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Best Family Restaurants in the U.S.

Updated
If you want to enjoy eating out with the kids, our article is a must-read.

Nobody wants to be the person who takes their kid to a restaurant and makes it miserable for other patrons. But sometimes we want to eat out somewhere with a knife and fork, a menu at the table, and a server to bring the food and drinks.

The solution? Family restaurants where you can sit down and order food, find things on the menu your kids will eat, and where the other customers won’t stare in horror at a 2-year-old.

Here’s how to enjoy yourself while eating out with kids and the best family restaurants to go to for a warm welcome.

Important Note

With the pandemic still in full force, we recommend calling ahead or visiting the restaurants’ websites before visiting and finding out about current menus, amenities, and dine-in restrictions. These can vary depending upon which city or state you are in.


The Best Family Restaurants

We tried multiple family restaurants with our kids and paid attention to the advice of other parents. These restaurants made our list for their food, atmosphere, and kid-friendliness.

1. Romano’s Macaroni Grill

  • Award: Best For Big Families
  • Locations: There are 44 Romano’s Macaroni Grill restaurants across 16 states.

Romano’s restaurants have four kids’ options — spaghetti and meatballs, mac and cheese, chicken strips, and cheese ravioli. All of these are served with your child’s choice of salad, broccolini, or fries and a glass of milk or soda.

The kids’ menu is for kids aged 12 and under.

Why We Like It

Servers are welcoming and friendly, making a point of chatting with the kids, treating them like little grown-ups. In addition, when one of our kids dropped their drink on the floor, the staff couldn’t have been nicer about it, wouldn’t let us clean it up, and got him a free refill.

Know Before You Go

They hand out a pack of crayons and a color-in placemat that features a basic outline of Italy and several cartoon ingredients with interesting food facts.

Some locations offer family-style dining with a giant lazy Susan in the center of the table.


2. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro

  • Award: Best For Adventurous Eaters
  • Locations: There are 219 P.F. Chang’s China Bistro locations across 40 states.

There isn’t a child-specific menu. Instead, all food is served family-style so everyone can take a little of what they like from the center of the table.

Why We Like It

Everything at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro is made from scratch by chefs who actually chop the veggies, roll the dough, and take every other preparation step themselves.

If your child isn’t enjoying the family-style options you choose, the chefs are usually happy to make something simple for them, such as noodles and veggies.

Know Before You Go

How child-friendly the staff varies from location to location. Be sure to check out the reviews of individual restaurants.


3. The Old Spaghetti Factory

  • Award: The Simplest Menu To Navigate With Kids
  • Locations: The Old Spaghetti Factory has 40 locations across 13 states.

The kids’ menu has eight pasta dishes and a grilled cheese sandwich. Children’s meals are served with a drink and come with your choice of applesauce or salad as a starter, ice cream or a frozen juice bar for dessert, and a drink.

There’s an option of kids gluten-free pasta with one of seven sauces. The kids’ menu is for kids 12 and under.

Why We Like It

There’s an upbeat atmosphere, the staff is generally friendly and helpful, and the restaurants are decorated with an eclectic mix of vintage items. Each location has a trolley car fitted with tables, which may or may not be available.

Know Before You Go

Kids’ meals are served in a bowl with a picture on the bottom so you can encourage your child to eat up and discover what pictures are hiding under their food.

Adults get a basic salad, an entree, and a scoop of ice cream for dessert. This makes the experience feel a little less like an evening out and more like a quick bite to eat.


4. Red Robin

  • Award: Child-Friendly But Still Grown Up
  • Locations: There are 560 Red Robin locations across 42 states

The kids’ menu is pretty standard with eight items such as chicken tenders and a grilled cheese sandwich. Sides are also basic, but the kids’ drink menu includes some unusual options.

Why We Like It

Gourmet burgers for the adults, friendly, perky staff, bright decor, and music combine to make it an evening out you can enjoy, without having to leave the kids at home.

Know Before You Go

There are child size and full-height sinks in the washrooms. Tuesday night sees a visit from Red the Robin, and kids get a balloon on their way out.

Some of the premium soft drinks for adults and kids have free refills, including the divine speckled lemonade, and there are bottomless fries for all.


5. Uno Chicago Grill

  • Award: Best Interactive Experience For Kids
  • Locations: Uno Chicago Grill has 80 locations across 19 states.

The kids’ menu at Uno Chicago has pizza and pasta with plenty of healthy sides. It is for children 10 years and younger.

Why We Like It

Healthy side dishes, welcoming staff, and a fun hands-on experience make Uno Chicago a fabulous night out for families with pre-teens.

