I had the dubious pleasure of dining last week at one of Melbourne's suburban hotel/pokies/childcare centres. It was specifically selected by my friend because there was a play area for her five-year-old.
It scares the hell out of me that I may in a few years see this an acceptable dining venue. I doubt it but...
I have a lot of ethical problems about supporting suburban gambling venues but didn't want to argue with a worn-out parent. There was only a moderate amount of stale cigarette butts at the entrance but once we stepped into the foyer it smelt like it hadn't been aired out since smoking was outlawed in food venues.
The family-friendly bistro was separated from the pokies room by a bar where one could order meals, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. The annoying sound of the poker machines was well and truly drowned out by the sound of kids screaming. The presence of kids in such a venue disturbed me even more than the existence of suburban pokies. The place was packed with young families having a 6pm dinner.
Besides the play area, wall of pictures that had obviously been coloured in by young children and the fact that kids could scream with abandon, it wasn't really that family-friendly. One had to go up to the bar to order and pre-pay which meant each party had to include at least 2 adults – one to order the meal and one to supervise the kid(s). Or they could just let their kids run wild unsupervised (a number of people seemed to have taken that option). Drinks had to be ordered and paid for in a separate queue. The meals came quickly and were generally of an acceptable quality (although the frozen chips could have done with another 5 minutes in the oven to ensure they were thawed properly). The prices were comparable to those charged by a small family-run suburban restaurant that in my experience generally provides a much higher quality meal (and ambiance).
For the first time in my life I could understand the perspective of inner-city yummy mummies who take their babies and toddlers to trendy cafes and annoy the crap out of non-parents.
Surely there has to be a better alternative for young families than these two extremes. Is it too much to ask for a family friendly restaurant that offers a safe play area, full table service and a decently cooked meal for both adults and kids?