The little touches for small diners

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Is it possible to eat tasty food at a restaurant and enjoy the ambience and atmosphere when in the company of young children?

You might think the answer is yes, if the restaurant is McDonald’s.

But what if you’re not in the mood for a burger and fries and you’d like to go to an eatery where you actually get served by a waiter or waitress rather than having to stand in line for your food?

Before I became a father to two daughters, I wouldn’t have been very pleased to find myself next to a table containing unruly and loud young children.

Every time this happened, the common theme was the parents at the next table were stressed out by their children, who were misbehaving because they were bored, and I was trying to hold a conversation while anarchy was going on a few feet from my well-done steak.

A few years on and, because I’m now a parent, I understand that the situation could have been so different if the restaurant had a more child- friendly approach.

By this I don’t mean installing a ball pool and a bouncy castle, but just a few small changes that could make the experience so much better for both diners with children and those without.

In March the Harvester chain won the best family restaurant award in the Tommy baby-friendly awards.

The organisers say that these awards recognise companies that go above and beyond to reduce the stresses for mums and dads.

So with my partner Serena, two- year-old Alyssa and three-year-old Caitlin, we made our way to the Harvester at the Great Salterns Mansion to see what all the fuss was about.

On arrival we were seated at a table for four and I instantly noticed that we were the only table with young children, although more would arrive later.

So the pressure was on. I didn’t want the other diners to leave thinking ‘it was good until a family with young children arrived’.

The girls were presented with the kids’ menu.

On the reverse of the menu were puzzles and pictures to colour in with the pot of crayons the waitress delivered to our table. This kept them busy while waiting for the food.

I was also impressed when the food arrived and the waitress spoke directly to my daughters, explaining that their plate may be hot.

The portion sizes on their plates were just right and they both enjoyed their meal.

They left the restaurant happy, clutching two balloons given to them by the waitress.

These were little child-friendly things that made the experience so much better.