Mention the words "family friendly dining" to some parents and you will see a shiver run through their body. That is because what they think of when they hear that phrase is some restaurant where the focus is squarely on the games and animatronic anthropomorphic animals and clearly not on providing anything worthwhile out of the kitchen. At some of these places, the menu starts and ends with pizza. Once in a while everybody likes to go out for pizza, but it should not be that every time a family wants to spend time together they have to be subjected to loud bells, flashing lights, birthday singalongs and bad food.
The truth is there are far more family friendly restaurants out there than most people think. It may be hard to find them because they tend to be privately owned establishments that do not have the advertising power that the national or even the regional chain restaurants have. And because they do not feature the same trappings of these restaurants when it comes to feeding the whole family - limited kids menu, mascots and prize giveaways with every meal - many people do not relate to them as a solution to the age old dilemma of where the family is going to eat tonight.
What makes most of these independent restaurants family friendly is that most of them are owned and run by families. The chefs got their inspiration for what to cook and the style of restaurant they wanted to run by being exposed to family meals featuring several generations. They learned that the meal is certainly about the food, yes, but it is also about being able to spend time together, to celebrate that togetherness and to enjoy each other's company.
When they were kids, they did not have to be bribed with the promises of toys and games in order to try something new. They were encouraged to do so because it was what the family did. In turn, the restaurants they run typically have the desire to create that same atmosphere of bringing the family together. They may be classified by the restaurant industry as casual fine dining, but that does not mean you need to find a babysitter before you go out for the night.
Of course, if you are uncertain or visiting any of the Appleton, Wisconsin restaurants for the first time, it certainly is best to call ahead and see what their exact style of dining is like and if they have a policy in regards to children. But do not let the prospect of a Latin fusion menu or a first time visit turn you away. You will be surprised to find that many more restaurants than you might have thought of are going to be family friendly, and none of them come with a six foot talking mouse.
Jack Terry is a freelance writer who has been covering the food and beverage industry for more than 20 years. http://www.osorioslatinfusion.com