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ROB JENKINS: How to eat out with small children

Our sophisticated, modern economy offers numerous options for those who wish to “eat out.” Unless, of course, you’re a parent with small children. Then there’s only one option: fast food.

The main attraction of fast-food restaurants is that you can get your food and get out in a matter of minutes—except during the breakfast, lunch, and dinner rushes, which last about two hours each and during which you might want to consider catheterization so you won’t lose your place in line.

But as long as you’re willing to eat when all other civilized human beings are either at work or asleep (or both), then fast food is a great convenience.

To further speed things up, progress has given us the “drive-through window,” so you can get something to eat without even having to leave your vehicle. Note that you can also accomplish this by rummaging around under your child’s car seat, although fast food might be slightly fresher.

I don’t recommend the drive-through, however, for parents with small children. Using it will merely frustrate your real purpose: having half an hour to eat in peace while your kids will disappear inside the playground.

On the bright side, fast food used to mean just hamburgers and fries. But nowadays consumers have a wider variety of choices: chicken, for those who want a break from beef (or whatever); subs and deli sandwiches, for those who prefer a lighter fare; even Mexican food, for those who are oblivious to their own flatulence.

The smartest thing fast food restaurants have done is market themselves to children, banking on the assumption that, in most households, it’s the children who make the really important decisions. Dads are basically left with deciding which socks match their pants.

That’s why these restaurants aim much of their advertising at kids, with ads featuring a make-believe character — Ronald McDonald being the most obnoxious, er, obvious — or using cool animation and special effects.

Fast food places also love “tie-ins,” give-away toys based on the latest hit animated movie or action-adventure film. Let’s face it: you can get a hamburger anywhere, but only at (insert name of restaurant here) can you get a plastic alien figurine with it.

Another brilliant marketing strategy was the creation of the “kid’s meal.” Take the items most parents would order for their child anyway — small burger, small fry, small drink — place them in a colorful container, throw in a ten-cent toy, and charge twice the price.

That’s precisely the kind of ingenuity that has kept this nation’s economy strong, not to mention China’s.

One last thought about those little plastic toys: don’t throw them away. At a recent yard sale, we put 20-year’s worth of accumulated “Happy Meal” toys into a box, priced at five cents apiece. They were the first items to go.

Altogether, we made just about enough to buy a Happy Meal.

Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer. This column is adapted from his book Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility, available at Books for Less in Buford and on Amazon. E-mail Rob at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.