Our kids love to go out to eat at the trendy kid traps. In central Indiana the top three are: Pizza King Station, Chuck E. Cheese, and Dog 'n Suds. We've replicated each of these environments at home, and the kids love it!
For example, the kids always want to go to Pizza King Station (typical pizza joint plus drinks are delivered on a model train, each table has a video game to play while you wait (25 cents for 15 minutes), and the pizza is cut into squares instead of slices). So I fix a thin crust pizza in the oven at home, ask the boys to bring their gameboys to the kitchen (Christmas gifts from Grandma), and they play games while the pizza cooks. When the pizza is done, I cut it into squares instead of slices. When I take the soda cans out of the refrigerator, the kids proceed to "choo-choo" deliver them to everyone around the table!
The boys also like Dog 'n Suds (drive-in hot dog & root beer stand). So we set up TV trays in the living room for each of their "cars", then they place their order using walkie talkies (tin cans and string would work too). Mom then delivers their coney dog with a frosted mug of root beer on a tray.
Chuck E. Cheese is similar to the Pizza King Station, but we use thick crust pizza cut into slices, and make a maze out of boxes for the kids to crawl through (complete with windows to wave to mom & dad from). We also play games from the game closet or create an obstacle course while the pizza cooks.
There is a place in downtown Indianapolis called "Hollywood Bar & Filmworks". For an adult evening out, orders are taken before the movie, then drinks and popcorn are served until the meal is served. All the while, attendees are sitting at tables watching a big screen movie. They also have weekend children's matinees. At home, we start watching the movie while dinner cooks, then it is served in the middle when children's attention spans start to wan anyway. The kids call it "dinner theatre".I'm a big stickler for the family eating dinner around the dinner table together, but once in a while we spice it up with one of the above activities. It sure is cheaper than visiting the REAL restaurants.
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