Eating out with children is a juggling act. You want to enjoy the food; they don't want to sit still. You want to linger; they want to leave. Any place that provides coloured pencils gives you breathing space. Throw in a toy box and you can have a conversation. Add a playground and you can enjoy your meal.
Mother of two Neisha Pirrit says grabbing a coffee is easy if there's something to distract her two preschoolers for half an hour. "Otherwise, if there's a park nearby, I'll just get a takeaway and head down there. If we're sitting in, it's great to have something to occupy the kids and a choice of kid-size smoothies.
Check out the best child-friendly cafes in The West Australian's FRESH liftout today.
"With restaurants, we tend to do Asian because there's so much variety and the boys really love yum-cha, especially the dumplings, pork buns and sticky rice parcels because they come wrapped in a lotus leaf, like a present."
Sticky Beaks, in Kings Park, has it all but operator Roy Ketjen says many people don't know where it is (head to the Lotterywest Family Area, off Kings Park Road). Fourteen years on, he's still catering to a captive audience with the Ivey Watson Playground outside.
"People come here for a reason - kids love it," he says. "Once they've discovered it, they keep coming back for more. It is weather dependent, of course, but we also get walking groups dropping in and business people from the city and West Perth; even politicians from Parliament House wanting something simple to eat, like a sandwich or quiche.
"We do breakfasts and lunches - muffins and cakes are popular in the mornings - and make most of our own stuff, including the sausage rolls. Coffee is huge - people have said to me the last place they would expect to get a decent cup of coffee would be at a children's playground."
At Halo, in South Perth, owner Angie Bond wanted everyone to feel welcome. There's a toy box at the back to give parents breathing space and a "little ones" menu section with kids' pancakes, scrambled eggs with bread soldiers and toasted sandwiches, plus "junior" iced and hot chocolates.
Hoopla Espresso, opposite Moresby Street Reserve, in Kensington, also makes kids welcome with a toy/book box and high chairs. The coffee's good and there's a small park with climbing equipment and a seesaw across the carpark.
Mother of two Jess Zoiti loves Zephyr ("Alie loves it"), Salt on the Beach, Little Creatures ("great sandpit"), Van's Cafe ("patient staff"), John Street Cafe ("safe side street") and Grill'd for the "mini packs" with half-size burgers, chips, juice box and colouring-in paper.
"We always look for a relaxed, open atmosphere," she says. "My husband and I are very social people but you can't rely on family and friends to look after the children too often. A playground is always a bonus, but sometimes when there are good facilities it's difficult to get the service and quality of food."
Larry Evans and Mandy Foley designed Zephyr Cafe and Kiosk, on John Tonkin Reserve in East Fremantle, with families in mind.
"That was the target," Mr Evans says. "Parents don't have to leave the cafe to see the kids - they can easily watch them playing on the beach at the front."
Keeping children within eyesight of parents was also a priority for Astrid and Adrian d'Espeissis when they designed the play area at Eagle Bay Brewing Co on their father's sheep and cattle farm. It's fenced and has a sandpit, small boat and sailing equipment to keep youngsters occupied.
"We don't have children but lots of our friends do and we wanted something that was different from traditional wineries, which don't really cater for kids," Ms d'Espeissis says. "We wanted to provide a relaxed, family-friendly feel so that everyone could have a good time.
"We decided to keep it really simple and give kids an amazing fantasy experience with the sandpit being pretend water, a 'jetty', boat and lots of toys, balls and lawn so they could run around. It's been a big hit - in fact, usually it's the parents who want to go home and the kids who want to stay and play."
Menu options include a chicken-cheesy wrap, fish and chips, kids' pizza, fish cakes and pasta, all with salad.
"We do the pasta with some green beans and usually the beans come back," she says.
Rivendell Winery Restaurant manager Charlie Coupland says her focus is on families. There are children's menu options and a "fairy garden" with lawn, established trees and roses.
"Parents can sit on the deck or in the courtyard and keep an eye on kids," she says.
"We have bocce balls but sometimes families will bring rugs and blankets, or cricket and croquet sets so children can play on the lawn."All meals come with a little pot of freshly sliced apple, celery and carrot, plus a small packet of raisins and a sweet treat."
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