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My three favourite words: Kids eat free Add to ...

Next month, the family and I will be flying off on a little vacation and, because our daughter's less than two years old, we don't have to purchase a ticket for her. In what I believe to be the lingo of the country we're off to, this is going to save us mucho dinero .

I'm hoping to convince airlines that my little girl is less than 2 until she is at least 5 so as to enjoy these savings. This will involve swaddling, a soother placed just so and plenty of feigned indignation. "How dare you suggest my daughter is 'at least five years old'! We're sensitive enough already about her size, thank you very much!" Etc., etc.

Raising children is not cheap. It's heartbreakingly lovely and inspiring and all that, but sweet lord is it not cheap. When you're a parent, you need to seize as many "free for kids" opportunities as possible, whether it's gratis meals at restaurants or no-charge admission to theme parks or museums. More and more such deals are out there these days.

"There are a lot more," says Barry Yow, a North Carolina-based programmer who runs the websites www.MyKidsEatFree.com and www.MyKidsGoFree.com. "Everybody's starting to gear towards the family."

Mr. Yow's two websites list restaurants that offer "kids eat free" deals and various destinations where kids can admission gratis, whether it's the Space Center in Houston or the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington.

"People still want to travel, they're just looking for ways to save wherever they can while they travel," he says.

Mr. Yow says he has been deluged in the past four months with requests from Canadians asking for listings north of the border. He's planning to add Canada-specific content to the sites as soon as possible.

It's no surprise, he says, that so many parents are clamouring to find deals for their kids, especially when it comes to finding restaurants where the little ones can chow down free of charge.

"For parents, when you're starting to look at cutting corners, going out to eat is a big expense," he says.

Luke Knowles, a Canadian-born Web developer living in Colorado who runs the site www.MrFreeStuff.com, recently began cataloguing restaurants in Canada where kids eat free. So far, the list includes 19 chains. Children eat free any day of the week with an adult meal purchase of $10 or more at Boston Pizza? Awesome! Children eat free on Mondays at participating East Side Mario's restaurants? Nice!

Children eat free on weekends at participating Hooters restaurants? Gotta say, kind of weird. Do many people take small children to eat at Hooters? Then again, I guess you have to introduce your kids to short-shorts at some point.

Indeed, considering the state of the economy, parents now more than ever are looking for deals, Mr. Knowles says.

"Right now, if you can save $6 or $7 to feed your kid at a restaurant, that's a big savings, especially if you go every week or two as a family. Those savings can add up," he says.

As proof of the new-found appeal of "kids eat free deals," Mr. Yow says traffic on his site is now up 48 per cent over the same period last year.

Of course, once you've got the kids fed there is the need to entertain them. Most museums, theme parks and other children-friendly destinations usually have some kind of deal for kids, often offering free admission to children under a certain age. With the Internet, it's easier than ever to seek out these places.

Here in Toronto, for instance, kids 3 and under get free admission to the Royal Ontario Museum and the Toronto Zoo, among other places. Once my daughter turns 4, it's going to be hard to resist the urge to fib about her age.

If I could, I would go around telling people I have that condition Robin Williams had in the movie Jack where he actually ages four times faster than regular people and that's why I don't have a wallet and yes should be let in to museums, theatres, movies, rock concerts, you name it for free. And yes, I would like a lollipop.

No one's going to believe that, though. But a five-year-old swaddled tight in a blanket and told to not make a peep at the check-in counter by two parents eager to see the world? Oh, airlines are going to buy that all right. With the price of flying these days, they better.

Follow on Twitter: @Dave_McGinn

 

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