Rumblings: Why parents love franchise restaurants
It's another week and we're at the Spur again. Four weeks in a row, and it's children jumping up and down between tables, running off to the play area and winding their way back to mom and dad.
A little girl looks overwhelmed as she can't find her daddy. A waitress lifts her up and off they go, mom waving at her from three tables away as they spot their sad little princess.
The steakhouse is packed, standing room only. Balloons float up, get kicked, one pops. It's two-burgers-for-one night and patrons are happy to take advantage of anything that offers a bit of value, a dinner out and happy children.
I can't tell if patrons are slinking into the booths, but there's no place to hide. This is family terrain and there's no use fighting it. There may be a businessman at one table and an ex-joller boy at another. But here everyone has fallen captive to the call of the mohawked man. I watch with a sense of disbelief. Gone are long lunches with friends at Parkhurst restaurants, spending hours delving into anything and everything.
Gone are trips taken without much consequence or thought other than the need for a ticket and a visa. It takes more effort to trundle kids and bags and wet-wipes and nappies and back-up clothes (okay I tend to forget about those but I always mean to bring them) for a day trip than it was to get me to London.
Now excitement is about seeing happy kids running from slides to jungle gyms and doll-houses, eating their burgers, content to run around in the play area (under the watchful eye of one of us).
These are the days when we're willing to eat burgers week after week as our evening out, when the choice isn't between Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc, but between vegetables or chips. A place like the Spur may be a hellhole when you don't have kids, but when you do it can be a haven.
A recent visit to a pizza restaurant on my own with the two kids started with great intent but unravelled in a Joburg minute.
The crayons and paper, dough and rolling pins made it all look so manageable. Then my 20-month-old wouldn't stay seated (hideous of me to expect him to). He was more interested in stuffing the raw dough in his mouth and accosting prams with sleeping babies.
So it was about running in and out to make sure my little girl stayed put. She seemed content to roll the dough while he stayed where I could see him. Until she wasn't. I paid before we got the pizza, we threw it into a basket as a takeaway and ran out as fast as we could.
I never thought I'd be a Spur-goer after I left school, where on the last day of term we'd celebrate by popping up the road to eat toasted sandwiches, hit the salad bar and have some great pink sauce.
We left school, I left the Spur. I didn't look back. A charming bistro run by an owner who had spent years honing his craft was so much more appealing than chains and takeaways.
The Spur has its advantages - the chicken is better than at many restaurants I've been to, for example. But there's something about being in yet another shopping centre, eating another packaged and standardised product, that dilutes the lustre of eating out.
But none of that matters when the children are happy. And at the end of the meal they'll be exhausted and, if I'm lucky, ready for sleep.
Adele Shevel is a journalist at Sunday Times Business Times.