Strolling Through Chicago: A Review of the Cheesecake Factory for Parents with Toddlers
No trip to Chicago is complete without a visit to The Cheesecake Factory - so of course we visited during our August 2012 trip with our toddler. We don't have any of these in Michigan, so I make sure to visit on every vacation if I can find one! The Chicago Cheesecake Factory is our favorite because of the atmosphere and location. Bringing our toddler there for her first visit was certainly an experience though - so I have some tips!
Location and Hours
The Cheesecake Factory is located in the lower level of the John Hancock Center on Michigan Avenue and Chestnut Street. You can see the entrance on Chestnut street or down the stairs on Michigan Avenue... however you will not want to bring your toddler in either way! Toddler Tip: The stroller / handicapped entrance is on Chestnut street. If coming from Michigan Avenue, you will walk past the Cheesecake Factory door to find this handicapped entrance. Otherwise you end up dragging a toddler and stroller down the stairs (like we did the first time since we didn't see the handicapped entrance!)
The Cheesecake Factory's general hours are 11 am to 11 pm and sometimes a little later. We usually go for Dinner but Lunch works too. If you are crunched for time, a late visit just for Cheesecake is also acceptable. With this prime location right in the middle of the action, it does get crowded unless you plan it right. We usually get there for an early dinner (5:30ish) to avoid the crowds and had no problem getting in on a Tuesday in late August 2012. However, during our visit a few years ago on Thanksgiving Weekend, the place was packed and the wait was about an hour. Toddler Tip: Eat early! Toddlers are impatient and an hour wait probably wouldn't work. Another option is to have one person play outside with your toddler while the other waits in line and use your cell phones to let them know when you have a table.
I have sat in various spots in this Cheesecake Factory as it is quite a large restaurant. There is even outdoor seating during the warmer months. The decor is cheesy - literally :) It looks like melted cheese all around the restaurant. I saw some kids playing in this cheesy hole in the wall and I let my daughter play in there a bit too. However.... that turned out to be a mistake because she did not want to do anything else except play in that hole after that! It was ok when other kids were in it, but once the hole was empty I could not let her in there because she could easily walk to the other side and fall out. Toddler Tip: Avoid the hole in the wall unless you have a toddler who is old enough not to just walk to the edge and fall out - or you have an adult on the other side to catch her.
In the past we have sat on the other side of the hole in the wall where there are a lot of booths. I prefer that area and would request it next time. During our August 2012 visit we sat in the table area instead and they brought us a booster chair (with no seatbelt) for my daughter. That was also an issue because once she figured out she could get down, all she wanted to do was get down. My daughter is usually good in restaurants when she is strapped in and doesn't think she can go anywhere. Next time I would ask if they have a different set up or an actual high chair. Otherwise, sitting in the booths might solve the problem because she would have been trapped.
Overall I like the atmosphere of this Cheesecake Factory. It feels unique and fun and I look forward to bringing my daughter there as she grows!
Yes there is more to the Cheesecake Factory than just Cheesecake! Much more! The menu is so long that it takes 10 minutes just to flip through and narrow down what you want. I've been there enough times that I have my favorites, but my husband was unprepared and seemed to take forever to make up his mind. Toddler Tip: Look at the menu online in advance and narrow down what you want. Especially on a crowded day, it's best to order as quickly as you can since the food can take time and, as I've mentioned, kids get impatient!
First there is the bread, which is so yummy you have to control yourself so you don't get overstuffed. We had to give some to my daughter while waiting for our meals and it's part of the reason she was ready to play before dinner even got there. I have tried many delicious options on the menu, but this trip I decided on the Four Cheese Pasta which is one of my favs. My husband got the shrimp dish and loved every bite of it. We knew the meals were huge so we purposely planned to take 1/2 back to the hotel for the next day. Toddler Tip: These meals are humongous... don't get a separate kids meal, just share! My pasta was enough to serve me and my toddler for 2 days in a row!
Then, of course, there is the Cheesecake! With two full pages of options, you can spend another 20 minutes deciding on cheesecake. I try to get a different one every time so I can try a variety of cheesecakes. Cheesecake slices are also huge, so you can split one if you choose. My husband and I decided that since we each ate only 1/2 our meals, we deserved a FULL slice of cheesecake to ourselves :) Of course we offered some to my toddler but the crazy girly didn't want hardly any since she still wanted to play in the cheesy hole! Silly girl! Toddler Tip: We didn't do it this time, but in the past we have asked for our cheesecake to go and put it in the hotel fridge to eat later. This only works if you are going straight back to your hotel (or if it's cold outside) because you don't want to leave the cheesecake out too long.
You will see a lot of kids lined up at The Cheesecake Factory as it does have a family appeal, but we went many times long before we had kids and always enjoyed it. The hostess will stash your stroller over in another area so you don't have to keep it with you. Toddler Tip: I wish I had some kind of identifying tag on my stroller so it was easier to tell the hostess which was mine at pick up time. If you don't have a marker on your stroller, just follow her to the stroller area and point out which one is yours.
After visiting the Cheesecake Factory, make your way up the John Hancock Observatory and enjoy the view! Leftovers will survive a little while so don't be too worried about that. Overall I highly recommend the Cheesecake Factory and it is one of our Must See stops every time we visit Chicago.
My Strolling Through Chicago series features reviews geared at parents with toddlers and full of Toddler Tips! Read more reviews in this series below!