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May 26, 2014

Tips for Eating Out With Kids

Our family truly enjoys eating out together! It is not just something we do to avoid having to cook at home (although I most definitely appreciate an occasional night off from kitchen-duty), but it is truly a hobby for us. We love trying new restaurants. We like experiencing different types of food. We simply enjoy being together in this way.

Today I want to share with you my very best tips for eating out with your kids!

Tips for Eating Out with Kids
Eating Out

David and I also love to the training opportunities that eating out provides for us with our children. We think it is important to teach them how to behave in social situations, and we want our little guys to understand how to behave in a restaurant environment.

With that being said, there are some things we typically keep in mind when we choose to eat out with our little fellas:

Choose the restaurant carefully. There are some restaurants that are kid-friendly and others that are not. When hubby and I are out on a date alone, we like quiet restaurants. When choosing a family-friendly restaurant, the louder the better. I'm sure you can relate to why.

Time your visit carefully. We do our best to specifically time our eating-out adventures. We try to avoid restaurants when our kiddos are tired, cranky, etc. There have been times when we have forced this and it has gone smoothly, but then there have been other times when we have barely made it out alive. A certain trip to The Cheesecake Factory seems to immediately come to mind...

Call ahead! Make reservations or take advantage of "call-ahead seating" - both have been lifesavers for us at times. If a restaurant does not offer either, explain to them that you have little ones, and sometimes they will go ahead and prepare a spot for you.

Be specific with the hostess. When I call ahead or when we arrive at the hostess stand, I will typically ask if an  "out-of-the-way table" is available. This keeps us from being a distraction from others and helps us feel more relaxed.

Keep the order simple. This is not the time to overwhelm the waiter/waitress with specific requests. Keep it simple which will hopefully result in you receiving your food as quickly as possible.

Pay sooner rather than later. Oftentimes - as soon as we order - we go ahead and provide the server with our chosen form of payment. I typically say something like: Since we have the little ones with us, I'll go ahead and take care of our bill. This usually cuts out the entire "check-back-for-dessert" step and gives a very strong hint that you would like to move things along as quickly as possible.

Set high expectations. When it comes to remaining in his seat, our two-year old does not have a choice. He is to sit in his chair for the entirety of the meal, and he is not allowed to get up and roam around our table/the restaurant. When it comes to volume, we strongly encourage "using a quiet talking voice". (Hubby says I'm the one who needs to work on this.) ;-) Okay...back to the kids...Has one of us ever had to take the kids to the car while the other one took care of finishing up inside? Absolutely! When things start to get out of control, we remove our kiddos from the situation. As I mentioned before, we use eating out as a training opportunity. Most of the time, we have no problem! We have given our kids a lot of practice with this type of thing, but of course there have been those not-so-smooth outings...and for those times when there are "issues", we roll with it. When entering a restaurant, we try to remember that things may not go as planned (like the night I bribed my pre-schooler with new underwear), and we try to remind ourselves of the reason why we do what we do.

Teach your children how to wait. If your itty bitties are starving, sure....go ahead and hand them a few raisins or some Cheerios, but if everyone is okay, waiting on a meal can be a great opportunity for learning patience/delayed gratification. Don't miss it by appeasing them with their tablet or fast food that you have brought in from elsewhere. (Have we ever given our toddler one of our phones in order to keep him occupied? Yes, but it is the rare exception...not the rule.) See this post for more of my thoughts on that.

Encourage manners. Hopefully your children will see you model kind manners toward the restaurant staff. "Please", "Thank You", etc....so important. It is also important to teach them how to interact with the server. As soon as they're ready, let them order...don't do their talking for them...give them a chance to practice how everything works.

Interact as a Family: Part of the experience of eating out is learning how to interact with those you are with at the time. I find it so sad to look over and see families completely disengaged - all interacting with their phones and not each other. Talk with each other! We have had some of the silliest conversations while eating out together - I love the giggles that result, and I'm always glad my phone is not in my hand.

Clean Up! Following a mealtime at home, my toddler [and my husband] are required by the chef (that's me) to take their dishes to the sink, etc. I have never worked in food service, but I can imagine that they would appreciate the same type of courtesy being extended their way...whatever we can do to clean up after our families, we should do it. Did your baby spill his puffs all over the floor? Did your toddler spill milk all over his chair? Did your child spread the sugar packets out all over the table? Show some common courtesy and tidy up a bit before you leave. If you choose to leave the mess, please leave a hefty tip. It just seems like the right thing to do...don't you think?

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read Tips for Successful Family Vacation: