The Proliferation of Sysco Trucks in Farm to Fork America

Sysco at Co-opby Rhonda Gruska

In my first Vanguard article, I wrote that a majority of the ingredients served in Davis restaurants, and sometimes even the menu items themselves, come from Sysco or some other large corporate food purveyor.

The number of responses was heartening, as it showed people were interested in the topic. The Monticello Facebook page, where I posted a link to the article, also generated a few responses. Several people were upset that the photo accompanying the article was of a Sysco truck making a delivery to the Davis Food Co-op. There were comments about the co-op not being the food police, the co-op’s duty to provide commercial food from the cheapest distributor, not being made to feel guilty about our choices, survival in a capitalistic market, and if you want to know what comes from Sysco on the hot and cold food bar, all you have to do is ask.

What I found interesting and somewhat perplexing is that very few commenters actually seemed to share my concern with the proliferation of Sysco trucks in the “Farm to Fork Capital of America.” So this column is about why it matters.

Davis prides itself on being a community that is highly educated and, while information about our broken food system and alternatives to supporting its continued decline are readily available, our town continues to financially support more burgers, more pizza, more unsustainable sushi, cheap ingredient Asian concepts, bars & grills (with the emphasis on the bar), and one cheap food joint after another. We spend plenty of money on Priuses, vacations, high end bikes, nice walking shoes, electronics, you name it. But when it comes to food, we suffer from the same affliction that is affecting the rest of the country: We place a high value on cheap food.

As a percentage of average household expenditures, Americans spend less on food than people in any other country in the world. In addition, the higher a country’s average income, the smaller the percentage of income spent on food. Correlatively, this could explain why Davis, a town with the highest annual household income in Yolo County, appears to be so invested in aiding and abetting Sysco.

Joking aside, for a city that prides itself on not having a Walmart, Sysco’s economy of scale similarly allows it to purchase at a lower price from large scale producers and processors whose scale and technology allow them to manufacture and sell to Sysco at lower prices. You can choose from over 400,000 products. Imagine a Portlandia goes to Davis restaurant spoof featuring the “SmartServe 3-D Chicken Filet,” where a twee waiter informs diners, “Tonight we are serving a roasted flavor, unbreaded, fully cooked chicken breast consisting of boneless, skinless chicken breast chunks, shaped into filets using an exclusive process, lending to its natural shape.”

Frequenting establishments that rely on Sysco and mega food distributors for their menu items and/or ingredients runs counter to the goals of fixing our broken food system. It’s especially frustrating when places perceived to serve healthful food source from such suppliers. From a health perspective, commercially pre-prepared products contain lists of ingredients requiring people in my age group to put on reading glasses and break out the dictionary. They’re also often laden with “ideal” amounts of sugar and/or fat and/or salt, creating the “bliss point” in which food scientists have perfected the art of hooking consumers on whatever they care to feed us. And who knows where Sysco food comes from? California, the Midwest, China, or an unrefrigerated storage shed?

Even Sysco’s “fresh” food is problematic. In 2012, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) made contact with Sysco Seattle Inc. which led to a recall of a whopping 16,800 pounds of ground beef patties imported from Canada that may have been contaminated with E. coli. All of the meat went to the same restaurant chain in several Western states. While none of them were in California, this more and more frequent type of recall causes us to shy away from burgers, unless we know where the meat comes from.

The company was recently fined $19.4 million after a whistleblower exposed the practice of storing meat, produce, dairy, and other fresh food in unrefrigerated, outdoor storage units. “Last summer, NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit’s surveillance cameras captured raw food being transported from Sysco’s Fremont distribution center to unrefrigerated storage lockers in Concord and San Jose where it was placed on the floor next to insects and rattraps. The food sat for hours in temperatures as high as 80 degrees before it was picked up by sales associates and delivered to restaurants and hotels.” According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), “from July 2009 to August 2013, Sysco had 25 unregistered drop sites spanning from  Sacramento to San Diego.”

