Children will emulate what you do as they get older. Speak politely to servers and treat them as professionals. Families with children often mean extra work for servers, especially extra clean up. Clean up what you can yourself, and tip them well.

Parents who set ground rules and who enforce them, will have a much easier time with children in restaurants. Practice at home before you head out to a restaurant. Talk to your children on the way there and remind them of what is expected.

Tempting Children’s Palates

Research shows that children need to be exposed to a new food as often as ten times before they develop a true liking for it. While it’s far easier to stick to familiar favorites like mac and cheese or burgers when dining out, over the long run you may find you have children with narrow tastes who never want to eat anywhere other than burger joints.

Restaurants with diverse menus and lots of appetizers are great places to start trying new foods. Let children choose something familiar for their main course. Start by offering your child a bite of your meal or the appetizer as though it’s a privilege. Whatever you do, don’t force a child to try something that is unappealing to him and don’t try to force something you know he doesn’t like down his throat by telling him it’s something else. Telling a child that squid is really chicken or that there’s no cheese in the recipe when you know he hates cheese forces an unpleasant surprise and will make the child hesitant to try new things in the future.

So, how do you get a child to try something he thinks he doesn’t like? If a child is hesitant, there’s nothing wrong with offering a reward, e.g.: “Try the calamari and we’ll stop for ice cream on the way home.” Allow kids to be experimental in how they flavor or season a new food, even if it means soaking it in ketchup. You may also want to flavor certain items with a bit of salt, sauce or lemon to make it more appealing.

Don’t expect children to like everything. Unfamiliar flavors and strange textures, or something that simply looks “funny” can be unappealing to a child. Reassure him that if he doesn’t like something, he doesn’t have to eat it. Start with a small taste, and demonstrate (beforehand) how to politely spit something out and into the napkin, just in case. Be ready with saltines, bread, or water if the food is spicy.

Young children are often curious about new things, so starting early is a good idea. Over time, you may just find that you’ve turned the entire family into fine food connoisseurs. Bon Appetit!

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