Forty one-year-old Payal Kothari — mother of two — is a regular at Lower Parel’s latest entrant Millk Spa and Cafe. She can be spotted, twice a week, sipping on a hot cappuccino, being pampered with an aroma foot massage, while her four-year old son is busy jumping on a trampoline in the kiddie play area. “On some days, I carry my laptop and get most of the work done here,” says a beaming Kothari, a nutritionist by profession. For busy mothers like her, a space that combines food and fun activities for children with little bit of “me time”, is perfect.
At a time when most restaurants have an unsaid ‘no kids’ policy, especially during evening hours, young parents from nuclear families struggle to find places to dine at with their little ones. “Now, with both parents working, there is an increasing need for the restaurants that allow children to have a ball, in a safe and happy environment,” says Karishma Govani, owner of Millk.
Spread over an area of 6,500 sq feet, this quirky space, complete with 3D cat sculptures and slick interiors, also has a cafe and spa for the grown-ups. For the children, a dedicated play area offers safe sand-pits, fun slides and foam-ball shooting guns. So, while you slip into something comfortable for a much-deserved deep-tissue massage, a well-trained facilitator is keeping your child safe in the play zone. “The concept of kid-friendly restaurants is popular in the West, however, in India such an idea is yet to be fully explored,” adds Govani.
Like Millk, many city-based eateries are wooing younger patrons with special menus for children and fun activities to go with the food. For instance, Impresario Hospitality-owned Smoke House Deli recently launched a special menu for children, which also doubles up as a do-it-yourself activity book. Dishes listed on the menu — such as pastas and pizzas — come in the form of colourful stickers and children can have fun assembling their order. And since one can’t expect little ones to remember complex names of various pastas, they are simplified with playful words such as “tube pasta” for penne and “bow/butterfly pasta” for farfalle.
As children are always eager to learn, restaurants are taking steps to fuel their curiosity with various activities. At Smoke House Deli, the activity-based menu comes with crayons and colour pencils. Once your little artist is done with her artwork, she can carry her menu book home and show it off to her friends. Most restaurateurs agree that, as customers, children are the hardest to please and keep engaged. “Children get restless when they go to restaurants, which may cause discomfort to other patrons. We thought of keeping them occupied with fun activities such as colouring and painting while their parents enjoy a relaxed meal,” says Riyaaz Amlani of Impresario, who recently became a father.
Similarly, at Millk, the DIY pasta and salad counter allows children to pick and choose ingredients that go into their food. However, when given the freedom, do children end up taking the right decision? “Yes,” says Govani, a nutritionist herself. “I have noticed that most children end up taking a good amount of vegetables along with once-in-a-while indulgences such as fries,” she adds. At Smoke House Deli, 40 per cent of the menu for children is made up of greens and healthy options like salads and healthy shakes, according to Amlani.
A host of other restaurants have joined the likes of Millk and Smoke House Deli by stepping up their game. At Pot Pourri in Vashi, children can pick from a host of treats such as hummus with pita bread, chicken popcorn and chicken nuggets. All Stir Fry — in the same neighbourhood — has been serving a “kiddie wok” that allows them to make their own medley of noodles and veggies. Encouraged by this trend, Asian Street Kitchen, a south-asian vegetarian restaurant near Charni Road, plans to launch a special menu for children.