In the days before children, going to a restaurant was a leisure activity; something relaxing and enjoyable.
It was an excuse to get dressed up and probably have a bottle (or two) of wine whilst putting the world to rights and, crucially, meant no cooking or washing up.
Eating out now is an entirely different experience with a whole new meaning.
It is never done in the evenings; that would be pure madness. It is not done for pleasure, usually, but necessity. Children need to eat fairly regularly or they can swiftly become extremely unpleasant; so if you head out and about with children in tow, unless you're the always-prepared packed-lunch type, at some point you're going to have to find something to eat. Sadly, I am not the always-prepared packed-lunch making type. Hell, if I remember to take bibs out with me then I feel like I've won that day.
If we are out and it reaches midday, we must immediately stop what we are doing and find a suitable eating establishment.
Being engrossed in something and failing to note the time is a terrible, terrible mistake. There is an approximate window of seven minutes between my toddler announcing she is hungry and all hell breaking loose. The baby gives no such warning.
The choice is somewhat restricted, and generally we have to settle for the first place that is already open, has seats and high chairs free and is 'child friendly'. Without exception these are the places we would have actively avoided before becoming parents. I'm talking mainly chains with no atmosphere, predictable menus and OK food. Oh, and lots of other people's children.
However well planned the trip and whatever time we arrive, the whinging usually starts about 5 seconds before the waiter arrives with the menu and informs us that there is a bit of a wait because they are busy, because apparently it is entirely unpredictable that people may wish to eat at lunch time.
Often at these family friendly chain-restaurants, there are crayons for the kids and menus to draw on, which is all well and good if we have caught the hunger in its early stages. If we are past that point, this is not acceptably distracting for the toddler. The only solution we have found to this (bar plying her with snacks which mean she won't touch her food) is to hand over a phone and let her play games or watch You Tube videos. Feel free to go ahead and judge me, it can't be as harshly as I have judged myself
My children may be small, but properly motivated they can put away a ridiculous amount of food.
There's always a comment from a well meaning old dear, always, about how well they both eat. Smug although I may feel now, along with sleeping it's not really a desirable trait once one reaches adulthood. Alas.
In a futile attempt to fill the gaping void that is their empty stomachs and restore the calm, we end up ordering a fairly expensive child-sized meal for each of them which is usually advertised as suitable for a child up to ten years old. Generally it will involve chips; I have not yet met a child that doesn't covet chips. There is zero point trying to get vegetables into them in these places; at home I have a million tricks to get them to eat their veg (well, one: hiding it) but when eating out, baked beans are king. Peas at a push. There will probably also be some kind of pudding (usually ice cream) which I will eat most of. To help out, you understand. It's for the greater good.
Inevitably, when the food arrives, it will be hotter than the sun and this is bound to anger the hungry whingelets. Waiting for food which is right in front of their eyes is not something my children can do quietly.
As mentioned previously, the upside of eating out is supposed to be less tidying up.
Of course, this isn't actually the case when dining with small children. They insist on feeding themselves, however the baby in particular is not quite au fait with the skill of actually getting food in his mouth (as opposed to his hair or eyeballs) just yet, so inevitably a fairly large proportion will end up on the floor. Whether it's because I'm a decent person or just easily ashamed, I do attempt to tidy this to the best of my ability which usually involves a large amount of baby wipes and crawling around on the floor and wiping down seats and surfaces, although I am always sure to smile sweetly and leave a hefty tip anyway.
All in all, I can think of better ways to spend an hour and thirty odd quid. I should probably brush up on my packed-lunch making skills.
If you'd like to read more from Frances and the Whingelets, you can find them at Whinge Whinge Wine.