Table for how many?

Imagine the scene. You are out shopping with the family. Everyone is hungry. You think maybe you could stop for a drink and a sandwich, or a fast food treat or a pub lunch. You pick somewhere, walk in and ask for a table.

We can't do that-they look at us aghast and say;"Table for how many?!?"

We have fast food eating off to an an art. We enter and the children dart around trying to find a selection of tables to seat our large family which are at least within sight of each other.
Then they plonk themselves down and spread coats ignoring the irate glances of customers who have already got their food. I know I know - it's not the way to do it but I'm not going to queue up for five happy meals and four adult meals only to find none of us can sit down!

It does mean we tend to avoid actual mealtimes as you just can't usually seat 9 within even shouting distance between 11-3 in most popular family burger bars. And even places with waitresses aren't happy to see us without a booking. In most people's terms 9 people meeting to eat together would be a party!
Having said all of this I am quite proud that once, through the best use of pointed staring and efficient distribution of children, we did manage to seat 21 of us on almost adjoining tables in the Gatwick Airport branch of Mcdonalds which is always hugely busy.

A prime example of this came on DS4's birthday. We had arranged to meet his much-loved cousins at a town mid-way between our home and theirs. For various reasons we were not in full force but my cousin has three children so we still needed a table for 11, for Sunday lunch, in half term, in a busy shopping centre.

I opted for an American Italian chain restaurant and tried to book online. Nope. So I tried to ring. Phone out of order. So I "followed" the chain on Twitter and asked them how I could book this specific branch. They helpfully forwarded the right email and within an hour I had a lovely response confirming table, balloons and cake!

a selection of kids and their cousins
When we got there today the table was ready and waiting. They coped well with our order - the food was great and everyone had a good time.

This is not always the case. In the children's favourite burger bar I have their usual order memorised and have to list it in the right order - three of those, four of those, three with no cheese, one with extra cheese, one with no salad, one large, one with diet coke, one with chocolate milkshake or strawberry if you don't have chocolate or milk if you don't have milkshake.....Trainees often try to interrupt and I have to gently tell them to let me run through all the food first, then all the drinks, otherwise someone will be left out. And all the time ticking meals off on my fingers to make sure we have the right number. And then I make them read it back to me. I would not like to be behind me in the queue. However I am so proficient now I have done it in Germany, France and Cyprus. And in London where I don't speak any of the languages of the people working in that terrifying Leicester Square branch.

Obviously the children are older now, the youngest is 4 and recently I have emptied my handbag of mealtime distraction toys and broken bits of crayon from those goodiebags they give you.
But after 18 years of eating out with children I have decided my ideal family restaurant would have picture menus of exactly what the children's meal will look like. It would have decent crayons, an entertaining selection of age appropriate puzzles and colouring. Word searches and crosswords and sudoko for a kids menu aimed at 2-5 year olds? Really? Though DS7 has always enjoyed spot-to-spots as he calls them, even before he understood you were supposed to follow the numbers in order. It made for some interesting art as he joined the dots in a random fashion.

The same restaurant would not bring out the children's food so hot it couldn't be eaten for twenty minutes or on plates heated to volcanic temperatures. Knives and forks would be child sized and there would also always be a teaspoon for pea/bean/sweetcorn scooping. There would be wet wipes.

The ultimate restaurant would have handheld gadgets playing story tapes, music and videos all with headphones. Yes it's nice to engage in family conversation but let's face it that's not always possible and sometimes it would be even nicer not to have to endure repeated queries about how long dinner will be, or requests to play endless eye-spy or discussions on why that lady over there is so fat. And even when you have no hassle from your own brood the distractions would be useful to prevent the dreadfully behaved kids from the table next to you shrieking, climbing over the seats, staring in a creepy fashion at you until you look away or running about.

blowing the candles out
Actually we had none of those issues on DS's birthday. The youngsters all chatted happily (or in the case of the older crowd compared mobile phone games) and the adults were able to catch up in relative peace.
It was especially nice because we don't do it very often due to logistics and cost so it made a lovely end to half term and was a great way to celebrate DS turning 8.

To end this post today I'm going to ask a favour. If you are ever in one of those famous fast food places and you see a harrassed blonde surrounded by children juggling garish cardboard boxes and trays of waxed drinks cups, don't linger when you've finished your meal fiddling with your phone or reading your newspaper - get up and let us sit down, otherwise you are going to be treated to my special hard stare which means MOVE! Thanks!

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