I have been trying for years to master the art of eating out with children and not wanting to kill someone by the end of the meal. Sometimes we have a great time and sometimes we curse ourselves for going out. But overall meals are getting easier and more enjoyable. Here are my key tips:
State of the Children
The children must be hungry. Not hangry (angry because they are so hungry), just hungry. No snacks before dinner and certainly no sugar. They can’t be sick or teething or overtired. All the pieces must fall together to make dining out successful.
Choose well. (The second part of this guide will assist you in the selection. Coming very soon.)
Eat at the kid’s regular dinner time. We go for “seniors dinners.” We are at the restaurant and seated by 5pm along with the seniors and the late-lunchers who are just leaving. But it works.
Make it Snappy
This isn’t a three course meal kinda meal. Sorry. Small glass of wine or bottle of beer, main, done. If you order a starter, just remember they will likely bring that starter along with the kid’s meals. Leading to my next point….
Do not have the kid’s food come early. When the well-intentioned waiter asks if you want the kid’s food to come early say NO. Otherwise the kids will eat and be done by the time your food comes and you won’t be able to enjoy your meal.
Get the Bill Early
Again, sorry but this could potentially save you from end-of-the-meal meltdowns. When things get crazy you can run for the door. Other restaurant goers will also thank you for this one.
So many times we’ve walked into a restaurant that didn’t have a high chair and thought we could handle it. Wrong. It’s the worst. They need to be seated securely in a high chair at all times. Booster seats with no belts don’t work either. Booths, forget it. You will have greasy little hands all over you. Highchair all the way. This is now a restaurant deal breaker for me. If they don’t have one, it’s a date-night restaurant.
Pack a Bag
Think quiet activities. The restaurant atmosphere is usually loud and can be over stimulating for little ones. They don’t need noisy toys on top of that. I suggest, crayons, colouring books, STICKERS, books and magazines. Call me old-school but I don’t believe in electronics in restaurants. It may be more work to entertain the kids but teaching them to enjoy a family meal together is really important to me. And at 15, my oldest knows not to use his phone at the table. Breakfast to dinner. House rule.
Backup for Babies
Cookies. I always have a little bag of animal crackers or cookies to keep them happy for a few minutes longer at the end so you can finish your meal. Another tip for older babies.. if the restaurant offers plastic cups with lids and straws for kids, ask them to bring the baby one with some ice in it. Shaking it and chewing on it will give you at least 10-15 minutes of entertainment. Gold.
In our house, eating out is still a treat. Get them excited and tell them how special it is. When I was a kid, we never ate out. We were occasionally taken out for ice cream after a school concert or graduation but rarely for a meal. And this was when birthday parties were still done at home with a projector rented from the library. Yep times have changed. But that doesn’t mean our kids can’t have the same appreciation as we did and still do.
My guide to the best restaurants in town will be out soon. Stay tuned.
Until then, bon appétit!