A trip to two Vancouver Main Street eateries last week has helped me sort out a problem that has vexed restaurateurs since prehistoric man first started serving his pterodactyl Tuesdays special: How to make young families feel welcome without other patrons throwing pointy things at their youngins.
My young family and I hit Restaurant No. 1 - a clean, bustling joint specializing in flatbread - for a Saturday lunch and were promptly seated by a lovely waitress, her tattoos tactfully concealed by her long-sleeved shirt. Massivecalved cyclists in their tight, padded shorts sat munching on fresh basil and blackberry salad while sipping all-natural root beers.
My 20-month-old toddler was soon lounging in a slim, space-age high chair that looked as if it had been clipped from the pages of famous Danish design magazine Kool Stoof.
An organic menu built around delicious flatbreads featured such exotic toppings as nut-free pesto, Capriny goat's cheese and schinken speck - that's German for ham bacon, or as I like to call it, yes please.
Their sensible but exciting kids' menu featured creamy macaroni and cheese for fatherrun families and free-range chicken with carrot sticks for mother-run operations. We got the chicken.
A nice-sized family washroom boasted a change table that was not disgusting, which is, in fact, the highest designation Health Canada can award to a public change table.
Topping it all off was a designated kids corner full of wooden kitchen toys where little tykes could pretend to prepare their own organic flatbread creations. It looked like parental paradise.
One day later Restaurant No. 2 greeted us with a cascade of water falling through the ceiling despite the odd fact that it had stopped raining hours ago. Massive-bearded bikers in their 20-pound boots sat chomping on drywall screws and drinking pints of black ale.
A lovely waitress whose arms were tactfully covered by tattoos showed us in and my son was soon awash in a utilitarian booster seat that looked like it had been lifted out of a McDonald's booth circa 1985.
An organic menu - it was Main Street, after all, where non-organic food is scarcer than sensibly fitting trousers - featured delicious artery cloggers like pulled pork poutine, organic chicken wings and craft-brewed beer. The kids' menu boasted such classics as tap water and strawberry spinach salad - hold the spinach, hold the salad.
Topping it all off was one unisex washroom the size of a hobbit's suitcase that provided a great opportunity for parents to change a child while playing the popular "don't touch anything" game.
So, of course, when the bills from the two different restaurants were settled and the organic food was on its way to my kid's organic diaper, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that the dirty, leaky cauldron was by the far the better meal. Wait, better? Yes, better.
Kid-friendly flatbread was, in fact, more like kid-fearful flatbread for our little guy. As we waited for our meals at the perky, don't-call-itpizza place, my son toddled over to the play area to kill some time. Soon one stroller rolled through the door, then another. Then came a double-decker job packed with so many little rascals it looked like a tiny limo on the way to baby prom. By now it was stroller derby and the servers looked as if they were about to get tossed into the alligator pit.
The thing about kids my son's age is they don't really play with each other, it's more like yell near each other. The packed fake kitchen beside the bustling real kitchen inside the crowded restaurant was not, in fact, a great place to play. It was like Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen in there but with less swearing and the same amount of crying.
The food arrived and we knew something was wrong when my son continued to look around, wild-eyed in the growing din, while his chicken sat untouched. Normally he's like the common shrew, eating 90 per cent of his body weight each day to give him the energy he needs to gnaw on things and forage for small insects.
This place, however, was just too crazy.
On a separate note, when did restaurants decide to start calling pizza flatbread? Who are they trying to fool? Who was like: "Hell no I don't want no pizza. Oh, you've got some bread that's flat? What do you put on there? Tomato sauce? Cheese? A little bit of spicy ham?! Mushrooms! I'll have four!!"
The next day at Restaurant No. 2 we all had a grand old time. The food was equally great - my son devoured large portions of everyone's meals - and when he got bored he just walked around and made casual conversation with the hipsters, who all seemed pretty interested in what he had to offer.
"Diggers. Big truck. Eat, eat, eat!" he'd say.
"I hear ya," they answered. By the end of the two meals it was obvious: the problem with kid-friendly restaurants is all those durned kids. The fix? A baby bouncer. He could stand at the door letting in just a couple of teeny tinys at a time. He'd need to have a strong will so as not to be bribed by organic animal crackers or slightly smushed bananas.
Maybe I'm judging this contest through amber-coloured glasses - did I mention Restaurant No. 2 stocked the finest craftbrewed ales in B.C.? The real answer here might just be to get dad drunk.
Whatever you do, restaurateurs, whether you specialize in high balls or ball pits, thank you for doing your best to make little ones and big daddies welcome. Remember that babies grow up to be bottomless teenagers and daddies grow up to be goldcard grandpas. But whatever you do, don't skimp on the schinken speck.