**I’m currently boycotting all branches of CR because I’m sick and tired of their crap service and surly behaviour**
Type of food: French
Availability: More than 100 restaurants throughout the UK
Children’s menu: Main course, dessert and a drink for less than £6. Features usual ‘kiddie’ foods such as chicken, cheesy pasta and sausages. Note: most set meals offer a drink which, unless there’s a milkshake option, we reject and ask for tap water instead as the girls don’t drink juice or fizzy drinks.
Facilities: High chairs available. Toilets vary hugely in different branches but are usually basic but clean. Difficult to get a double buggy in without wiping out half the restaurant!
Price: c.£40 for a family of four without alcohol
Overall: We love the food at CR but find that the staff can be extremely variable, ranging from hugely over-attentive to the point of being intrusive to being extremely grumpy and occasionally, downright rude. Perhaps it’s part of the charm? This means that you either get your food very quickly, or sometimes not at all. Cue two very grumpy children! The girls aren’t fussed about the children’s menu and normally share one meal between them. We order extra bread and olives for them and they pick from our food…if we let them!
Type of food: American diner
Availability: 5 branches, all in London and the South-East
Children’s menu: Junior Bites menu – smaller versions of the massive adult meals, under £6
Facilities: Highchairs are provided and the aisles are wide enough for a buggy (maybe not a side by side double). The toilets are small but clean.
Overall: From the Rock n Roll music on the jukebox to the chrome fixtures and red vinyl seats, Ed’s is a lovely recreation of a 1950s diner. The milkshakes are amazing (we recommend the banana or chocolate shakes) and the food is great, if gut-busting. The American cheese *will* give you a coronary. We haven’t managed to have a dessert yet and the sundaes look amazing! The staff are friendly and welcoming and service is brisk.
Type of food: Premium burgers with an international feel.
Availability: More than 50 branches in England, normally in larger towns and cities.
Children’s menu: Junior set menu under £6 – smaller, plainer versions of the adult burgers
Facilities: We visited GBK post-highchairs but they are provided if needed. Toilets are good and clean. The tables are crowded together so it would be difficult to get a single buggy in let alone a double.
Overall: Much nicer burgers than either McDonalds or Burger King wide a huge range of extras, toppings, etc. The girls don’t really like chips so tend to have a burger each and a side order of olives. The staff are fairly generic and don’t tend to interact with the children. Some GBK’s have waiter service and at others you order at the counter.
Type of food: Canteen food with a Swedish bent
Availability: It’s Ikea. It’s everywhere.
Children’s menu: food starts from just £1 and a picnic box containing sandwiches, raisins, Organix crisps, an oat bar and a pack of Organix biscuits for £2.50.
Facilities: It’s Ikea. There are toilets galore and family changing rooms large enough for four people and two potties. Highchairs, microwaves and bottle warmers provided. Ample space for buggies.
Price: c.£20 (we ate for the princely sum of £17 – including soft drinks – recently and got a voucher off our next visit)
Overall: Oh why oh why didn’t we take the girls to Ikea when they were tiny? We should have gone there once a month. No, once a week! It’s the most child-friendly environment you can imagine and if the kids are driving you nuts there’s always the crèche…
John Lewis cafe
Type of food: bit of everything, from afternoon tea to Greek salad via fish and chips
Availability: c.40 department stores in the UK, mostly located in major cities/towns
Children’s menu: the increasingly prevalent pick n mix lunch for a set price. They recently changed supplier and I’m not hugely impressed with some of the changes e.g. removing the fruit and veg packs and adding more crisps.
Facilities:the Bluewater store has a dedicated feeding/changing/toilet area for families. There are even two small children-sized toilets side by side, which the girls love. They are fascinated by the Dyson Airblade.
Price: c£9.00 for two children’s pick and mix lunches. Includes a drink. Nice cakes and salads for the grown-ups.
Overall: Like Ikea, I wish we’d taken the girls here when they were smaller. Their nappy changing and feeding facilities are to die for.
Type of food: Chinese
Availability: Only one site at Bluewater, unfortunately.
Children’s menu: sweet and sour chicken, a drink and a lolly for less than £6
Facilities: It doesn’t have its own toilets but it’s in Bluewater so there are lots of toilets and family changing rooms nearby. We visited post-highchairs but they do provide them.
Overall: We were really impressed. It was a little more pricey than your average Chinese restaurant but the quality of the food was excellent. The girls loved the (free) basket of prawn crackers and dip. I highly recommend the Red Dragon non-alcoholic cocktail. Our waitress was brilliant (one of the girls dropped their fork and from nowhere the waitress appeared with a replacement) and suggested that we get one children’s meal for the girls when we asked for two and she was right – the girls struggled to finish it between them. We got a voucher for our next visit and will definitely be returning there soon. It’s a shame there aren’t more branches.
Type of food: Chicken, chicken and more chicken
Availability: More than 200 branches across the UK
Children’s menu: Nandino’s menu – one main, one side dish and bottomless frozen yogurt for under £6
Facilities: Highchairs provided. The restaurants are usually large enough to accommodate buggies. The toilets are basic but clean and some branches have a family changing room.
Overall: The first restaurant we took the girls to when they started eating ‘normal’ food and we’ve been back countless times since. The staff are friendly and often make a point of entertaining and chatting with the girls. The girls will eat a portion of olives between them as well as a kids meal each and they adore the garlic bread. The food always arrives quickly. It’s a great, filling, cheap family meal in a very relaxed atmosphere.
Type of food: Pizza
Availability: It’s Pizza Hut. It’s everywhere.
Children’s menu: There is a children’s menu – 2 courses for £4 and 3 courses for £5 but we just get a large pizza, a couple of salad bar visits and a couple of starters and share it between the four of us.
Facilities: Better than the average chain restaurant, with lots of toilets and baby changing. Highchairs provided. Booths and tables tend to be crammed in so leave the buggy at home or in the car.
Overall: It’s not exactly nutritious but it’s cheap, tasty and relaxed. The staff are normally very helpful when you’ve got children in tow.
Type of food: Pizza and pasta
Availability: Hundreds, all over the UK.
Children’s menu: The Piccolo menu – dough balls, side salad (in practice, a couple of bits of tomato and pepper), pizza or pasta, a sundae and a bambinoccino for £6.10
Facilities: Usually quite small, but clean. Highchairs provided. Tables tend to be crammed in so again, fold the buggy up or leave it at home
Price: £30-40, depending whether the adults have dessert – they usually do.
Overall: We always vow to get the girls an adult portion of dough balls between them (in addition to the portion they get in their meal) and always forget next time we visit. The staff are always fantastic and extremely helpful (take note Cafe Rouge) and when the girls were small we used to get them one meal to share – they usually got a sundae each at the end of the meal. The girls love the bambinoccino (frothy milk with chocolate sprinkles) and we always get a laugh as G presses the cup to her face, giving herself an impressive chocolate-coloured monobrow.