If you have very small children, then you know that sometime between the birth of your first child and the first tooth of your second child, the Olive Garden became a “pretty nice place” to eat.
Probably before you had kids you ate at a place like Chaya Brasserie and ordered fancy things off the menu that cost $28, like bacon wrapped monkfish (which looks like it might latch onto your face, and implant alien larva). You would then top it all off with a $14 glass of wine (yes, $14 per glass not bottle. If you wanted to pay $14 for a bottle of wine you’d have gone to the Olive Garden). For dessert you would indulge yourself with a creme brulee trio, just to feel fancy.
These days the only thing you associate the word “brasserie” with is Dairy Queen and the idea of spending $14 on anything is debatable—unless someone needs a new kidney, then it’s a smoking’ hot deal.
If you have never eaten at Olive Garden before, you should know that their food has a dramatic way of filling you up without you realizing it. Suddenly, in mid-bite, you’re so full that when you leave the restaurant you should be walking outside into Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade, as yourself. Also, if you have kids you will fill up faster because:
A) You’re shoveling food into your mouth while it’s still warm.
B) You’re trying to finish your meal fast. At least before your two-year old decides to climb over the poorly replicated Tuscan style wall, to inform unsuspecting diners that they just went poop.
In the end, dining out with kids isn’t really about enjoying your meal. It’s about the fact that you went out to eat and finished an entire meal before management quietly removes your child from the kitchen and hands you your bill. This bill includes replacing whole kitchen equipment with damages that no one can explain, including your two-year old who can’t quite answer questions directly. Example:
You: How did you do this?
Two-Year Old: Paint?
You: No, we’re not going to paint. Please tell Mommy how you did this.
Two-year old: Carrot?
Just because you’re there and your family doesn’t mean you aren’t accountable for great-great-grandpa’s top of the line restaurant gas range that was about $14,000.
We actually fared pretty well last time we went out. Our two-year old only leaned over the partition once, to say hi to the couple next to us. She then discussed something that no one really understood. Maybe giving her opinion on dividend growth investing strategy, we don’t know. All we heard was a noise similar to what an elephant makes, followed by a laugh, and then an enthusiastic medley of “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” and “Happy Birthday,” which was mostly humming.
We used chocolate mousse cake to lure her back down. The bad news about chocolate mousse cake and toddlers is that your child will have enough energy to launch themselves into orbit and circle the moon a few hundred times before coming back down. The good news is, she’ll leave the people next to you alone.
Overall, we’ve had great dining experiences that have given us a false sense of security—one that might even lead us to going out again. I don’t know how our next dining experience will be, but I do know that we won’t be ordering monkfish any time soon. Not because they taste bad, but because I know what they look like. I’m just not comfortable being afraid of my food. I’m also not comfortable with the fact that my child would mostly likely grab this thing off my plate, toss it onto the table next to ours, and throw her arms up like she just scored a touch down while shouting: “YAY!”