Rep. Sam Farr, the ranking member of the Appropriations subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development and Food and Drug Administration told NBC Bay Area, “We’re very concerned because this Sysco problem violates the trust the growers have in growing the safest food in the world and the producers of meat and poultry in abiding by the federal laws that are the toughest in the world.”

Given the low profit margin and hard work involved for small restaurateurs, the Siren Song of Sysco is surely tempting. Since its initial public offering in 1970, when sales were $115 million, Sysco has grown to $44 billion in sales. Clearly, this corporation knows how to make money and has convinced a large number of people in the industry that they can contribute to the success of their businesses.

Our method of sourcing from local organic farmers and using local distributors, such as Del Monte Meat Co. and Produce Express, and making a trip to the Woodland Costco or Sacramento for paper goods and cleaning supplies, etc. is certainly more work than and surely not as cost effective as getting food and everything else from a large supplier. However, we know our farmers personally, have visited the facilities of our distributors, and do what we do because creating change in the food system isn’t primarily about making money, but doing the right thing.

Rhonda Gruska and her husband Tony own and operate Monticello Seasonal Cuisine.  Prior to the restaurant in Davis, Rhonda and Tony owned the Monticello Bistro in the farming community of Winters and Tastebuds Catering.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. South of Davis

    Rhonda wrote:

    > Davis prides itself on being a community that is highly educated…

    Davis has a lot of “highly educated” people, but it has even more “highly hypocritical” people.

    Sure there are some people that talk about fresh food and really eat it and there are people (like Robb & Rich) that support biking and actually ride a bike most days.

    Sadly most (but not all) people in Davis are just big hypocrites who:

    Say they “eat healthy” but eat the same processed easy to microwave and serve crap as most other Americans

    Say they support biking but almost never ride (or own a half dozen SUVs like John Kerry).

    Say they dislike $400K+ homes while living in a $400K+ home.

    Say they want higher taxes while doing everything they can to lower their own taxes.

  2. darelldd

    Rhonda –

    I support what you are trying so hard to do for food. I support it morally, emotionally, practically and financially. We grow what we can, and try to purchase food (this includes beer and wine almost exclusively!) that is grown or made within cycling distance of our home. Sadly, I have stopped frequenting your restaurant. My avoidance of your business is due to the negative treatment that I have experienced when I have visited your business via bicycle (which is every time I visit). Understand that clean transportation is as important to me as local, real food is to you – and you’ll have a good frame of reference for my comments.

    Monticello has no bicycle parking, and I have seen no desire to install it. Tony has told me that I could not even leave my bike near the front of the restaurant due to some nebulous, unsubstantiated claim of “safety to others.” Heck, I ride my bike in a large part for the “safety of all.” Cycling is the transportation sector’s Farm to Fork equivalent – yet Montichello is actively telling riders that their actions are unappreciated, and in fact are “dangerous.” How does the potential safety aspect of leaving my bicycle on it’s kickstand near your restaurant measure up to the harm that *is absolutely* caused by your patrons arriving via gasoline automobile?

    Tony has told me not to lock my bike to the unused metal cafe chairs in front (after hours while attending a meeting at your restaurant, and wanting to keep my bike in eyesight). While I could conveniently park my car directly in front of the restaurant, I have been told that I need to walk my bike several storefronts away – out of sight, and in front of a closed business – to leave it at the racks put in by the businesses that DO care about clean transportation. It may well be inadvertent – but these actions significantly discouraging cycling. Bicycle theft is the biggest crime we have in Davis, and there’s no way I can enjoy a visit to your restaurant if I’m constantly worried about my transportation (or anything attached to it) being swiped while I’m spending a large sum of money to “do what’s right” at your restaurant.

