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There are times when only a very special restaurant will do. Times when you can take no chances. The atmosphere should be perfect. Music, lighting and service all must come together for this one memorable evening.

Yes, when you take children out to eat, you must choose your site carefully."Michael and I take our kids to Hunan Garden - it's a Chinese restaurant on 21st South - because it's dark. That way when they spill rice, no one notices," says Lynne Zimmerman.

Margaret and Gordon Godfrey take their two preschoolers "wherever you feel like you aren't driving the other patrons crazy," says Margaret, who admits other people's children sometimes drive her crazy - especially if she's hired a sitter for her own, hoping to dine in peace at an elegant restaurant.

"We take our kids to the Spaghetti Factory because they give children little trains to color, it's cheap, the food is more than passable, and other patrons bring their kids, too," she says.

Jeanne and Jim Jardine take their four to the Training Table. There youngsters enjoy ordering by phone ("in fact it's hard to get the baby to leave it alone") and the service is fast. "Speed is critical," says Jeanne. "Our kids kind of break loose after awhile."

Speed, dim lighting, other kids. What else is important when selecting a restaurant for children?

How about good food?

Well, yes, parents say, food is one criterion - but wall decor is more important.

"Hallie loves Pardner's because of the entrance ramp and all the stuff (flying squirrels, or are they bats?) on the walls," says Kathy Hemingway. Chris Decker agrees. "Kids need something to look at and talk about. The decor must be interesting."

Shenanigans is visually exciting, she says. That's where the Deckers head on special occasions, as when they've been downtown Christmas shopping.

Most families have a fast food favorite (McDonald's is mentioned often, though many parents are Mcburned out and just sip a soft drink while the children dine) as well as a "special place."

When the Jardine children get good report cards, for example, they get to go to Cowboy Grub, where they can look at the bull's head on the wall and ride mechanical horses while waiting for their order.

Gail and Peter Stevens take the family to the Hibachi, where "part of the intrigue is taking off your shoes in a little rice-paper room," and there are goldfish and a gong.

And even though Julie and Bill Barrett's children are hitting their teens now, they say their three daughters still like something to look at while they eat. The Barretts go to the Mexican Keyhole at Snowbird and watch squirrels on the patio.

Other oft-mentioned restaurants in our unscientifically conducted parents' survey are:

Duff's. Kids love a smorgasbord. At Duff's their parents may make them put vegetables on their plate, but when they don't eat any the waitress removes their plate - and then the children head back to the sundae bar.

Then there's El Matador in Ogden, where the food is Mexican and good, and the decor is dark with chickens on the ceiling; Hires, for hamburgers kids and parents can all enjoy; the Old Salt City Jail, with interesting walls and the subtle promise of a lock-up for etiquette infractions; the Sizzler, known for a large and lively salad bar; and 47 Samurai, where children can watch chefs with flashing knives slice and cook right at the table.

Utah County parents frequent the Brick Oven in Provo (still a college hangout, now also a place for Brigham Young University graduates to indulge in nostalgia while their children indulge in Italian food) and the Purple Turtle in Pleasant Grove (a volcanic-rock building, billions of flavors of malts).

To conclude, when asked where he takes his children for dinner, a father made the definitive comment on dining out with children: "We'll try any pizza parlor that has good video games."