Saturday, January 21, 2012

Out to Lunch

"Hey Ox, want to go out to eat tonight?"

"No, I'd rather stay home."

When I was a kid the height of dining excitement was going out to Ponderosa on Central Avenue. To be honest, nothing was as thrilling as that double-long salad bar and those soft, warm dinner rolls. I loved that salad bar. I would take trip after trip to refill my plate, iceberg lettuce topped with little scoops of sunflower seeds, bacos, and croutons; the whole plate doused with generic ranch dressing. And those rolls. I would keep my eye out for when the attendant would bring a fresh tray of them, steaming from the kitchen, and run up to grab one or two, feeling gluttonous and worrying that I was doing something wrong. Was it really okay to eat so many rolls?

The ice cream bar for dessert was no small detail either.

and the taste, apparently.
Fast forward howevermany years. Ponderosa is long gone. I still love a good salad bar, but a "good" salad bar is hard to find. Worst of all, parenthood has made me highly critical of the restaurant industry. We try to take our kids out to eat frequently. I think it is good for them to practice good table manners in public, and try new foods.

"and try new foods"  - Hah.

Nearly every restaurant out there has really, truly crummy kid's menus. The Main Five of grilled cheese, chicken fingers, hamburger, corn dog, and $8 Kraft macaroni and cheese has bored my kids to the point where they don't want to go out to eat. I can't blame them, restaurants that I considered a favorite in college now bore me to death, taste of grease, and I've come to realize that I would rather eat at home, too.

The kicker came when I received an order from Penzey's Spices and it came with a free bumper sticker that stated:

If you love someone, give them tasty food.

That sums it up, alright. I'm done with chain restaurants and their nasty food. Nearly always the kids get the shaft, and I end up slightly dissatisfied (or sick from the grease).

Disclaimer: Joe's Crab Shack has one of the best kid's menus I've ever seen, despite being a chain. They clearly understand that the youngest clients have opinions that matter. The kids got lots of food, little toys, a really fun drink, and left very happy. 

I think we're going to start to skip the kids menu altogether and get something more quality from the regular menu, and split it between the kids. They love fish for example, and few restaurants I've seen have figured out that fish might be a good addition to the kids menu. I don't get it.

Mastermind casually mentioned the other day that IHOP offers kids-eat-free every day after 4. It might be worth it to check out, if only to further prove my theory that chains suck. Their kids menu (which I always check out online first - if they don't have their kids menu posted online, it probably features The Main Five) is promising especially for being free, but there is not a whole lot that appeals to my sensitive tummy. They can't mess up soup, though (because it probably comes in a bag from Sysco). Eh.

Message to all restaurants: if you cater to the kids, you make the parents happy; not only will they come back, they will tell all their friends, post it on Facebook, and blog about the good experience. Think about it. 

1 comment:

  1. Mmm I love a good salad bar. But now I find myself thinking about sneeze guards and foods sitting out all day, and i can't eat from them anymore. You're right though - kid menus are bad. Except at Chipotle. They have great kid meals.