    Davis prides itself on many things. One is the Farm to Fork, or Slow Food movement. And clearly you embrace that aspect, and you are encouraging others to do the same. Another source of healthy Davis pride is bicycle transportation. And in this area, your business is actively working against the local, healthy movement. An extremely easy, and free solution is to at least end the practice of shooing bicycles away from your business as if they are dangerous annoyances. Is it really worth Tony’s time to come out of the kitchen to inform me of Montichello’s anti-bicyle “policy?” The next step is to put a bit of money toward doing what is right – just as you are asking Davis residents to do with their food money: Invest in some proper bicycle parking, and *invite* cyclists to your establishment. Do what encourages us to choose the healthy option, instead of inadvertently prioritizing automobile transportation to your otherwise outstanding business.

    Your business is the epitome of Davis ideals in several ways. I only ask that at a minimum, you stop actively making bicycle transportation less convenient, and instead embrace more of what Davis stands for.

    – Darell

    1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      Darrell, isn’t there a good amount of bike parking out front of the Co-op, maybe 50 feet away? I recall, also, there is more bike parking about 20 feet away in front of Ken’s Bike and Ski. I can understand why a restaurateur in Davis would be wise to provide even more bike parking immediately in front of his business for the convenience of his patrons. However, it seems to me, if you have the energy to bicycle to Rhonda’s restaurant (where, I should add, I have not yet eaten), you probably can walk a few paces from Ken’s or the Co-op. Walking or biking, it’s all good for burning off some calories.

      1. darelldd

        Rich – yes, though you are underestimating the the distances, those are the businesses to which I referred: Businesses that care about cycling, are closed at the time I visit, and are out of sight of the business that I am patronizing. Ken’s and Co-op have both paid to install bicycle parking for their customers. (granted it is a no-brainer for Ken’s, it still means that those two businesses get my money). That terrible Sysco-supporting Co-op has done a wonderful job of building premium *covered* parking, even. I solute them for the effort.

        My point may have been missed. Montichello has actively discouraged cycling, and is avoiding encouraging it. Isn’t the whole point of this article about doing that which is healthy for our community? About not being hypocritical in supporting the “right thing?” Not having bike racks at the business is one thing, but actively discouraging bike parking near the business I’m patronizing is on a whole ‘nuther level.

        Obviously I can park my bike at racks that are paid for and located in front of a nearby closed-for-the-day business. I could also leave my bike at home and walk the two miles to Monticello. I don’t ride my bike or walk to burn calories. I do these things to avoid driving. I generally still wish my transportation to be as convenient as possible. Maybe even as convenient as driving a car. Why is Montichello insisting that that I park my chosen transportation away from their business? If I drive, I can park my gas-burning vehicle right there handy in front of the entrance, and waddle right in. When this location was one of those derided “non-sustainable” sushi restaurants, I had no issue parking my sustainable transportation in front. Why is that discouraged now that the business is a “sustainable” restaurant?

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          You sound like some bike snobs in my town.

          I can understand a business owner not wanting you to attach your bike to his metal chair for several reasons, and I understand not wanting the bike out front where citizens could trip or bump into it.

          If you’re a frequent biker, what’s the big deal with walking half a block to bike parking? You’re in shape! This is like people who drive cars but only want to walk 20 feet. Problem solved: walk 20, 30, or 100 feet to existing bike parking!

          1. Matt Williams

            TBD, what is a bike snob?

            Maybe it is because the two bicycles in our garage have flat tires, which have been flat for well over 12 months. but “bike snobs” is a term that I’m not familiar with?

          2. darelldd

            TBD –

            Thanks for repeating that which Rich has already asked, and for missing the point entirely. It’s good to keep us snobs in our place lest we create havoc at more businesses.

            I guess you’re calling Rhonda a food Snob as well? Surely you can think of reasons for a business owner to want to buy Sysco foods. I mean, you’re an eater! What’s the big deal with processing that crap, and with trucking it long distances after farming it the cheapest way possible?

            You don’t see any link between healthy food and healthy travel? Only one of those is important enough to support while the other is actively discouraged?