Know Before You Go

Kids can create their own pizza, and some locations let them don an apron, get hands-on, and build it themselves.

Dessert is a sundae which, again, kids can make themselves.


6. BJ’s Restaurant Brewhouse

  • Award: Best For A Quiet Middle-Of-The-Day Meal
  • Location: There are BJ’s Restaurant Brewhouse in 202 locations across 28 states.

Kids can choose from one of 10 entrees, most of which come with a side and a drink. Options include tacos with either chicken or Mahi, boiled shrimp, and boneless wings with a rootbeer BBQ dip.

There is a wide range of sides, including healthy options, and a choice of cookie or ice cream for dessert.

Know Before You Go

The staff has always been warm and welcoming when we’ve visited a BJ’s. However, some locations have a predominately adult customer base which can make you feel out of place with the kids in tow.

Why We Like It

There’s a more grown-up vibe here, and adults can enjoy one of the award-winning craft beers with their meal and kid options cater to a slightly more sophisticated palette. Consequently, kids don’t feel patronized and a meal at BJ’s has a bit more of a night out feel.


7. Ted’s Montana Grill

  • Award: Most Unusual, Yet Appealing Children’s Options
  • Locations: You’ll find 49 Ted’s Montana Grill locations across 15 states.

Ted’s Montana Grill is unusual in that it has a kids’ menu with the basic child-friendly fare, but it also has kid versions of cedar plank salmon, bison steaks, brisket or meatloaf, sirloin steaks, and a variety of salads.

All kids’ meals come with a drink and a side, and the menu is for children 10 years and under.

Why We Like It

Taking the kids to Ted’s feels like going out with your friends, if they were smaller, and liked rootbeer floats.

The entire vibe is adult, but the staff is warm, friendly, and eager to ensure the smaller members of your party are well taken care of.

Know Before You Go

The kids’ menu is one of the best, but if you’re looking for high chairs, coloring sheets, or other child-friendly trappings, you’re out of luck.


8. Joe’s Crab Shack

  • Award: Quirkiest Options For Kids
  • Locations: Joe’s Crab Shack has 45 locations across 18 states.

Joe’s Crab Shack offers options such as the kids’ steam pot, grilled shrimp, and the captain’s catch, but there are also things like mac and cheese or chicken dippers.

Along with the entree, kids get a side and a drink.

Why We Like It

The multitude of fish options, welcoming staff, and the quirky dessert make Joe’s Crab Shack a welcome alternative to the standard family restaurant experience.

Know Before You Go

The kids’ dessert menu has a super cute Rice Krispies treat crab. It is served on a dish-shaped like an artist’s palette with three depressions filled with different color sauces. Kids get this and a paintbrush, so they can paint their dessert.


9. Cracker Barrel

  • Award: Best For Table Escapes
  • Locations: There are 660 Cracker Barrel locations across 45 states.

Cracker Barrel has a children’s lunch and dinner menu, as well as a kids’ breakfast menu. The kids’ menu doubles as a puzzle book with plenty of entertainment to keep the little ones busy until the food arrives.

Why We Like It

It may be big, busy, and try a little too hard to be Southern, but Cracker Barrel is always an option with younger kids while you’re on the road, or when you’re in a hurry.

Know Before You Go

We’re in the habit of hiding the pegboard you find on each table, otherwise, the kids tend to squabble. If your kids have trouble sitting still, you can always take them for a walk around the Cracker Barrel store.


10. The Cheesecake Factory

  • Award: Best For Adult Small Plates
  • Locations: There are 211 Cheesecake Factory locations across 41 states.

The Cheesecake Factory has an extensive kids’ menu with options like grilled salmon and quesadillas, as well as the standard items found on most children’s menus. There are also three kids’ desserts to choose from, although dessert is not included with the meal.

Each meal comes with a drink of either milk, apple juice, or lemonade, and the menu is for children aged 10 and under.

Why We Like It

The Cheesecake Factory has a broader range of children’s entrees than most restaurants, which is great if you have a child who doesn’t like chicken strips or mac and cheese. They also have a menu for adults that has small plates and snacks.

Know Before You Go

Most locations have at least one or two large booths with round tables that are ideal for larger families, especially if you want to trap the kids between adults to prevent them from escaping.


Features of the Best Family Restaurants

Some of the things to consider when you are choosing a family restaurant are:

Kids’ Menus

A kids’ menu usually offers more child-friendly meal options with smaller portions and a lower price. Many have children’s meals that bundle in a drink and dessert. These can be an excellent, quick option when you’re dining out with kids.

