Hardly ever a relaxing experience, but almost always a necessity, eating out with small children can break down even the most patient of parents if not handled properly. Not to worry. With the right tools and a little preparation, your family can learn to enjoy eating out every once in a while. Here are our tips for dining out with small children.
1. Come Prepared with Activities and Games – Toting along coloring books and puzzles is always a fantastic way to keep young kiddos occupied during down time. Be prepared to engage with your children as opposed to simply handing off their books or tablets. Coloring along with them or playing a round or two of tic-tac-toe can take you a long way while you wait for food to arrive.
2. Time it Just Right – Children have a tendency to get antsy and behave poorly when overly tired or hungry. When making arrangements to dine out, take into consideration restaurant wait times, approximately 20-30 minutes for table service, and arrive before typical meal times to avoid the crowds and any possible meltdowns your hungry little ones might display.
3. Order for Children First – Contrary to popular belief, many restaurants love to cater to little ones. Even if there is not a physical children’s menu, there is always something for the little nibblers. Order a child-friendly appetizer as soon as you are seated or ask your server for crackers or fruit to keep little ones’ hands occupied. Even if you are not wanting your child to snack before their meal, be sure to ask your server to expedite your child’s meal before the adult entrees. Large entrees can take upwards of twenty minutes, as opposed to a quick 5-10 for chicken fingers or a bowl of pasta.
4. Let Kids Be Kids – Don’t stress if your child decides to empty out the sugar bowl or spills his applesauce. Accidents happen and those sugar bowls are just too darn tempting for curious little hands. Let the kids make a little mess and have their fun, but be careful behavior remains considerate of other guests around you. Either clean up the mess before you go, or leave a little extra gratuity for the server, who undoubtedly has lived through it before.
5. Make it Quick – Don’t expect your little ones to make it through a four-course meal. The quicker your dining experience, the less opportunity for chaos. Inform your server you prefer quicker service rather than the spaced out dining experience. Many restaurants train servers to refrain from ringing in entrees until appetizers and salads have been served to the table. If you opted for a first course, ask your server to ring your entrees through quicker than usual to keep the dining experience expedited.
6. Tag Team Them – Smaller children often demand constant attention. If you have needy babies or toddlers requiring assistance with feeding, it makes the meal much more enjoyable to share the load with your guest, instead of trying to pull double duty. One of you can eat while the other tends to the baby, then you switch off and share the load with your partner or guest.
7. Get Out of Your Seat – Sometimes we just need to walk it off. It’s a lot to ask a small child to sit still for longer periods of time. Most likely, the children were previously cooped up in a car seat only to be strapped in again at the table in a high chair. Taking a brief walk around or outside the restaurant can break up the monotony of extended sitting and get your child through a long dining experience.
8. Start Small – If you just aren’t feeling ready to take the steps toward dining out at a full-service restaurant with your little ones, start at home or a quick service establishment. One thing is for certain: teaching kids proper dining etiquette takes time and lots of practice. Instilling good habits at home like appropriate posture, not standing on chairs, waiting patiently for food and proper use of cutlery will translate successfully to public when opportunity arises.
At the very least, if your attempt at dining out with little ones is not successful, you can always order carry out.