I’ve noticed that a lot of parents hesitate to take small children to Disney signature restaurants, choosing instead buffet and character meal options. While those are fine, even really great in some cases, I think that parents and grandparents miss out if they don’t have a special meal that caters more to the adults than the kids at least once a trip.
If you’re a Disney newbie or you’re just new to eating on property, you might be asking yourself “What’s a Disney signature restaurant?” Well, it’s a restaurant that is generally more sophisticated, with a menu that features, among other things, fresh, local ingredients and innovative combinations in an atmosphere that feels more, well, grown up. And yes, that does come with a higher price tag (or two dining credits, generally), but it’s worth it. None of this means that it’s not for kids. This is Disney, after all, and kids are welcome in just about any restaurant on property except for Victoria and Albert’s. But some work better for families with smaller children than others.
To determine if a restaurant will work for you, check out the menus first. I find that Citricos, located in the Grand Floridian, can be a little intimidating even for some adults. It’s also very quiet, so you might feel uncomfortable with a chatty toddler. A restaurant like Brown Derby however, which has an extensive kids menu, is so loud that your fellow diners aren’t likely to notice your child acting like a normal child. In fact, any of the signatures located in the parks, such as Le Cellier, should be fine as well, since they’re more upscale but still catering to a theme park crowd. My favorite signature for a child’s first “grown up” meal at Disney is California Grill. The menu is fine for even the pickiest eater and the view of the Magic Kingdom, is a nice distraction. I’d put the “formality” level at about a Cheesecake Factory, but the food itself is much better.
You should find kid-friendly items on every menu plus special desserts, but if you can’t find something your child likes, ask your server about making some adjustments to the menu or making a different dish altogether. Most restaurants will accommodate you, no problem. If you have a child who fits into the “ten and up” age category for the Disney dining plan but who doesn’t eat like an adult, save your dining credits for another meal and order from the children’s menu and pay out of pocket for that child. You can still pay for everyone else using the dining plan.
Have you taken your child to a signature restaurant? How did it go?
It really all depends on the child. Our children were taught at a very early age that they had to speak quietly in restaurants and remain seated throughout the meal. If your child is mature enough to behave properly — and you can find something on the menu they like — then it’s fine to take your kids to a “signature” restaurant.
There was only one restaurant we wouldn’t take our kids to when they were under the age of about 12, and that was the Bistro de Paris. I don’t think they actually allowed children there until recently, but we always used that restaurant for “adults-only” dinners. Otherwise, the kids went with us, whether it was the Brown Derby, Le Cellier or the Yachtsman.
My beef is with parents who take children who obviously aren’t prepared for this type of experience into an adult-oriented “signature” dining restaurant. We’ve had meals ruined in the Brown Derby by being seated next to a table with screaming children. More shocking was an experience at the California Grill, where an unattended child came over to our table and actually took a piece of food off my plate with his bare hands. The parents laughed, like it was cute, but thankfully the waiter saw this, told the parents that they needed to keep their child seated at their table, and brought me a fresh entree.
Bad behavior in a restaurant is never the children’s fault; it’s always the parents’ fault, so parents need to make smart decisions when it comes to which restaurants are appropriate for their children.
We are DVC members and had a family reunion with a group of 18, my wifes four siblings and kids ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers, we all ate together at the California Grill and the staff was awesome and everyone had a great time. If you don’t take your kids to nice places they don’t learn how to act in nice places. The waitstaff bent over backwards to make our meal enjoyable even cutting up the food for the little ones so mom or dad did not have to get up and shuffle around the table to take care of it.