Ask the expert: Debbra Lee
Debbra Lee is a woman of many talents. The 39-year-old mum of one – she has an eight year old daughter – has five outlets under her belt, three of which, Fit For 2 Café , Bijou and Bianco, are about as family-friendly as you can get. The former stockbroker, turned fitness instructor turned restaurateur took time out of her busy schedule to share her thoughts with TIME OUT MALAYSIA on what the future holds for family-friendly dining in this country.
How long have you been in the restaurant industry?
Since 2004. I opened Fit For 2 for lack of decent places to take small children out to eat. I remember one incident when I went to a restaurant with four of my girlfriends with our children and they only had one high chair. The children’s menu was equally as disappointing, full of frozen nuggets, sausages and chips, nothing with real nutritional value.
What do you look for when it comes to choosing ingredients for your kids’ menus?
Ingredients that are of good quality and fresh. In a perfect world these would be organic and in the future, I would love to add organic food on to our menu! Our recipes are made to include as much veggies and whole grains as we can. For example, our pasta sauce has carrots cooked into it and then blended so even the pickiest eater will not be able to detect the veg. And we make the cheese toasties with the same wholegrain bread that we make the sandwiches for our adult menu with. Our own nuggets (from scratch) and our chips are oven baked and have the skin still on the potato. So the kids will get more fi bre and better quality meat.
What do you think makes a good child-friendly menu?
A menu that is similar to a good adult menu. It seems odd that almost every time you get presented a kids menu it consists of mainly junk food!
If the restaurant can make great grown-up food, why is it that when it comes to kid’s food, they stick to serving fried food?
Ideally a menu ought to be free of preservatives and additives. It should be full of proper food, made from real vegetables, whole grains, non processed meats and fruit. Kids to tend to like simple food, so keep don’t overcomplicate things and make life hard for yourself.
What elements, other than a childfriendly menu, do you need to have in order to attract families to your restaurant?
A play area is nice but not essential. People underestimate the importance of high chairs – it can be the deciding factor when you are looking for a suitable place to dine out with the family. You have to have enough high chairs – I can’t stress that enough! You don’t have to stop at high chairs though - a baby changing table and a feeding room is a small luxury that all new mummies and daddies will appreciate. I think friendly staff that welcome the kids is high on the list as well. And if you can, invest in simple drawing tools, books or puzzles. They will keep the kids entertained quietly at the table while mum and dad can have a nice, relaxed meal.
How do you train your staff to deal with family/child requirements?
Be friendly, helpful and kind. This is to all customers though - not just families! Most of our team are good people and genuinely want to help and do their best. This way half the battle is won.
Do you think restaurants in Malaysia could do more to cater for those wanting to dine out with families?
What would you suggest? It would be fab if some thought could go into the kids’ menus. Dig a little deeper and think about how to help feed children healthy food!
What essential items do you have in your larder/fridge that help you whip up tasty, nutritious meals with zero prep time?
My daughter loves rice and pasta so the cupboards are stocked with them. There is always lots of fresh vegetables and loads of tofu in our fridge. You would be amazed at what you can do with tofu!
How do you think parents can feed their children better?
Start by eating better themselves. Parents who eat a balanced diet tend to give the same to their kids. I think that sitting down and eating together is also a better way for kids to learn about food - not only will they see what their parents are eating, but they’ll understand that this is the time to sit down and talk about their day and share news. It is not only about what you feed your children. You have to lead by example and sit down, together as a family, to enjoy your meal times.