Eating out with children can be a bit of a nightmare – it's hard to find a spot that's as inviting for the parent as it is for the child.
However, I am happy to report that some restaurants have it nailed.
The key principles to make me feel welcome – and, more importantly, return – with my kids are:
- A kids' menu. They're usually good value, have foods that the little ones like, and generally send out a signal that the restaurant is kid-friendly.
- Crayons or colouring books. Whether incorporated into the menu or not, these simple things distract kids and make the waiting time for food fly by. Obviously Boy Scout dads turn up with a quiver of distraction tools like iPads, colouring books and jigsaws just in case – but it's nice to be helped.
- An inviting attitude. The kids will trash the place, and they really don't mean to, but forgiving staff will be rewarded with tips.
These Top 10 choices are based on my experiences, and the criteria above, so please feel free to comment on other gems you have found. Variety is the spice of life, after all!
Okay, so it's not revolutionary. But it's good. Really friendly tolerant staff, well used to kids wandering around.
They have a great atmosphere, and plenty of choice for everybody with a massive menu – better again, with outlets in Dun Laoghaire, Tallaght, Dundrum and Blanchardstown and a few dotted around the city centre, they're a solid option wherever you happen to be.
Unfortunately their outlet in Grand Canal Square closed its doors for business – it's now HQ – but the IFSC one is still a great spot to take children for a bite to eat.
It's a great location for a nice stroll along the Liffey afterwards, past the Famine memorial and looking at all the cool ships docked all the way up to the Samuel Beckett Bridge.
Most of the Avoca Cafes and table served restaurants are excellent for kids.
My personal favourite is Malahide Castle, which has a large tables for large families and friends. They operate off the self-serve model in Malahide but the food is always tasty (I recommend the Salmon Salad, and then top it off with one of their deadly desserts).
They have a dedicated children's menu that gives them a drink, cookie and a main – and afterwards you can have a wander around Malahide Castle Gardens and bring the kids to the playground.
This new cafe ticks all the principles I've listed above. They've a good mix of both healthy and indulgent foods, and the kids' menu is spot on for the little people – downstairs, the Fire House Bakery also has some sweet and savoury treats to keep everyone happy.
A trip to Pigeon House Cafe is perfect after you've built up an appetite with a walk on the coast, Bray or Greystones.
Toscana in Dun Laoghaire, and boasts a great view overlooking the pier, so you can hypnotise the kids with the ships as you dine.
It's an Italian restaurant and has a classy feel so you probably want them on decent behaviour. They do have a lovely kids' menu though – there are plenty of good playgrounds to explore in Dun Laoghaire afterwards, and if they're good (or if the weather is good) you can treat them to a Teddy's Ice Cream.
Again close to the pier, that sea air will knock them out. Sweet.
Monkstown is a real treasure trove of restaurants, while Seapoint is a great little spot with a delicious kids' menu. There's a great booth for larger groups that allows you to trap the kids away from harm or mischief.
After an exhausting trip to Dundrum, Jamie's offers you a high energy dining room.
Jamie has a ton of kids – Daisy, Poppy, Petal and Buddy, and no they're not his dogs! – so he's got this down to a tee. Caution, though, as the budget can easily be blown here once you get started ordering goodies for the bigger people.
8. Crabby Jo's
While younger kids probably won't survive a walk on Howth Head, the pier is just as exciting – and feeding the seals is a real treat.
Crabby Jo's is really filling the market gap of casual family dining in Howth. There are a few other spots here that can cater for kids too, but some are clearly adults only. I guarantee the ice cream floats here will give them enough energy to run up and down the pier a few times – and then they'll snooze all the way home.
9. The Bay, Clontarf
Sensing a sea-air theme here?
We've raved about this place before, but what we didn't mention is that it's super baby-friendly – with lovely staff and equally lovely
10. Eddie Rocket's
Sure it's a burger joint, but I think Eddie does a decent burger – and the milkshakes are the best in the land.
Kids are king in this place, with colouring books, kids' menu and a gift on leaving. The menu is more of a treat, but the music and speed of service sometimes makes this the best choice. Another nice addition is a family menu that allows those family treats in between paydays a little less frightening.
Empty pockets? Not if you're under 12...
Openly known to be rammed full of kids.
Here you don't really mind if your child's inner demon has come out, because there'll always be someone else who is dining with the actual devil.
Great Picolo (kids') menu, starter, main and dessert top off with a Bambinoccino. Fair enough, it is pizza and pasta so there's not many kids who will turn up their nose at that – but the dough balls for a starter keeps the parents happy too.
My favourite part has to be the ever-changing puzzles and colour pages on the menu; they keep me distracted while I wait for my feed.