A new trend in family dining is to offer kids personal computers and devices so they can play games while they wait for their food. Mellow Mushroom and Buffalo Wild Wings are a few of the restaurants that offer this in my part of the country. And we should expect more restaurants to follow suit. According to a recent survey by the National Restaurant Association, professional chefs "expect smartphone apps and tablet computers to make further inroads at restaurants" in 2012.
I'm not sure that I love this idea, at least when families are concerned. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I think its rude to use a cell phone when sharing a table with someone else - in a restaurant or at home. Playing computer games at the table is no different. Going out to eat as a family can be a chance to talk, to connect, and that can be beneficial for parents and kids alike.
I'm also not judging. Back in our Baby Einstein days, I plopped our active toddler in a restaurant high chair with a portable DVD player to get a few minutes to rest and eat. Parenting decisions are sometimes based on the circumstances of the moment, not always fundamental rules that you stand by at all times. Dining out with kids is not always a pleasant experience, and distracting kids with a computer game may help mitigate a public outburst or give a parent a few minutes of peace.
However, a chance to feel a little boredom or learn a little patience can also be a positive lesson for kids. It may take some effort to get started, but talking to each other can be rewarding, enlightening, and might be just what the family needs.
* By the way, another menu trend noted by the National Restaurant Association survey is that chefs expect growth in "children's nutrition as a culinary theme" and "more whole grain items in kids' meals." Good stuff!