Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dining with Children: The Qdoba Experience

Once a week, I treat my kids to a meal out with just mommy. Their favorite restaurant is Qdoba, one of those fast-fresh Mexican joints. Ideally, we stand in line and tell a server what to pile on our tortilla bowl as we watch over the counter and scoot sideways to the cash register. While the food there is always decent, and I can feed the three of us for about 20 dollars, it's not convenient to eat there with kids. I am sure that the kind managers of Qdoba would argue with me that it is a kid-friendly place, and they certainly mean it to be. But this whole style of ordering, which is found at other places, such as Subway, Moe's, and Chipotle, is not conducive to peaceful and easy meal-engaging for anyone who totes in line a tyke or two. To clarify exactly why, here is what often takes place when my kids and I visit Qdoba:

Me: Allright, kids. While we wait, take a look at the menu and decide what you'd like. And no, you may not have Coke.
Tiny: Chips and wocamowee!
Chicken Little: Ummmmmmmm. Ummmmmmmmm.
Tiny: Chips and wocamowee! Mom? Mom. Mom! Chips and wocamowee, please.
Me (turning to CL): You need to decide. (turning to server when it's our time to order) I'll have the Mexican gumbo with black beans and salsa please.
CL: Ummmmm. Ummmmmm. I'll have the... ummmm.

Tiny Man starts walking back and forth behind the line of people being served, running his hand along the tile of the wall that divides the line from the dining room. He then quickly progresses to running back and forth.

Me: (ignoring daughter who has had ten minutes to make a decision): The little man over here will have the chips and woca...I mean guacamole. (to Tiny) Cut it out. Either stay beside me or go choose a table and wait.
CL: I'll have the regular nachos and a bowl of Mexican gumbo and a side of...
Me: No. We talked about this before we came in. That's too much food for you. Stick with the kid's nachos.
CL: But I am always hungry afterward!
Me: Then just pick one thing and one side.

Tiny has scampered off to find a table and I hear him calling (Mom? Mom. Mom!). Meanwhile, the server is doing her best to be patient. People are piling up behind me. At this point, Tiny may have come back from the table and is asking for a brownie, as there is always a bowl of saran-wrapped ones on the counter. Whoever puts those there should be shot.

Tiny: Mom? Mom! Can I have a brownie? Mom? Mom!
Me: No. Go sit down. (turning to CL) This year, sweetheart.

CL: Ok, then I'll have the regular nachos with a side of...
Me: Oh, no. What did I just say? That's too much food. (server heaves a sigh)
CL: Ooookkkaay. I'll have the kids' nachos with a side of Mexican gumbo.
Me: Tiny? Tiny. Come back here. (watching server pile way too much on the kid nachos as CL asks for every condiment there is.) Wait, no, stop. That's too much food. We have just had this conversation. No. No more. Grown ups shouldn't even eat that much.
CL: (to server) I'll have a coke, please.
ME: No, no she won't. We are all having unsweet tea. Holy God, that's a huge plate of nachos for kids. Chicken Little!

At this point, there is the gathering of food, paying for everything, getting the empty cups that the kids and I will have to fill ourselves, and then trying to figure out how to get it all to the table. If the restaurant isn't slammed, the very nice and patient server earns a wealth of gratitude prayers from me by offering to help. And then there's the pouring of tea and making sure that my daughter doesn't fill her cup with Sprite on the sly. When I arrive at the table, I have to tell the kids to quit arguing over who has more tea in whose cup while I wander back to get forks, spoons, and napkins.

By the time I sit down to eat, I am exhausted, my son's face is happily spattered with guac, my daughter is hunched over her food, and I begin the second set of parental badgerings, the ones that appear whether we eat at home or out.

"Sweetheart, sit up. Thank you. Chew with your mouth closed. Baby doll, look at your mother. Sit up straight. Like this. Honey, bring your food to you, not you to your food. Elbows off the table, Tiny.Wipe your face, Little Man. Elbows. Hey! Elbows! Don't grab your sister's food. No, you may not have his chips-- you have plenty. Oh, no thank you, Bunnykins. Mommy doesn't want to share and get your cold. Focus on your meal. Cut that out. Leave that alone. Chew with your mouth closed. Seriously, sweetheart, at twelve you should know how to chew with your mouth closed, and it's wearing me out to tell you this at least two meals a day every day each year. Holy God. Tiny. Dude. Eat. Cut that out..."

I know you read this and think to yourself that surely there are ways to prep the kids for this experience... or maybe, as I sometimes do, that birth control is a beautiful thing. We do prepare before going to Qdoba, but sometimes, even that fails to prevent mayheim, especially because my son feeds off activity, and if the place is crowded and loud, he becomes incredibly... all over the place.

I honestly prefer to pay extra for a true sit-down meal, but I tend to save those for really special days. So, one Sunday not so long ago, the kids and I had brunch at a delightful place where college girls took our order from us at the table and charmed the kids with Shirley Temples, coloring pages, and toys. I sipped a Mimosa and sent the kids to play with paper airplanes between the restaurant's patio and a neighboring garden. I had a perfect view of them from the open windows of the enclosed patio where I sat. When our meal was delivered, complete with more waitresses fawning over the children, the kids sat up and ate with good manners. We told silly stories and relaxed as plates came and went, drinks were adjusted, and so forth. There was one brief episode where my son complained because he wanted his sister's toy. I nipped this quickly in the bud, distracted him with the crafting of a paper plane, and life went smoothly forward.

The bill? About 48 dollars for three of us. Worth every cent. I strolled away from there as mellow as a mom can be on a Sunday afternoon with two short-stacks in hand. I wish we could do that every week.

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