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DINE AND DATE

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by Judy Antell

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   In New York, no bit of real estate stays vacant.  The sliver between two storefronts becomes a French fry establishment; the space underneath your bed serves as out-of-season storage.  So when Brian Kaplan took note of underused back rooms in restaurants, he had just the way to fill them — Drop Off + Dine In.

                                            

   Kaplan, founder of parent P-L-A-Y, with his wife, Lambeth Hochwald, has been organizing weekend family events for over a year.  These events (often held in restaurant back rooms) feature fun for kids and parents. Kids, up to age 5, are taken care of by an unusually enthusiastic crew of babysitters; colorful mats cover the floor, and books and toys are provided.  Meanwhile, parents have brunch, listen to music, enjoy a spa treatment, or listen to an author reading. 

   Drop + Dine, a new day and night-time concept, lets parents and friends eat a civilized meal while their kids (ages 1-5) are watched over in the next room.  But why not just use a babysitter at home?  Kaplan notes that many parents don't have a nanny, or have one who isn't available at that time.

   Also, the babysitting provided by parent P-L-A-Y is meant to be enriching.  Their babysitters will offer an intro to Spanish or French class, a mini art class, or, if several kids are together, promote team activities.  Kaplan stresses the kids won't be just watching videos, though he says videos may be available "as a last resort" for cranky kids. 

   The scramble to find a sitter any time of the day is also eliminated. You can go on the parent P-L-A-Y website, parentplay.com, for a map of restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn; once you choose a place to eat, you call parent P-L-A-Y and they arrange the sitter.  The sitter arrives before you and sets up the play space; when you bring your child, everything is ready for him.

   Drop + Dine also lets parents try restaurants that are not necessarily "family-friendly" — you don't have to check if there's a children's menu or booster seat available.  But the chefs who are part of the program will cook up a plate of pasta for your child if you don't want to bring his food.  Drop + Dine is also nice for two couples who want to double date while their kids play nearby or for stay-at-home parents who need some down time.

   Drop + Dine costs $18 an hour for one child, and $25 for two or three kids, plus the cost of the parent's meal.  parent P-L-A-Y is offering a family's third Drop + Dine for free and for each three families referred, they receive their tenth Drop + Dine Babysitting Experience for free. And every Drop + Dine ends, like a parent P-L-A-Y event, with a gift bag.

    More info: www.parentplay.com.


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