Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Restaurant Idea

So earlier today I had a great idea (I thought) about making a restaurant that was geared toward kids and their paying parents. I know, vague, right? As long as there are high chairs and chicken nuggets, kids are covered. You would think.

But the thing is, there is more to it! When I think to take the kids out to eat the same four progressive thoughts occur:
1) Let's go somewhere noisy so my excited and rambunctious (loud) kids will blend in with the atmosphere (note: Applebees).
2) Let's go somewhere they can run and play (note: Del Taco and McDonalds).
3) Let's go with a Drive-Thru
4) Let's scrap dinner out and just throw a pizza on the floor and let them, and Holly (puppy), do their thing

NO, my kids are not THAT bad, but they ARE kids and when I am in the company of others that do not have kids or have better behaved kids, all the side glancing and eye rolling can take it's toll. And sometimes I want to eat out, but I don't.

My kids are kids, and some days they are really good in a restaurant and you can find me dining at Bud's Seafood Grille. Other days they are tired, over played, under fed and a little more free spirited -- in which case I will be at Del Taco.

Despite KNOWING all of this, I still envision a different dining out experience. One that allows me to enjoy good food, conversation with my husband, and a good time with the kids -- thereby saving on the $50 dollars I would pay for a babysitter.

THAT'S when I started thinking about this great restaurant idea.  

At first I thought there should be a play structure, similar to those at some fast foods establishments, in the center of nicer indoor restaurant that actually serves you on real dishes and not in cardboard boxes (which is way better than the old school styrofoam). But then I thought - NOPE, won't work -- a restaurant wants to make money and if they have a play structure they won't have table turnaround that will generate the cha-ching; parents might camp out long after their meal is done (I could be guilty).

Then I thought of other types of things - an activity center, a train ride that circles the restaurant, a rock wall inside the restaurant, etc. etc. etc. Sounds good, would photograph well, but - NOPE. That wouldn't work because the parents would be chasing trains, kids would be accidentally taking (or eating) play dough, and dads would knock kids over to get on the rockwall themselves. The whole "nice dinner" would be forgotten and the rest already exists at local places like Micke Grove's  Fun Town or the Children's Museum.

Finally, after I had my kids taken care of and I was sipping my nightly cup of coffee, I landed on an idea!

Kids don't really eat. Let's be real. They nibble. We pay gazillions of dollars on meals (unless it's a kids eat free night) and they nibble. They eat the croutons off your salad, lick a nugget, eat the fries and call it good. Meanwhile, the parents (ME) are trying to still enjoy a nice meal long after the kids are DONE and ready to leave the joint. GAH! CHECK PLEASE! So why not focus on a different activity other than eating, for the kids? So the parents CAN eat? Stay with me on this.

What if.... what if there was a restaurant that had a "storytime/puppetshow" element to it?  Hang on.. think it through with me.

What if there was a restaurant seating area that overlooked an inner circle/seating area that had bench-like seating and a stage (this is raw thinking, let's just keep going and rethink that bench seating later). So, all the parents could go to a table not far from their kids, they could wave and smile.... and EAT while the kids were entertained for a specific amount of time (30 minute intervals?) with a great puppet art/storytime event? Whattya think?

I might pay extra for a meal because in the price was a small storytime fee, too. HECK YA! I can chat, hold hands, sip coffee, not hide the knives (salt, pepper, ketchup, sweetener, specials rack card, cholula) at the table... and my kids can laugh and learn and imagine and pretend... WIN WIN!?! Right??

Maybe we can get the kids meals to go?? It's like taking your kids to a sitter so you can eat? It's amazing? No?

Back to the bench seating -- maybe that should be some kind of interchangeable seating because AFTER HOURS (say 9pm) the place could actually convert the to a live entertainment venue. Acoustic guitarists (I know a great guy named Doc Mompean), trios, singer songwriters, dancers, etc  could perform "in the round" with intimate seating while others sat at the tables around the stage?

Again, it's a raw idea... maybe their are flaws, but let me tell you this: Whoever does come up with a new concept for kid friendly restaurants that don't have value meals and do have nice ambiance for the paying units... they will make a fortune. A FORTUNE!! I think.