            This has nothing to do with the need to walk after parking my bike. And why is there no concern about those hapless citizens being run over by cars in the lot, tripping over the chairs, the curb, the parking stops, the bench out front of the business?

    2. Alan Miller

      I have parked my bike out front a couple of times with no issue. Perhaps own a second bicycle that is not of such obvious cash value that it cries “steal me, steal me” to the point you must watch it like a hawk out the restaurant window.

      1. darelldd

        Ah yes. The “Welcome to Davis, please ride a crappy bike to avoid theft” suggestion.

        I already have a second bike. And a third. And maybe even a few more. It turns out that I don’t want ANY of them stolen. Nor do I want the lights or bottles or bags or racks or pumps stolen from them. And when I ride to a restaurant, it is usually with my wife on our tandem. A bike that I’m not likely to purchase a second “I don’t care if it gets stolen” form.

        1. Frankly

          Neighbor had a bike stolen from his yard. Turns out my security camera caught the perp on motion detection video. Young man walking around with paper in hand looking like he is going door to door selling something. Next thing he jumps the fence and then opens the gate and rides off.

          The shot was down a long driveway and my guess is that the perp will not be recognized, but my point here is that Davis is a soft target for outsiders to come in and rip us off. And more security cameras are needed.

          I recommend to help change our reputation. I suggest every business and many homeowners put one or two of these up looking out their front windows.

          And if I hear any complaints about privacy, I would make two points.

          Europe has cameras all over the place… especially GB. And if you are not doing anything wrong, why oppose security cameras?

  3. Elizabeth Bowler

    I very much appreciate your perspective, Rhonda. The notion of “cheap food” is an extremely deceptive one. What we save in food dollars we more than spend in health care costs. So the saying goes that we can either pay the farmer now, or the doctor later.

    1. Alan Miller

      The COOP is going through changes and about to hire a new General Manager. Who this person is will have a lot to do with the future financial health and direction of the COOP. This is an important moment for members who have been passive shoppers to become involved in the hiring process and ask the tough questions. Like, NOW.

  4. Frankly

    who knows where Sysco food comes from? California, the Midwest, China, or an unrefrigerated storage shed

    I think we need to be careful with the demonetization of one market approach over another market approach. Large producer distributor business, and globalization, lowers food costs as a result of economies of scale. This has a net positive benefit to humanity as food is less expensive and therefor fewer low income people will go hungry.

    I would prefer that we focus on the benefits of local small production and distribution instead of attempting to disparage and denigrate the alternative.

    The primary problem with our nation is that we are food ignorant and lack food sophistication. Many of us stare at something like kale and don’t know what to do with it and wonder why anyone would eat it.

    I really dislike it when I am around picky eaters. I think if we want to start making progress getting more people to eat right, we would demonstrate less tolerance for the picky eaters among us. Because 90% of those people that are picky eaters (assuming it is not for medical reasons) are likely to be also unhealthy eaters.

    And then the next step is to become highly demanding of high quality food.

    Americans want it piled high… quantity over quality.

    Food education and food sophistication should cause a reversal of that trend… where we demand quality and are satisfied even with the smaller plates.

    Food artisans should abound in this city. But we don’t have them because we don’t have enough retail space for them to do business.

    The opportunity for Davis is to become a food destination. We are far, far from that.

    1. Alan Miller

      I appreciate the concern over quality food, I am highly into that myself. However, I don’t get the point. Build a so-called “Innovation” (Business) park so we can have high-quality restaurants located there? If not, where would these high-end restaurants be located?

      I would assume downtown, but as Rhonda notes, this town caters to “more burgers, more pizza, more unsustainable sushi, cheap ingredient Asian concepts, bars & grills (with the emphasis on the bar), and one cheap food joint after another.” I don’t see this as some town conspiracy, so much as the poor economic reality of our town’s situation: the reason we are slowly losing local restaurants and quickly gaining more and more cheap-food chains is that mindless, budget-concious students flock to each new one that opens, and they tend to cluster downtown and in the strip malls. And by mindless I mean they haven’t grasped yet the importance of healthier eating over cash, as with most Americans.

