Michela and I are often asked about family-friendly restaurants in our respective cities. Try as we might, we are hard pressed to come up with good suggestions. There is a huge North/South divide in Europe regarding the obvious signs of child friendliness in restaurants.
In Northern Europe you will more often than not be offered a highchair when you enter a restaurant with your kids. Often you find changing tables in the bathrooms and kids menus, and many places even have special toys they bring out. In Southern Europe it is rare to find this kind of service, BUT this does not mean that children are not welcome. In fact, they are almost always welcome, but are expected to fit around the adults.
As I now have two little ones with me constantly, I have been surprised by how many restaurants here in France are more than willing to put together a child portion of simple food, though there is almost never a specific child menu; you just have to ask. There may be no toys, but everyone from the cook to the other customers will comment on how beautiful your child is, which my 3-year-old personally finds hugely entertaining, (she is definitely not going to develop an inferiority complex).
One of our favourite places in Paris, the Café de l’Industrie close to Bastille is a perfect example. On the surface it looks like a lot of the establishments in the area. It is nicely decorated, has a great menu and lots of people hanging out drinking coffees and smoking cigarettes and philosophizing about life. If you turn up with a brood of youngsters though, they will make sure you get a comfortable table and offer the little ones pasta or sausages and mash as half portions. The young and beautiful waitresses find the spectacle of small children covering themselves in potatoes hugely entertaining. (So would I by the way, if I did not have to try and wash dried up mashed potatoes out of my daughters hair…)
You will be surprised by how much kids are actually accepted in restaurants if you are ever holidaying in France and if someone makes a fuss, just throw your arms up in the air and gesticulate wildly and walk out, just as the locals would do!
I have to say, in defense of Italy, that I just spent a week in Positano and every single restaurant offered us a highchair for our toddler! I was very impressed.
Maybe they’re finally catching on?
Also, I sort of think that it’s all about what your kids are used to. We used to bring a toy bag/crayons/various other distractions with us to every restaurant to keep our son happy and quiet. We don’t do that anymore, and now our kids sit still (most of the time) without needing any of those toys, etc.
Here in Marseille we have only seen a highchair once, but many many restaurants have a child’s meal and they have all been very friendly to us. Often in outdoor cafes the servers will stack two chairs so that the little ones can be closer to the table. It is nice not to have to go to specifically “family” restaurants!