Here’s How to Make Dining out With Kids a Breeze in Delaware

Ditch the phone and master the art of dining out with kids at these fun-for-all restaurants around the First State.

In the 1980s and ’90s, singles flocked to Kid Shelleen’s Charcoal House & Saloon in Trolley Square, and you can still spot couples canoodling over cosmos. But these days, they’re sharing the dining room with some pint-size patrons. Kid’s now caters to kids.

“It gives me a lot of joy to see families,” says co-owner Xavier Teixido. “Many people met at Kid Shelleen’s or in Trolley Square, and they’ve had children—there’s this multigenerational aspect.”

The restaurant, which has a second location in north Wilmington, proves you don’t need fast food to dine with young children. Between local establishments’ efforts and some parental ingenuity, a night out can be a dream, not a nightmare. Here are some tips from the pros.

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Pick a family-friendly restaurant

Check the restaurant website for menus and price points to help you decide if a restaurant welcomes kids. Teixido is proud of Kid’s children’s menu, which includes grilled chicken tacos, a salad with Goldfish crackers and handmade chicken fingers. “You wouldn’t believe how many chicken fingers we bread ourselves,” he says.

On-site amenities also indicate an openness to serve smaller diners. For instance, the Trolley Square Kid Shelleen’s and the Brandywine Hundred location offer Family Fun Nights featuring entertainer Jungle John and $5 children’s meals.

Indeed, pricing is a clear indicator that children are welcome. This summer, Klondike Kate’s in Newark brought back its “kids eat free” promotion on Wednesday nights for children 12 and under.

Nearby, Caffe Gelato offers a kids’ menu, and children 12 and under can also select a smaller portion of a regular menu item for half the price. “We offer complimentary restaurant and kitchen tours for schools, camps and clubs,” says owner Ryan German.

A special occasion spot isn’t out of the question. If Nikki Lavoie and her husband, Sean Barney, select a fine-dining restaurant, they go during the “early bird hour, so we don’t disturb couples and groups without kids,” the Wilmington resident says. “When we arrive, I immediately put in an app for the kids—usually cheese, since grown-ups like it too.”

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Consider the layout and location

Some eateries’ child-friendly features go beyond the fare. Rich Garrahan and Josh Grapski were the parents of young children when they created Crooked Hammock Brewery in Lewes, which now has a Middletown location. “There’s a big playground and outdoor games for kids and adults,” Garrahan notes.

From left: Logan and Noah Reigner and Claire and Benjamin Kozlowski play in the fun-filled backyard of Crooked Hammock Brewery in Lewes. The Middletown location also has a playground.
From left: Logan and Noah Reigner and Claire and Benjamin Kozlowski play in the fun-filled backyard of Crooked Hammock Brewery in Lewes. The Middletown location also has a playground.

In Bethany Beach, Bethany Boathouse also has a play area, and the kids’ meals come with a cookie and a choice of Yoplait Go-Gurt, waffle fries or veggie sticks. Likewise, Big Oyster Brewery in Lewes has a large playset.

For indoor fun, there are arcade games at Lefty’s Alley & Eats in Lewes, where the restaurant area overlooks bowling lanes. The kids’ menu includes cheeseburger sliders, an 8-inch pizza and a grilled all-beef hot dog.

Giant Jenga at the new Dockside Marina Bar & Grill on the Indian River Inlet attracts adults and kids, but the primary draw is the marina view. To be sure, Mother Nature supplies happy distractions for young customers. For instance, Big Chill Beach Club in Bethany Beach boasts a cornhole game and a playground next to the Delaware State Seashore Park’s beach.

Cam tosses his Frisbee in the spacious outdoor area at Grain.
Cam tosses his Frisbee in the spacious outdoor area at Grain.

In Lewes, Grain on the Rocks is at the Cape May–Lewes Ferry terminal for a view of the boats cruising across the bay. However, even a patch of grass can keep lively kids from getting bored. Grain Exchange on the STAR campus, the newest member of the Grain family, has a lawn in front of the patio.

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Morgan Smith, a server at Grain Exchange in Newark, delivers meals served on Frisbees to siblings Noelle and Cam Stock.
Morgan Smith, a server at Grain Exchange in Newark, delivers meals served on Frisbees to siblings Noelle and Cam Stock.

Keep it active

An outdoor area is a plus because Grain’s five locations serve the kids’ meals on Frisbees. However, parents can keep kids engaged even if they’re seated. For example, children can color on the paper covering Big Fish Grill’s tables.

At Grandpa Mac in Rehoboth Beach, kids receive coloring sheets designed by local artists, including Orion Cameron, who owns the restaurant with his brother, Hari. The finished products cover the wall like wallpaper, Hari Cameron says. Many restaurants, including Home Grown Café in Newark, have menus with games like tic-tac-toe.

Unfortunately, many restaurants stopped providing crayons and coloring sheets during the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, Home Grown’s owner, Sasha Aber, doesn’t rely on restaurants to provide ways to occupy her two children. She brings Uno, the card game. “Our Uno cards have even been to the Canada side of Niagara Falls,” she says. Playing the game encourages interaction between adults and kids.

Meg Gardner of Greater Good Events in Lewes brings Family Talk, 100 cards with conversation prompts. “These are awesome and small—they fit in a backpack or purse,” says Gardner, who has two children with former Blue Moon chef Lion Gardner.

Nitasha Smith of Wilmington created a “restaurant” bag filled with Play-Doh trucks, Magna-Tiles, tiny building blocks, coloring books and crayons, a magnetic drawing board and Wikki Stix. “My kids also love to play and build with the sugar packets and creamers if we end up without the bag,” she says.

But what about phones? Admittedly, apps do keep children occupied, and Lavoie allows her daughter to use one before the food arrives.

She also puts a clever rule in play to avoid rushing the meal. “The kids must eat their vegetables to get dessert later, which takes forever—plenty of time for us to sip our wine,” she explains. “I always tip well, but if the kids make a mess or the server is especially good to them, I tip really well.”

Related: These Delaware Restaurants Take Kids’ Menus to Culinary Heights

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