      I find the obvious advertisement this column provides to Monticello more amusing than annoying, and more power to those that find cheap ways to advertise their businesses. I would, however, like to see a website formed, or a spot on the Davis Wiki, or some other form of “alliance” of businesses such as Monticello in Davis that claim their ingredients are organic, local, healthy, etc. Perhaps Monticello could start this, or someone else. Such an alliance would no doubt help all involved more than any competition between that it would create.

    2. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      “I think we need to be careful with the demonetization of one market approach over another market approach.”

      Demonetization? Did you, perhaps, mean demonization? Knowing how my computer will convert my typos into words I never intended, I would not be surprised to know yours unwittingly did this to you.

      To demonetize is to take money out of circulation. That is often seen where a type of currency is demonetized–for example, when France adopted the Euro, the French Franc was demonetized. It can also be when a country experiences hyperinflation, they will adopt a new currency which is the same other than the decimal point is moved to the left. Mexico, for example, some years back demonetized its Peso by adopting a New Peso which was worth 1,000 of the old Pesos, because the latter had lost so much value.

      It’s interesting that demonetization actually works (in a different way) in your sentence.

      You wrote: “I think we need to be careful with the demonetization of one market approach over another market approach.” I am sure some inflation-wary Germans felt that way when they gave up one market approach, the sovereign Deutsche Mark, for a new market approach, the Euro, over which they had less control.

  5. Frankly

    Build a so-called “Innovation” (Business) park so we can have high-quality restaurants located there? If not, where would these high-end restaurants be located?

    I think the increase in customers might make some of the regional shopping centers more viable as retail locations.

    But I think we need to include some peripheral retail within the business parks… or in separate adjacent developments. Part of that needs to be factored into the overall revenue benefit to the city. If we have a few thousand new workers here, we will need places for them to shop and eat or else the revenue we could derived from that will just leak out to other communities.

    Or we could redevelop the downtown with more space for restaurants and entertainment.

    1. Frankly

      It is the young professionals that drive the local food scene. Students and senior are the value-based demographic. And until we add some business parks, students and seniors will dominate.

      One other point to make to all my no-growth-because-I-want-to-keep-my-home-value-high friends. Quality restaurants are highly valued amenities that rival good schools for the location premium for home value.

      1. Alan Miller

        “It is the young professionals that drive the local food scene.” If I understand your point, you mean that having young professionals in the area will improve the quality Davis’ local food scene. Correct?

        1. Frankly

          I mean that young professionals drive the demand… a willingness to pay for quality restaurants and food. They are the demographic with the most disposable income, and they work all day and don’t have the time or the knowledge to cook for themselves. They seek out trends and quality.

          If you look at most of the cities with a booming high-tech industry… those industries that tend to hire more young professionals, the food scene is usually pretty sophisticated. It is not that young 20-40 something professionals are the only customers… but they create the customer base that attract higher-end restaurants.

          It really does come down, in a large part, to discretionary income. Student don’t have it and fixed income seniors may or may not have it, but even if they do, they will claim they don’t and hold on to it tightly.

          Then there are families paying their kids’ education costs. Not a lot left over at the end of the month.

          But if there is a good demographic of people with disposable income, they will spend it, and everyone else benefits with the greater choice.

      2. Matt Williams

        One other point to make to all my no-growth-because-I-want-to-keep-my-home-value-high friends. Quality restaurants are highly valued amenities that rival good schools for the location premium for home value.

        Agreed. Wholeheartedly agreed.

    2. David Greenwald

      One of the points someone made to me the other day is that when you create a business park, people who work there really don’t want to have to drive all the way back to town to eat. So if you have cofee, a cafe, a restaurant on the site, you accommodate those people. Around the Sutter-Davis hospital there are some restaurants, but there is nothing really that close to Mace.

