Steamboat Springs Mike Lang said he added child care to the menu at Harwigs/L'apogee purely for selfish reasons. But after a test trial, the general manager of the two restaurants thinks economics may convince him to continue offering to care for children upstairs while their parents dine below.
Lang, who has been in Steamboat for seven years, said he decided to offer child care so his friends could eat out. Those friends were once frequent visitors downtown, but Lang noticed he began to see them less and less once they had children.
"My friends' biggest excuse is that they can't find a babysitter because the pool is so small and it is costly," Lang said. "They only go out once in a while, and we want to create a social scene for young adults."
Lang attacked the problem by bringing the babysitter to the restaurant. For no cost, children can be entertained upstairs with games, arts and crafts, books and videos, while the parents enjoy a meal. Lang requests that parents make reservations for their children and that the children be fed prior to arrival. Lang said trying to serve food to children without their parents around is "just a nightmare we don't want to deal with." Lang said the idea of offering child care originated when he was visiting his sister in Atlanta.
As they were deciding where to dine, Lang said his sister was set on going to one restaurant one where she didn't know the food or atmosphere, but knew they took care of her kids.
Unlike most restaurants in town, Lang said Harwigs/
L'apogee has the space for child care facilities by turning the upstairs banquet room into a romper room on Thursday nights.
The restaurants bring in two child-care providers and will add more if the demand increases.
And while Lang said the restaurants welcome children, most diners feel the urge to keep their children quiet and well behaved in the formal atmosphere.
So, the upstairs babysitters give the parents a chance to relax and have some quiet time, Lang said.
When Harwigs/L'apogee was gearing up for its first child-care night, another local restaurant was thinking along the same lines. The Steamboat Brewery and Tavern offered a Father's Day special Sunday that had a four-course dinner, beer sample and kids party.
Charlie Noble brewmaster at the restaurant and father of 2-year-old Riley and a soon-to-be baby girl said he had the idea of providing a sitter because he knows the hassles of dinning out with children.
While the parents sampled beer and delved into baked brie appetizers and elk tenderloin entrees in the upstairs dining room, the kids were downstairs drinking root beer, eating pizza and watching movies.
Because of the lack of space, Noble said sectioning off the bar as a kid's corner will most likely be just a Father's Day event. But, if the demand is there, the babysitters will come.
Lang at Harwigs/L'Apogee foresees the restaurant's child-care special running every Thursday for the summer and throughout the fall. Geared toward the locals in general, and Lang's friends in particular, he said child care likely will not be available during the winter ski season.
Lang hopes the child care experiment will pay off in other ways. "Those kids are our future customers," he said.