My husband and I love trying new restaurants. We enjoy spending hours upon hours conversing over plates of pasta and a bottle of wine. We used to go out all the time, back when it was–you know–just the two of us.
Now we have two little boys and, quite honestly, going out to eat has lost a lot of its charm. Instead of conversing over plates of pasta and a bottle of wine, it’s more like we’re covered in plates of pasta and listening to our kids whine. Difficult as it is to bring the wild banshees–er, children–out to a restaurant, it can still be a rewarding experience. Dining out allows children to experience new foods, develop their dining etiquette, and (let’s not forget) give mom a break from cooking dinner.
With a 2 1/2-year old and a 10-month old baby we’ve developed some tried-and-true strategies for getting through (and even enjoying!) our meals out. Here are my top 10 tips:
- Choose where you’re going ahead of time. Make a reservation and review the menu online before you arrive so you can order as soon as you’re seated. Minimal waiting time with a squirrely child = a very good thing.
- Choose a family-friendly restaurant. You’ll know you’re in the right place if there are ample high chairs, paper place mats with crayons, easy-to-wipe-up flooring, and kids climbing on the booths. Bonus points if there are balloons available.
- Don’t go out to eat with your toddler during peak dining times. Try to hit the early bird special so you’re able to order, get your food, and get out of there quickly.
- Feed your child a snack before you go to the restaurant, and bring along extras to eat while you’re waiting for your meals to arrive. Even if you don’t end up eating your snack stash, you’ll be glad you had it if it’s taking an extra-long time for the kitchen to get your order out.
- Consider splitting a meal with your toddler rather than ordering him his own. I find that my son is usually so excited by the whole restaurant experience that he doesn’t eat as much when we’re out. Then I get bummed that I wasted $6 on a meal that he barely even touched (Hey, that $6 would have been better spent on a margarita for me!).
- Bring along your own entertainment. Books, crayons, Play-doh, and a magna doodle usually work well for us.
- Opt for a booth if you’re given the option. I find that they are easier to contain children in than chairs. Another good option is to sit outside where the kids can move around a bit more freely (and where messes are a bit easier to clean up).
- Tip your server well. Chances are, you are not the easiest table she’s had tonight. Maybe if you treat the staff well they’ll even invite you back some day!
- Bring along some back-up. This may be a great opportunity to invite Grandma and Grandpa out for a nice dinner–especially if they enjoy walking around a restaurant with a squirmy 2-year old so you can finish your entree while it’s still warm.
- Bring your patience! Dining out with a toddler is no walk in the park, but hopefully you’ll all make it through the meal in one piece.
Eat on, my friends, eat on!