Yikes! The restaurant floor looked like feral pigs had torn up someone’s vegetable garden. My oldest child, a toddler, sat in a public high chair for the first time.
Missy’s challenge was clear: “Let me feed myself, or I will scream my guts out until we’re thrown out on the sidewalk.”
Finished with the meal, my husband and I skulked out of the restaurant ashamed of the mess. We left a hefty tip on the table — and considered putting another tip on the floor.
New to being parents, we soon learned an important lesson. Many restaurants encourage you to bring the kids. And they offer free kids’ meals to get your business. To fill their eateries on slow days or nights, typically Tuesdays, restaurants entice families by offering kiddy specials.
Calling Ahead. KEF programs vary all over the place. Two different venues in a given restaurant chain can have different details. Odds are that somewhere in your area there is a KEF restaurant. According to mykidseatfree.com, 80 percent of KEF specials are only advertised by word of mouth. So, you have three ways to sniff out the KEF restaurants: ask your friends, look online, or call the restaurant for information. Know that 28 percent of KEF programs are on Tuesdays. And before you order at the table, verify with the waitperson the specials you anticipate.
And be sure to ask questions. Go ahead. Call and ask away. “Do you have a Kids-Eat-Free program?” “What are the days and hours of your KEF program?” “What ages apply to your KEF?” “Do the children order from a special kids’ menu?” “Are drinks included? How many kids can eat free per paying adult?”
Here are a few of the possible KEF eateries out there in the East Valley:
• Applebee’s [3843 S. Gilbert Road, Gilbert; (480) 722-0505]: All day on Tuesdays, one child can eat free with one adult entree. Kids 12 and under order off the kids’ menu. Tuesdays offer a build-your-own sundae for 99 cents.
• Arriba Mexican Grill [2855 S. Market St., Gilbert; (480) 899-7337]: This location offers their KEF deal on Sundays: A free child’s meal per adult entree. Kids 10 and under order off the children’s menu.
• Chompie’s New York Style Restaurant, Bakery and Delicatessen [3481 W. Frye Road, Chandler; (408) 398-3008]: KEF is all day on Tuesdays at Chompie’s for kids 12 and under ordering off the kids’ menu. One KEF deal per adult entree.
• Denny’s [1330 S. Power Road, Mesa. (480) 807-3933]: Here is an extra good deal: one adult entree with two free kids’ meals for children under 12. Children order off a kids’ menu. This Denny’s offers their KEF bargain on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Again, call for details on your chosen location.
• Golden Corral [1868 N. Power Road, Mesa; (480) 985-6793]: At this endless buffet, kids 3 and under eat free always.
• IHOP [920 S. Gilbert Road, Gilbert; (480) 926-4467]: This restaurant offers free kids meals everyday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. One adult entree equals one free kid’s meal. This program is for kids 12 and under ordering off the kids’ menu.
• My Big Fat Greek Restaurant [2920 E. Germann Road. Chandler; (480) 821-0356]: This eatery serves KEF meals every day of the week in the late afternoons. Hours vary. The restaurant where Gilbert and German roads cross serves kids under 12 for free starting at 4 p.m. A free kid’s meal per paying adult. Children order off the kids’ menu.
• Red Robin [22355 S. SanTan Village Parkway, Gilbert; (480) 899-4338]: Join the free Red-Royalty-Card program to get free kids’ meals on Tuesdays between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Children 12 and under order from the children’s menu. One adult entree per each free meal.
• Rigatony’s Authentic Italian [1850 E. Warner Road, Tempe. (480) 899-1111]: KEF all day on Mondays for kids 12 and under using the children’s menu. One adult entree per free kid’s meal.
• Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill [7221 W. Ray Road, Chandler; (480) 893-7555]: The KEF is Sundays from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. One adult entree per free kid’s meal ordered off the children’s menu for kids 12 and under.
Looking to save even more? You often get free chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant. Order your regular combo Mexican plate with a side of flour tortillas. Fill the tortillas with the beans and rice from your combo and pass them around. Buen provecho.
With their free meals, ask the kids to drink only water if the beverage is not included in the KEF. When possible, split meals between people. You can eat out with the kids for less than you think. But, please, tip the waitperson fairly.
Now, my adult daughter takes her own little kids to restaurants. When I eat out with them, I’m amazed by how laid back I am when I’m not the mom in charge.
Linda Hutchings is a Gilbert resident and life-long frugal consumer — uh, cheap skate. Send her your penny-pinching ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.