Or there's this:

Choo Choo Johnny's in Naperville, Illinois

What are YOUR ideas?

Married and Dating

This article also appeared in the February/March 2014 edition of Lifestyles Magazine.  

The running joke with the Husband and I is that we never really dated. We met and we were together. The end. We bypassed dating and went straight to living together – we were inseparable. We are inseparable.

However, after nearly 15 years of togetherness and raising 5 kids, this “dating” idea has become a little more intriguing. Maybe it’s not too late? Maybe we can start dating now? I think a date night might be good for us. Or maybe we can call it what it really is, a “ditching the kids” night. Sugar coated or not, we both agree we live a hectic life and it would be fun to slow our roll and do something with only the two of us; for the two of us.

And just like that, the mad searching of event calendars began. I scoured all the hottest local venues such as the Bob Hope Theater, Stockton Arena, Hutchins Street Square, Stockton Civic Theatre. Every place I could think of was on my radar.

Next up was coordinating our schedules and hooking up a babysitter, not an easy feat when you have an 8 year old, 3 year old, and an 11 week old puppy -- only 1 of the 3 is fully potty trained. But alas, we know excellent people who are up for the challenge.

With 4 days of planning behind us and just a day away from our date, I was starting to get a little exhausted! I mean, this dating thing was taking quite a bit of time and work. I started to think for a moment if it was all worth it, and by worth it I mean worth it! It looked like a night out might cost us upwards of $150 bucks between the babysitting, dinner, and entertainment. That’s a lot of duckets!

Was all this really necessary? After all, the Husband and I, even after 15 years, are actually outrageously happy. Maybe every day isn’t bliss, but on the whole, we are two people that just seem to work well and love well, together. I know, gross, right? By gross I mean awesome.

Of course, we don’t tango at sunset, stare adoringly into each others eyes for hours at a time, or feed each other peeled grapes, but what we do works well for us.

For instance, I cook him pot roast and gravy and in return he takes the trash out! He cleans up the dog poop and I keep the kids clean. I watch the kids while he goes to band rehearsal and he finds my lost keys, wallet and phone. There are lots of these little arrangements that keep our marriage strong. Maybe a date isn’t necessary to keep up the wedded bliss?

But with hours of research already invested we continued on with our plans. On the day of the date I pulled out all the stops. I shaved my legs, curled my hair, wore a blouse instead of a t-shirt and put on my fancy jeans instead of my regular jeans. I smelled good, too.

The Husband was in it to win it as well. He, too, smelled wonderful and he shaved his face. We were both ready for our night out on the town.

The sitter arrived, we grabbed our things, and out the door we scooted. I have to admit, there is an unconscious mood change that takes place when two parents step outside the front door with their kids safely on the other side. We became man and woman instead of “Mommmy” and “Daaaddy” and it was exhilarating – and a little hot!

Soon as we were in the car, all our plans changed. No more did we care about a fancy dinner and late night plays. All we really wanted was a pizza and a movie. Not just any movie, but a rated R movie! Nothing like a little bit of cursing to spice up the night. We ended up having a great time and did some smooching right out in the public. 

Turns out, this married and dating thing is a lot of fun. Knowing we already love each other and are in it for the long haul, we were able to spend less time making the night wine-and-roses perfect and instead put our focus on what is most important – time together.

While we absolutely get a lot of our happiness spending time as a family playing games, swinging at a park, refereeing arguments, and taking road trips, there is also great satisfaction that comes from being two people instead of more. After all, before we were Mom and Dad we were a man and a woman, sitting on the same side of the table, eating warm pizza, and not fretting over spilt milk, literally. 

We will probably schedule more of these “ditching the kids” interludes; maybe even make it to a fancy play or symphony. But in the meantime, we will do what we have always done. We’ll snuggle up on the couch and enjoy some shoulder-to-shoulder, hand in hand snuggles until one of the kiddo’s wedges in between us. We will sneak kisses in the kitchen until we hear screaming from elsewhere in the house and we will keep on loving like we always have.

Sure, it’s not very sexy, but it makes the two of us supremely happy and that’s all that really matters in our pot roast, “where’s my phone?”, trash-on-the-curb marriage.

What works for you and yours?