While not everywhere has a menu specifically for kids, many of those that don’t, do give you the chance to order a smaller portion at a lower price.

High Chairs

Ask ahead of time if the restaurant has high chairs or booster seats for younger children. If not, and you are likely to eat out enough to justify it, consider getting a travel highchair that can be strapped or hooked onto a regular chair.

If you are using an in-restaurant high chair, you might want to take along some spare wipes and give the chair and tray the once over before you sit your child down. Not every restaurant cleans their loaner high chairs as well as they should (1).

Play Areas

Letting your child play in a ball pit with other kids is not everyone’s idea of fun, and ball pits, in particular, can be a hotbed of germs (2).

Check to see if a restaurant has a play area before you go. That way, if you’re happy for your kids to play, you have the option. If you’re not, avoiding the restaurant will head off any potential drama.

Family Dining

If you have a larger family, ensure the restaurant you are considering either has tables big enough to accommodate all of you or is willing to put tables together for you.

Kids’ Utensils and Supplies

The best family restaurants usually have kids’ menus with coloring and puzzles or something similar to keep your kids busy while you’re waiting for your food.

It’s also worth looking for child-friendly cups with lids, novelty cutlery or crockery, or other items to make your child’s meal more enjoyable.

Kid-Friendly Staff

The staff can make or break your family dining experience. This is another area where local reviews for the branch you will be visiting are invaluable.

One of our local favorites has a server who keeps stickers and hand stamps in her apron. She always asks the adults if it is ok for the kids to have one, and she tells the kids they have to be good to receive another before they go home.

Price Range

Family restaurants usually have affordable kids’ options, making them a viable alternative for those of us without too much cash to spare. What you do have to look out for, is the price of kids’ drinks and refills, as these can quickly inflate the cost of your meal.

Tips for Eating Out with Children

If you want some tips from an old hand at dining out with kids, here’s our advice for the best possible chance of a good time.

  • Share expectations: Tell your kids where you are going and what will be happening. If you won’t be ordering a dessert, or premium drinks are not allowed, make that clear before you go.
  • Be realistic: Consider your child’s age, abilities, and how mature they are. Expecting a fidgety 2-year-old to be still at the table for two hours will only lead to disappointment.
  • Be prepared: Take supplies for a couple of diaper changes, as well as a spare set of clothes for little ones. With older kids, take wipes, tissues, and depending on how messy they are, consider an extra t-shirt.

This may seem like overkill, but having experienced our kids soaking themselves with a dropped drink just as our food was arriving, we don’t think it is.

  • Choose your food in advance: Look at the menu online before you go. This way, you can all choose your meals ahead of time and avoid the awful “I don’t know what I want” drama.
    Pre-choosing also avoids turning up at a restaurant to discover they have the only kids’ menu in the world without chicken strips, or whatever is the only thing your child ever orders from the menu.
  • Don’t force the kids to experiment: Yes, it can be frustrating that they only ever order mac and cheese, that it’s obviously an instant mix, and you could make it at home for a quarter of the price, but now is not the time to persuade your child to try something new.
    Avoid conflict by letting them choose something they are likely to eat and enjoy. After all, it’s their meal out too.
  • Bring snacks: It sounds counter-intuitive, but a bag of Goldfish crackers or some carrot sticks can take the edge off your child’s hunger if the food is taking a while to get to your table.
  • Pick your time wisely: Try to choose a time when your kids won’t be overly tired, when you aren’t in a hurry, and when the restaurant won’t be too busy.
  • Check local reviews: In theory, restaurants in a chain should all be the same, but in practice, this isn’t always so. A quick look at local reviews will alert you to any issues at your local branch.
  • Practice your mom look: There are few things as useful as a mom look when you’re eating out and the kids start misbehaving.

Enjoy Your Experience

If you are going to eat out, try to choose one of the best family restaurants near you so you are likely to have an enjoyable time.

It may not be a proper grown-up evening out, or the food may not be exciting, but you are out of the house, together as a family, and someone else is doing the cooking. Enjoy the experience for what it is, and don’t let small imperfections spoil the meal.

Headshot of Patricia Barnes

About the Author

Patricia Barnes

Patricia Barnes is a homeschooling mom of 5 who has been featured on Global TV, quoted in Parents magazine, and writes for a variety of websites and publications. Doing her best to keep it together in a life of constant chaos, Patti would describe herself as an eclectic mess maker, lousy crafter, book lover, autism mom, and insomniac.
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