      1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

        There are no restaurants in the immediate proximity of Sutter-Davis Hospital. The closest is Panda Express, on the other side of 113, in The Marketplace Shopping Center, and next are three other restaurants in that same facility plus Peet’s and Noah’s.

        Where Mori Seiki is located, on Faraday Ave. off of E. Second Street, it is a bit longer distance to its nearest restaurant, Jade Garden on Spafford Street.

        If a business park were built on the east side of the Mace Curve, it would be less than a mile from Chiles Road, where Cindy’s, which was a Denny’s type restaurant when I was last there in 1982, is now a Thai restaurant.

        I am not against allowing for restaurants or any other commerce to be included in a business park, if the developer thinks it will improve his project. I would suspect, though, that if none were allowed, new restaurants would pop up near Target, and workers from the business park would be accommodated.

        1. Matt Williams

          Rich, I can think of a closer restaurant than Panda Express, Burger King on John Paul Jones. As you pointed out, once you are at Panda Express you have Jack’s Urban Eats, Noah’s Bagels, Dos Coyotes, etc.

          Similarly Beach Hut Deli is right across from Target, which is significantly closer to Mori Seiki than Cindy’s. Konditorei is much closer also … and it has the very best pizzas in Davis!

    3. Don Shor

      I think there’s usually a certain percentage of retail allotted for these parks to provide service businesses that are specific to the employees there. Small stores and small eating establishments. I guarantee that Davis Downtown will want input on the development agreements in that regard.

  6. Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald

    Rhonda, Once again I thank you and Tony for writing an excellent article! I truly appreciate you challenging readers to learn more about the origins of their food in Davis and Yolo County , the Farm to Fork Capitol of CA. It’s very timely especially since UCD is focusing on the UCD Food Center and having a city with so many chain and/or fast food restaurants is not really highlighting what makes UC Davis the AG Capitol of the U.S. so appealing.

    And, for those saying that Rhonda is only promoting her wonderful restaurant I say that she is speaking from her point of knowledge and experience. She knows that her restaurant uses fresh food from the farm, so of course she is using her restaurant as an example.

    If others do not wish to take the time to write articles on the subject then that is their choice, but David has mentioned on several occasions that he welcomes articles.

    Thank you again Rhonda! Farm to Fork vs. processed food should not stop at the schools. It is something that is being addressed throughout our school district and should continue into our community. This is an important discussion that needs to be brought to the forefront and I thank you for having the courage to write about this. And, thank you to those with various views on the subject for commenting respectfully.

  7. Tia Will

    There is another dimension to the generational nature of the fresh vs processed foods issue that I think should be addressed. Frankly has provided his age related views of the drivers of demand for quality restaurants. I have a different perspective. Coming from the public health point of view, the most important ggroup to involve in appreciation of fresh foods is our children. What I observe at our better restaurants which emphasize fresh foods is a marked absence of children.

    There are two main factors that I see contributing to this. The first is the price of the offerings at these restaurants is prohibitive for many young families. However, I do not think that this is even the main factor. There seems to be almost an unwritten taboo about bringing children into higher end restaurants. This seems to be based on the erroneous ideas that children will not behave themselves in a manner conducive to the enjoyment of ones meal. But this does not have to be the case. Children learn to behave in the manner that we teach them is appropriate. In our current culture, one will find children at our fast food and chain restaurants , but rarely in a higher end establishment. I see this as a lost opportunity since it virtually consigns children to a lesser appreciation of food outside the home until such time as they do become those young professionals with disposable income. By the unfortunately, many of them will have come to view fast foods as a positive since that is what they have become accustomed to.

    1. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > What I observe at our better restaurants which emphasize
      > fresh foods is a marked absence of children.

