Story by Robin Davis l Photo by Alysia burton

The sedate atmosphere of the Refectory offers ideal surroundings for intimate celebrations from engagements to anniversaries. Patrons look forward to enjoying a quiet dinner with impeccable service.

What they might not anticipate is a young child dining alongside them. Yet it happens frequently.

While Columbus is full of family-friendly restaurants--including pizzerias and burger joints--some parents prefer to take their kids to high-end restaurants.

Kamal Boulos, owner of the Refectory, said the restaurant gets tables with children several times a week.

"We do have a children's menu. It's a well-kept secret," said Boulos, who has taken his own 16-year-old daughter out to nice restaurants since she was 2 or 3. Kids can pick from breast of chicken, pasta or a petite filet mignon, and each comes with a choice of soup or salad and ice cream for dessert.

While the majority of children are well-behaved, noise can be a problem. Even a happily squealing baby can disrupt the dining room.

Zach Morris says that's exactly why he couldn't imagine taking his 5-year-old son to the Refectory or Rigsby's Kitchen.

But the 32-year-old Upper Arlington resident and his wife do like to take their son to places like Marcella's, the Italian bistro with locations in the Short North and Polaris, where the atmosphere is a little louder and the food more accessible to youngsters.

"It's one of those places that my wife and I can enjoy the scenery, but it's noisy enough that people won't notice," he said. "We can get gnocchi and wine, and he can have a pizza. It's the perfect balance."

Laura Arocha of Dublin said she and her husband have taken their three children, ages 7 to 11, out to eat since they were very young.

"We didn't limit where we dined because of the kids, so they had to adapt," said the 42-year-old, who dines out at least once a week, sometimes with the children and sometimes without.

For her, one of the keys to a successful night out with her children is letting them participate.

"They order their food. We don't order for them," she said. "If they want something else they ask the server."


Expert advice

Whether taking your children out to a fine dining or family-style restaurant, a few basic guidelines will make the experience better for everyone. Here are some tips gathered from parents, restaurant owners and etiquette expert Mindy Lockard of Gracious Living in Portland, Oregon.

• Dining-out training should begin at home. Teach kids to use utensils and napkins, sit squarely in their chairs and eat what's put in front of them.

• Let the restaurant know ahead of time that you're bringing children. This allows them to arrange for high chairs as well a table better suited for a family.

• Explain to your children ahead of time that dining out is a special occasion and what your expectations are.

• Engage your children during dinner. Make them feel they belong at the table.

• If your child is fussy, walk them around the restaurant or take them outside. But don't let the child run around the restaurant.

• Know your child's limitations. If they have never sat through a two-hour dinner at home, you can't expect them to do so at a restaurant.

• Don't be afraid to cancel reservations or leave the restaurant once you're there, if necessary. Restaurants will be happy to package your food if you need to leave because your child is having a meltdown.

• If you're seated at a table near a loud or fussy child that is disturbing you, ask to be moved.