Dining Out is Cause for Celebration

April 10th, 2016

Stop the presses and hold the phones. My entire family went out to dinner. Together. To a restaurant. An actual restaurant. Okay, it was Cracker Barrel, so we’re not talking haute cuisine here, but there were menus and they brought the food to our table and there were no slides or ball pits, which makes it a significant step up from where we usually eat out.

I’ve always admired families with young children that successfully eat at grownup restaurants. I see them every now and again. A two-year-old and a five-year-old, quietly sitting with cloth napkins in their lap while mom and dad chat over a glass of red wine. That has never been my family.  Mine are the kids playing hide and seek under the table or doodling on the linen tablecloth with a marker that they somehow managed to conjure from thin air.

About a year ago, we tried to eat at Applebee’s. We got in the door, sat down, and hadn’t even ordered drinks when an amazing fight broke out between my oldest two. While they were bickering loudly, the toddler tried to climb out of the baby seat and started screaming when I buckled her in. And that was it. We walked out. I assured our bewildered waiter that he’d thank me later – and fled without making eye contact with any of the other restaurant patrons.

Since then, we’ve pretty much stuck to Chick-Fil-A and McDonald’s. It doesn’t help that my kids are picky eaters. Restaurant dining is often an exercise in wasted food and wasted money. The cheese pizza on the menu is really French bread with marinara sauce and cheese. Rejected! The chicken fingers have an extra crunchy breading. Inedible! The macaroni and cheese is creamy and magical and looks nothing like Kraft. Take it away! Interestingly, no restaurant yet has been willing to remove an item from our bill just because it failed to closely resemble cheap processed foods. Go figure.

But a couple weeks ago, we decided to take the plunge. We were running errands en masse and I had no energy to cook. I had a hankering for breakfast for dinner, so – with much trepidation – we headed to Cracker Barrel. We had a dangerously close encounter with the candy kiosk that stands belligerently between the entrance and the dining room, but once we made it to the table, a miracle occurred.

Nobody freaked out. Nobody threw food or silverware. My youngest spilled her chocolate milk, but that’s par for the course no matter where we eat, and the saintly waiter had anticipated such an eventuality and preemptively supplied us with a mountain of napkins. The big kids immersed themselves in that unbeatable yet oddly compelling peg-jumping game and my youngest colored serenely on a set of dry-erase activity cards I’d had the good forethought to stash in my purse.

They ate their pancakes with gusto, drank their milk, and we were out the door in under an hour. As we walked to the car, my husband and I exchanged incredulous looks – did that really just happen? And, more importantly, dare we tempt fate by trying again?

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