Before we had children, my husband and I were a little addicted to eating out. Hard day at work? Meal out! Nasty cold? Nothing a latte and a croissant won't fix! So it came as a nasty shock to us that children and eating out really don't mix. I no longer know what it feels like to have a "relaxing" meal out. If the service is slow and the food is bad I can no longer laugh it off like I used to and now go into toddler style meltdown. Before children I would never have dreamed about eating out in a "chain" style pub or restaurant (unless I was on a hen night of course), now it is a staple. We know what the menu will have, we know our child will eat the food, we know it is just noisy enough so no-one can hear our toddler say, "this tastes of poo" but just quiet enough so that we don't have a headache for the rest of the day. We know chains have balloons, baby changing and usually some sort of play area. Soulless? Yes. Convenient, Yes!! So I want to compile a sort of list of my favourite chains and say what experiences we have had there and why we like them.
1. Beefeater. We first went to a Beefeater when we were staying at a travellodge at Ashford before catching the Eurostar to France. It was late, we were tired, it looked ok from the outside though I was not keen. When we walked in I was very surprised, nice wooden floors, tables separated from each other into little booths, but most of all I couldn't believe how busy it was! We had some sort of bargain menu (something like £9) because we were eating before 6pm (the shame) and had two courses one of which was steak and it was delicious! Our son was happy as he got to have spag bol and some sort of chocolate sundae. The whole meal came to less than £40 including a bottle of wine and two courses each. Now I insist on going to Beefeaters whenever we go out in a group.
2. Pizza Express. Two of the best things about Pizza Express is a) you can use Tesco clubcard vouchers x 3 in most of them, b) the constant vouchers for 2 for 1, half price pizzas etc which make a meal out for 4 of us come to less than £30 including a small dessert. These days, I always get the leggera pizza as it has less calories, and for dessert I get this coffee and a small lemon meringue thing which is divine. The kids menu is a little pricey in my opinion at £6.25 but includes crudites, pizza/pasta and a lovely sundae plus bambinocino (never seen any child drink this). Love!
3. Pizza Hut. Yes they are desperately unhealthy and I am convinced they fry the pizzas as the bottoms are always glistening with fat but kids love it there, plus there is one in Bingley where we live. Again there is always some sort of deal on, e.g. kids eat free, cheap and cheerful!
4. Starbucks. I'll keep this brief - high chairs, baby changing and them most delicious raisin toast in the world. All kids love their raisin toast.
5. Not strictly a restaurant but Waitrose cafes.They do a really healthy kids lunch box for about £3 which is a real winner and actually has freshly made sandwiches rather than prepacked type ones. My son loves it and I can get a crayfish sandwich.
6. Any Vintage Inn. Highchairs, baby changing, also nice soft drinks for those who are pregnant/driving etc, e.g. sparkling elderflower £1. The specials are usually better than the main menu and there is a good kids menu which my son seems to enjoy. Winner.
7. Wagamama. An actual healthy kids menu and children love sitting on the wooden benches. They have those cool grip on high chairs which mean you don't have to be constantly moving your child's highchair around everytime some idiot walks past. They do a great health drink I think it is called Raw juice or something. Very good.
8. Pret a Manger. Quick is the key factor here, plus they have high chairs and baby changing. There are kids sandwiches if you get early enough (before all the cheapskate adults buy them!) in reasonable flavours (is that the right word?) such as cheese/ham etc. Lots of healthy choices too e.g. fruit pots and yoghurts and comfortable surroundings. There is one in Leeds where they have a small child play area type thing.
9. Red Hot Buffet. The good thing about buffets and children is that if they don't like something it means they can try something else without wasting your money. We went to this one yesterday and it was definitely better than average. There were lots of different "stations" e.g. Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian and you could basically help yourself as many times as you liked. The kids really enjoyed it and it gave them a chance to try things they normally wouldn't go for. Best of all in their opinion was the ice cream factory at the end!
10. Miller and Carter. Not sure if this is strictly speaking a national chain (just had a look there are quite a few dotted around now) but I really like it. It is essentially a steak house but is quite "swish" as my dad would say and not just aimed at men. There is a nice trendy looking bar where you can get champagne and nice wines, and it is generally done out pretty well. There is a really good kids menu with a variety of options. Bingo!