Family lifestyle: family-friendly eating out

Hello readers!

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to blog. To be perfectly honest, this ‘family lifestyle’ blogger is feeling like her lifestyle is work, run around after a toddler, cook, housework, crash in front of the TV, sleep, more work… And repeat. Daily. That’s not to say I don’t LOVE being a mum to a busy, energetic, happy toddler – I really, really do – it just doesn’t leave a lot of time for things like painting my nails, or catching-up with friends, or blogging. But I’ve missed it, so here I am, avoiding housework and writing!

One subject that I’ve been wanting to write about for an age is options for eating out with a little one in tow. It’s something we don’t do that often, and so when we do take Freddie out we like to know it’s going to be a success. Here are some of our favourite family-friendly restaurants and cafés.

Wagamama

We took Freddie to our local Wagamama on his first birthday after hearing good things about their kids menu, and we were not disappointed. Six months later, I’m yet to be as impressed by children’s menu offerings as I was at Wagamama – not only are the options a bit different from the normal sausages and pasta, it’s great value (all the main courses are less than £5) and it’s all healthy. I really liked that the elements of the dish were separated, with the sauce on the side, and Freddie had 3 vegetables to pick at – something I’ve never seen in any other restaurant. A huge plus also came from the way the waiter didn’t even bat an eyelid when he saw the pile of sweetcorn and rice on the floor. We’ll be back.

The Volunteer Tavern, Bristol

The best Sunday lunch we’ve had since Freddie was born was at the Volunteer Tavern in Bristol, which we visited with my best friend and her husband a few months ago. Despite being a pretty ‘hip’ place, the young staff instantly took a shining to our son who was bopping away to the reggae they had on and happily produced a toddler-sized portion of their chicken roast for about £4. Highly recommended. 

M&S café

In our town we are blessed with a multitude of excellent independent cafés, serving delicious coffee and homemade cake (our favourite will always be Corleone, if you’re visiting), but they are often too busy to find a space for us all or even get the pushchair in – never mind nab a highchair. If I’m meeting fellow mums for a drink and snack, both of us with little ones in tow, I always suggest the Marks and Spencer café. My husband always mocks me for this brand loyalty, but sometimes you just need to know that there will be highchairs in abundance, clean toilets with changing facilities nearby, toddler-friendly snack options (Freddie particularly likes the cheese scones) and space for two pushchairs. Plus there are usually a few friendly pensioners ready to coo over your well-behaved child (excuse me while I fall off my chair laughing…). I save the tiny, cute cafes with the free newspapers and coffee in easy-for-little-hands-to-grab cups for solo trips.

See also, John Lewis cafés.

Woody’s, Kingston-Upon-Thames

Walking around Kingston with friends on a particularly hot day this summer, we realised we’d forgotten to bring anything for Freddie and so grabbed a table outside Woody’s at about 11.45. After a quick look at the menu we realised we’d discovered a gem. A box of lego, a healthy carrot and dip starter, delicious main course and refreshing fresh melon for desert (all for around £6) later, we were hooked. The staff were busy, but friendly and welcoming and brought the bill instantly when Freddie decided he’d rather chase dogs than stick around.

My tips for a successful family meal out

  • Do your homework. Book ahead for the best tables at the busiest places and always have a back-up plan if you haven’t. Make sure the place has a toilet and a highchair available.
  • Go early and order the kids’ food straight away. I liked this line from this article: “the child prepared to patiently wait half an hour for a plate of chips hasn’t been born yet.” Very true.
  • Be confident and go with it, but be prepared to leave quickly if you need to. The few times we’ve gone out for lunch or an early dinner with a larger group and Freddie I’ll admit I’ve been anxious that he’ll ruin it for everyone and we’d have to leave not having eaten anything. But when I’ve given into him wanting to sit under the table and zoom his cars over the chairs we’ve all had a better time.
  • If all else fails, order a jacket potato with beans. Never fails.
I’d love to hear your favourite independent family eateries. As for chains, I’ve heard good things about Pizza Express and Giraffe for toddlers – anyone taken their little one?

Love, Esme.

Find Esme on her blog Esme Wins or on Twitter @Real_Married

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17 thoughts on “Family lifestyle: family-friendly eating out

  1. We have a copy of the nct book edinburgh for under 5s which has great advice on child friendly places to go…. I assume similar books exist for most major cities!?!
    In the first few months john lewis was the only place I really went to due to their lovely parents room- a sanctuary for a nervous new breast feeder:-)
    Will be storing saga mamma up for when G is weaned!

