The New York Times > Dining & Wine > Children on the Side, Baby Sitters on the Menu

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/02/dining/02PLAY.html?8hpib
Last November, PlayDine opened downstairs at Big City Bar & Grill, 1600 Third Avenue (90th Street). The space is used as a late-night lounge, but Mr. Lowenstein convinced Stephen Ryan, an owner, to try his fledgling operation in the daytime and early evenings. For $10, a child between 18 months and 9 years old may play in the space before and after a meal, for as long as his or her parents are seated in the restaurant. (Two children are $9 each; three children are $8 each, and tipping is encouraged.

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The cost of a child’s meal is payable to the restaurant.) Reservations can be made at either (212) 866-6584 or PlayDine.com. Since November, more than 500 families have registered with the service.

In an enclosed area, PlayDine staff members supervise seven or eight children each in a variety of games, including Twister and Candyland. When you check in your child, you leave your cellphone number with the staff; if Junior is in need, they call and you come running. Many parents consider this a bargain – the average rate for baby sitters is $10 to $15 an hour.

The business is expanding. In April, Mr. Lowenstein started PlayDine at La Belle Ã?poque, at 827 Broadway between East 12th and 13th Streets, and on May 17, he opened at Sambuca, at 20 West 72nd Street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West.

Liza Wetanson, its owner, said: “For 18 years I’ve seen couples come in with children, trying to have a nice experience, and all you see is tension. About halfway through the meal, one of them ends up having to take a child home. The days of children being seen and not heard are over. The kids rule. They are always in the conversation.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/02/dining/02PLAY.html?8hpib