      Most people I know appreciate the fact that people don’t take kids to “better restaurants”…

      > There seems to be almost an unwritten taboo about bringing
      > children into higher end restaurants. This seems to be based on
      > the erroneous ideas that children will not behave themselves in a
      > manner conducive to the enjoyment of ones meal.

      It is not an “erroneous” idea that children will not behave themselves. Very few kids can quietly sit through a one hour nice restaurant meal (and maybe one in a million can sit through a three hour meal like a typical French Laundry/Gary Danko dinner engaging in polite conversation).

      P.S. I congratulate the small number of people who have 3 and 5 year old kids that can sit and chat during a long restaurant meal (bonus points if the kids can join in the discussion with the Sommelier about the best wine to pair with the meal)…

      1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

        Three-year-old son of chef Thomas Keller: “M. Sommelier, auriez-vous l’amabilité de me dire ce que la saveur de Kool-Aide marie le mieux avec ce canard rôti?”

    2. Matt Williams

      “What I observe at our better restaurants which emphasize fresh foods is a marked absence of children.”

      Tia and SoD, for me the obvious reason you don’t see children in the restarants Tia mentions is that spending an adult amount of money for a child to eat a meal that they probably won’t like is a poor investment decision. Then layer on top of that that the parents are forced to deal with the children’s complaints about the food, and you have the recipe for a disasterous dining experience. The kids have no fun. As a result the parents can’t enjoy their meal because they are attending to the kids. Then the bill comes. If you have three kids, getting a bill that is 2.5 times what would have been spent if the parents simply came themselves isn’t a mistake that the parents will make a second time.

  8. Tia Will

    I think that Matt and SOD have done is to summarize what everyone believes will happen with the children’s behavior. I did not have this problem. It was a matter of what we exposed them to and how we explained what we were going to be doing. We started by taking my daughter out to “mom and pop” restaurants when she was old enough to sit up in the high chair for about 45 minutes. She quickly responded to the positive interaction with the owners and quickly learned that she got good things to eat and positive reinforcement in she used her
    “restaurant manners”. We also trained ourselves by being willing to get up and leave if things looked like they might go south. By the time Jeremy was old enough to sit quietly, he was taking his cues from his big sister. By the time they were about 7 and 4 we were ready for the more upscale experiences of about one hour max.

    The cost is another issue and I am wondering about Rhonda’s thoughts about providing smaller portions of the regular menu at a scaled down cost. Our solution was to order small dishes and entrees that we thought they might like and share. This really wasn’t all that difficult. The kids developed their favorite places to go and were often very reluctant to go to fast food restaurants favored by their friends which they didn’t like because they hadn’t been exposed.

    It probably hadn’t hurt that we didn’t eat processed food at home either and I didn’t “dumb down” the menu because they were “kids” and wouldn’t like fresh food.

    How did you guys handle kids meals ?

    1. Matt Williams

      Tia, my son is 43 now, but when he was young there simply weren’t enough opportunities to conduct the type of training that you describe. Going out to “mom and pop” restaurants almost never happened. My wife was a very good cook and I’m a pretty good cook myself so there was no reason to go out and spend money on a meal that wasn’t as good as the meal we could eat at home. Absent any significant number of repetitions, learning “restaurant manners” was at best hit or miss. The one exception was when we were on the road, and couldn’t get home to cook a meal for ourselves, but in those situations we weren’t choosing a Seasons or a Monticello kind of restaurant. Nonetheless we did do our best to convey the public nature of a restaurant setting, and the necessity to respect the physical space and noise (noise-free) space of the other people in the restaurant.

    2. Mark West

      I don’t see any reason to differentiate between behavior at a restaurant and that at home. If the behavior is inappropriate in a public space, it is inappropriate at the dinner table at home as well.

      Most decent restaurants will have kid friendly meals available – sometimes off the menu – if you only ask. That said, I would not take my non-adult kids to the French Laundry or similar venue for the simple reason that they would not appreciate the experience.

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