  2. So good to have you back Esme! We’ve not considered wagamamas but will definitely be putting it on the list. Funnily enough we have just moved from Kingston and really miss Woody’s! One of our NCT friend’s had her son’s first birthday party there and it was great.

    John Lewis cafe is always a Godsend for us, particularly with an extremely boisterous 22 month old who enjoys running around in circles and screaming very loudly with excitement whenever we try to go out to eat. The staff just take it in their stride and there’s lots of grannies for Amelia to entertain!
    Pizza Express is fine but I always find the acoustics nerve jangling but they are kid with kids.
    Probably the best chain for us has been Carluccios. Certainly in Kingston, many of the staff were Italian and they loved our highly energetic and mischievous toddler! The food was fine and the ice cream tremendous!

    Bill’s is also worth a mention. The kids menu is fairly average but the breakfasts are amazing so for a weekend brunch with toddlers it is great.

    For us, the coffee chains, Nero and Costa in particular have proved really useful for a stop gap when energy levels are flagging and we simply need caffeine and carbs – fast! Again, there’s always plenty of high chairs, bambinocinos and the staff don’t bat an eyelid at the mess! Freddie is divine by the way! Xx

  3. I second Wagamamas! We went last weekend for the first time with our 14 month old toddler and had a fantastic time. She wolfed down the mini chicken noodles, although most of the noodles did end up flung around the room! There was lots to keep her entertained…. paper place mats, chopsticks, watching the waiters rush about, and the service is so quick that we all enjoyed it without being stressed about waiting ages.

    John Lewis is also a fave, if you go on your own with a buggy then the staff will carry your coffee & cake to your table – amazing!

    We also love Ikea (but we do love it generally…) – it was our first “proper” outing at 6 weeks old and their breastfeeding corner is brilliant. Our little one loves eating there because it’s so busy and there’s always lots to watch.

    We have also found our local Caffe Nero to be good, they’ll also carry your tray, and their endless supply of paper cups will fascinate any toddler! Carluccios has also been good the couple of times we’ve been there, the staff have been amazing and the kids food good as well (although not the cheapest).

    We’ve not been very many other places so far but hoping to do so more now we’ve passed the year mark and can all eat “grown up” food together.

  4. Oh, I hadn’t realized you were from Warwickshire Esme til I saw your recommendation for Corleones in Leamington! I’m from just down the road in Kenilworth 🙂

  5. We eat out frequently with Annie and I agree Wagamama is really great and we also like bills too as they have a mini breakfast menu which is lovely on a weekend morning especially as we have discovered they open at 8!

    Strada (where there are a choice of pasta toppings) and pizza express are also really good. I think many of the bigger chains have cottoned on to the fact that when parents are happy, kids are too!

  6. Cafe Rouge is our go-to in our town as it’s always full of families and there’s always a nice fish/sandwich option. BUT… we have the fussiest toddler in terms of eating so if it’s lunch, we tend to take what we know he likes and then he’s happy anywhere
    xx

  7. I never would have had Wagamama’s on my list for good restaurants with a kids menu! I imagine the speedy service goes down well too. I’ll be remembering this one when we’re weaning and beyond thanks Esme!

    • Oh I forgot to mention that the only thing I found v difficult in wagamamas was breastfeeding Annie because she wouldn’t fit in between the bench style seating. However I notice now they have some tables with stools instead of benches (which also works better for high chairs too!)

      • Yes, Rachie. I actually had lunch with my mum at Wagamama’s when Freddie was teeny and they gave us a table with chairs with arms, so it was perfect for breastfeeding.

  8. Yes to Wagamamas – absolutely loved taking Fraser there the other week. Pizza Express is good although I wish their kids’ menu was a teeny bit more varied. Prezzo was a massive winner for us recently – the children’s menu is something like £3.99 for 3 courses including a drink!

  9. I’ve also given up attempting lovely cafes with Thea as she now wants to nab my cake and they rarely have highchairs. So those are reserved for my afternoons/mornings off (ha! When those actually happen, sometime in the future….)

    Not sure how widespread a chain it is, but for an easy cafe option, Muffin Break is actually really great with babies and toddlers. The one in Leamington is spacious, one level, so easy for buggies. There are loads of highchairs and some decent healthy lunch options (wraps, tarts, etc) alongside the muffins and cookies. The Leamington branch has awesome staff, baby changing and the manager brings over glasses of water to mums and often free muffins. Score.

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