Every parent reaches the point where they’re tired of cooking. When that moment comes, we have a decision to make — can we deal with bringing the kids to a restaurant?
It’s not that we don’t love our little ones, of course. It’s just a production to get everyone through a meal at a restaurant and, sometimes, we don’t feel up to the effort. That’s totally okay — gauging your patience level makes you a good parent.
But when you are ready to dine out, you have a few ways to get through it and eat with ease. Here are our best tips for dining out with kids so the entire family enjoys their meal:
1. Practice at Home
It’s easy to forget that your kids are, well, kids. They don’t yet know how to behave in restaurants, which is why they often don’t. You can’t always control their behavior, but you can do your best to prepare them for a meal outside of your home.
Start by allowing your kids to bring “friends” to dinner — and by that, we mean stuffed animals and toys. Encourage them to use proper manners all the time, but especially in front of their guests. Focus on easy first steps, such as saying “please” and “thank you” and using utensils properly. Make sure you’re always mirroring the good behaviors they should exhibit — kids pay attention to and mimic everything you do.
2. Choose a Kid-Friendly Restaurant
Not all eateries are created equal when it comes to kid-friendly dining. Some restauranteurs will take steps to make their establishments welcoming to little ones. Others shy away from their littlest potential customers — a handful of places have even barred kids or prohibited screaming, which basically says no kids without saying it.
So, call ahead to your restaurant of choice and make sure they’ll welcome kid diners. For example, ask and see if they will make kid-sized portions if there’s no children’s menu. Accommodating eateries will serve as much warmer places to bring your young family as they learn to dine out.
3. Go Early
Trying to dine out with a child who’s tired or hungry won’t go well for you. So, plan to make your family foray into fine dining when it’s early. Your kids probably eat dinner in the late afternoon anyway, so abide by their normal schedule. This excursion isn’t a date night for you and your partner — you have to work with your little ones’ schedules first.
You’ll be rewarded for doing so, though. Most restaurants will be emptier at earlier dinner times, which means you’ll feel less stressed about your kids’ noise level. The wait staff will be more attentive, too, which means you can eat and go faster than you’d expect later in the evening.
4. Bring Backup
Kid-friendly restaurants will probably help you with this step. Most will have a paper menu and crayons your children can use to entertain themselves. But if you go to an adult-centric restaurant with little ones, you’ll have to get creative. You should have more than one distraction in your arsenal while you wait for food.
You could go the electronics route, allowing your children to watch the iPad as the chefs prepare their food. However, you can use this opportunity to bond as a family and play simple games. Even the usual items on your table can become a fun distraction. For example, you can use different-colored sugar packets to play tic-tac-toe, among other fun games.
Backup might have to include a little snack, too. Not every restaurant will have a kid-friendly appetizer, so be sure to have some fruit or crackers, for example, to tide over extra-hungry kids.
5. Continue to Parent in Public
You have expectations for your children’s behavior at home, and the same should go for a public outing. Tell your kids before you eat out that you expect the same in public.
On that note, try not to stress out if your children get too loud or rowdy at the restaurant. Your voice will also carry — perhaps even more than their little voices. So, discipline your kids with finesse. Take a cranky kiddo to the bathroom or outside so they can cool down.
And, if you ever feel so stressed by bad behavior that you can’t enjoy your meal, it’s okay to throw in the towel. Get your food to-go and head home, but still hold your head high — you tried, and that’s a major effort for any parent. As time goes on, your children will get used to eating out with respect for you and everyone else in the restaurant. It just takes a bit of time.
Eat Out Together and Enjoy
Family dinners are a great memory for you and your kids, whether you’re at home or a restaurant. These five tips will help you make the latter an easier reality to achieve. So, do your prep work and then take everyone out to dinner — you’ve earned it, and so have your kids.