There's no easy way to say this, so I'm just gonna say it: I'm no longer going to take my parents out to my favorite restaurants. We will still go out to eat when they come to visit (or better yet, maybe I'll just cook for us at home!), but I'm going to stop putting so much effort into picking out the cutest, most Insta-worthy places with seasonal appetizers and entrées with the ingredient sources listed on the menu.
What I Usually Look for When Picking a Restaurant
I work in food and I spend my money on food when I can. Even when I'm on a budget and going out for $2 tacos, I want it to feel like an experience. I like to head to an establishment where all the details have been carefully chosen. Despite my Insta comment, I'm not saying that every place I eat has to be designed for social media — I just like it when, say, the napkins are in a thoughtful bin versus those junky plastic holders. I (obviously) like it when the food is well-reviewed and I know it's going to be good. I like it when the menu looks unique and interesting to me — and when I can try a new ingredient. When I find a place with all of these things, I get excited. And I like to share these places with the people I love.
Which brings me to say that I've mistakenly taken my parents to way too many poorly picked restaurants.
It's not that we have bad experiences going out to these sorts of places. Simply put: The meal just never lands well and the decorative touches that I love so much go largely unnoticed. (BUT DID YOU SEE THE VELVET PINK WALLPAPER IN THE BATHROOM?!)
Why Those Things Don't Convert Well for a Parental Visit
I used to pick these trendy restaurants, not because I wanted to impress my parents (or make them feel uncomfortable!), but because I was always so excited to show them the places and dishes that I loved. I wanted them to see how my friends and I eat when we're celebrating or where my husband and I go for special occasions. My parents, though? They'd be happiest at an Italian restaurant, a really good Chinese place, or even a pub with some good burgers.
Any of those three options are sure to have plentiful menus (my parents love themselves some choices!), chairs with backs, good lighting, decent-sized portions, and usually, an easy enough reservation policy. (I learned during college that I can't take them any place where we might have to wait two hours in a crowded vestibule).
If I take them out for, say, simple-but-delicious Italian food, I know they'll be totally comfortable and in their element — not distracted by how small the plates are.
What I Do Now Instead
I've learned that I don't need to take them to the places that I like; I need to take them to the places that they'd like. I've seen it first-hand: When I pick a not-too-trendy place, our conversation is smoother, they seem more relaxed, and everyone has a better time. And isn't that what dining out should be? We order seamlessly — no hemming and hawing over the locally raised chicken or the sustainably farmed fish, and no barrage of questions for the waitstaff. We know what to expect from the dishes we order. We can hear each other. We can see each other. We can enjoy each other.
It's taken me 15 adult years, but I'm now realizing (and have accepted) the fact that my parents don't need to try the roasted beet salad I had last week or the mushroom flatbread I'm currently obsessed with. Not if it means we can all order cheeseburgers and talk about our lives.
What about you? What sorts of places do you make reservations at when your parents come to visit?