How doodling and art can keep kids entertained while dining out in fancy restaurants
In this week’s Chubby Hubby, Portly Papa column, Aun Koh would love see more restaurants take simple steps to keep their pint-sized customers (and their parents) happy and engaged.
A couple of weeks ago, I happened to be sitting at the bar at Eat Me, one of Bangkok’s most respected restaurant, and one that has appeared on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list several times since the survey’s inception.
I was having a quick dinner after being filmed snacking on a few different dishes as b-roll for a new television series I’ve been filming for CNA (which will premiere in October). While the crew went downstairs to have their own dinner (Chef Tim Butler kindly whipped up a spread for them), I stayed at the upstairs bar in order to finish off and not waste the dishes used for filming.
While there, I noticed two staff behind the bar shuffling through some papers, finally extracting two. One had a black and white line drawing of Dumbo the flying elephant. The other was a portrait of Disney’s version of Rapunzel. The staff member then pulled out a box of crayons and walked the art supplies over to a family seated on the patio.
I thought that was marvellous. By simply giving the two children at the table the colouring material, it demonstrated a level of empathy for the parents that I am sure they will remember. It says that we understand that eating out in an “adult” restaurant can be boring for your little ones, so let us help entertain them a bit.
It’s a simple gesture that I am sure guarantees return patronage. It’s also a gesture that other guests appreciate. Quiet kids doodling away at their table sure beats crazy, bored and often – as a result of their boredom – very loud children. No one likes the high pitched screaming of little ones in nice places.
I really respected that Eat Me had considered what to do for kids and parents dining with them. And while I know that many family restaurants and cafes similarly offer crayons, colour pencils, drawing paper and activity sheets for wee ones, it’s not something that is common in fancier places. I highly doubt that any restaurants here in Singapore that are in the 50 Best survey offer these kid-oriented amenities.
For the cafes and family restaurants that do, the Kith chain of cafes come to mind. Not only do they supply drawing materials, in some outlets, they’ll paste drawings – if well-done – on their walls. Some Kith outlets also have kids’ play corners, which means little ones can quietly amuse themselves away from the table before or after their meals. It saves them from having to listen to mommy and daddy’s boring conversations while also keeping the parents sane.
But not enough places think about these things. More often than not, parents are expected to carry a playroom’s worth of toys along with them.
Art materials are actually one of the best and easiest things to tote along. My wife, when T1 was small, put together a little drawing kit which was meant to be used when travelling. It had different colour index cards, small multi-coloured markers, stickers, and pens. We’ve found the kit so useful that it is no longer used just for vacations. If and when I remember, I try to toss it into our backpack whenever we head out for a weekend meal.
We’re also fortunate that our kids love to doodle. Even T3, at just 16 months, loves to put a marker in his chubby little hand, and create shapes and scribbles. He gets so proud of his meandering lines sometimes. He’ll put the pen down, look at the drawing, look back at us, and then clap. I guess he figures if no one is going to give him an ovation, he may as well do it himself. Which is actually not that bad a philosophy to life. We should all give ourselves some props from time to time.
We do sometimes forget the drawing kits. But if we are out with my parents, grandma Koh always comes the rescue. Somehow she always seems to have a never-ending supply of cheap ballpoint pens and note pads in her purse. My kids know she’s usually carrying and often, shamelessly and rather rudely, look inside her handbag themselves, searching for the stationery supplies.
The funniest moments are when even she forgets to pack paper and the kids desparately want to doodle. I have seen them take chopstick wrappers and draw tiny shapes, trying to make the long thin papers last as long as possible.
At the moment, T2 likes to draw mermaids and princesses. She’ll decorate their crowns and add sea life into their imaginary ocean habitats. She’s still not confident with her unicorns so inevitably Papa or Gor Gor (big brother) will be called upon to help.
Gor Gor, or T1 as he is usually known in this column, likes to draw Pokemon. He also loves a drawing game he and I play, which I introduced to him probably two years ago. One of us will draw something on a piece of paper. The next person then has to draw something on the same sheet, turning all or a part of the previous’ artist’s work into a part of theirs. You basically go back and forth until you’ve exhausted all ideas or run out of paper.
So for example, if T1 draws a marble, I could then turn that into the eye of a shark. He can then take the top fin of that shark, rotate the paper, and turn it into half of a kite being flown by a little boy. It’s a really fun exercise that stretches the imagination and can last as long as the actual meal.
Of course, the ultimate art meets food experience is at Arteastiq. It’s a restaurant with a full on painting studio attached. We’d walked by the Mandarin Gallery branch on countless occasions but never ventured inside.
But, last year, a former classmate of T1 held his birthday party there. Each attendee (child and parent) was offered a canvas and access to a full box of paints. There were also loads of inspiration pictures, so you could take one of the pictures, try and recreate it, or use your imagination and create something entirely new. T1 and T2 loved it. T1 went off on his own and painted a giant portrait of Pikachu. T2 chose a picture of a mermaid and tasked me to help her paint it. That finished artwork, which she likes to say she made – with a little assistance from papa – hangs very proudly in her bedroom till today.
I’d love to see more restaurants take simple steps to keep their pint-sized customers (and their parents) happy and engaged. Eat Me did a brilliant job which many more should emulate.
Until then, though, I’ll still be restocking and toting our little art kit with us wherever we go.