Tips for a Pleasant Dining Experience with Young Children

My husband and I enjoy dining out. We love everything from Sonic (don’t judge) to Ruth’s Chris. We are adventurous, eclectic (bacon wrapped hot dog anyone?), and enthusiastic eaters. Becoming parents has changed us in many ways but has thankfully not had an effect on our dining habits.

Dining out with small children can be frustrating. Sometimes despite your best efforts everything goes wrong and your toddler runs off to the wine cellar (yes, that happened to us). However you shouldn’t fear. I am here to help you. I have taken notes and learned from previous mistakes and am happy to report that 99.99% of our dining experiences are peaceful and enjoyable. I swear.

Here are some of my favorite tips:

Plan ahead

This sounds obvious but it is easy to forget. I know we have paid dearly when we have attempted to dine out before nap time (unless it is breakfast or early brunch). Huge mistake. We have found that arriving at the restaurant within fifteen minutes of a car nap works really well. My husband and I change the kids if necessary and head into the restaurant before they are fully awake and figure out what’s going on. They usually snap out of it at the table and by then they are usually ready for a snack.

Request food immediately

As soon as we are seated I ask that bread be brought to the table. My kids have never objected to bread. They like how it tastes, they can eat it on their own, and it doesn’t make a huge mess. I also keep a backup snack from home in my purse just in case one of the kids is feeling fussy and doesn’t want to eat restaurant food right away.

Act fast

We do not dilly dally when it comes to ordering. The faster the food comes, the sooner we eat, and the quicker we get out of there. We don’t rush through our meal but we like to shave off minutes wherever we can in case the kids are plotting something.

We hand the server our credit card long before the bill is presented. We don’t look at the bill until after we have paid and it is time to sign. This is always a huge time saver.

Download the Netflix or YouTube App

I know not everyone has a smart phone or tablet and not every eating establishment is an appropriate place for this but when things get hairy my husband and I pull out the iPhones or iPad and stream something kid friendly. We prop up the device on the salt and pepper shakers and finish our meals in peace.

It is usually our last resort. We want our kids to enjoy dining together as a family but they are only one and two years old. Sometimes they don’t want to sit still and watch mom and dad eat calamari and that’s okay but it is great to have the technological distraction as an option if needed. Sure beats carrying two kicking and screaming kids out of a restaurant which we thankfully have not yet had to do. Fingers crossed.

Have any great tips to share for taking your kids out to eat?

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7 Comments on "Tips for a Pleasant Dining Experience with Young Children"

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Gretchen
Guest
We have a 2 year old and she knows how to act in a restaurant as well. However, it doesn’t mean to not be prepared for the occasional 2 year old temper tantrum. Snacks, crayons and paper, even playing with the napkin or napkin rings, on the very, very rare occasion the phone with a drawing app. Lastly, one parent takes her outside to the car while the other pays the check. We respect everyone’s dinning experience which is a lot more than I can say for most parents out there. As long as you can plan ahead and go… Read more »
Nicole
Guest

If your kids are well disciplined overall, it’s usually not too different at a restaurant, but they can get more restless and demanding so it’s good to anticipatete it and praise them when they are being pleasant to help reinforce the behavior you are hoping for.

Monique
Guest
As a last resort, I totally concur with having a tech option. If my four decide to lead a revolt in Chili’s I’m going to allow them a temporary distraction, so that at least if we have to drag them out of there kicking and screaming, we have enough time to get a to-go box. Sometimes kids lack patience, they’re not in the mood. Sometimes – like adults – they have bad moments, bad days. It has a lot more to do with their mood at the time, and less to do with setting rules. My children have been dining… Read more »
Becca @ Mama B
Guest

Great tips!! My kids are *thankfully* very well behaved at restaurants and we have never really had a problem. Probably because they take after their mama and like to eat! If we go out on a day it’ll be busy, we call ahead to make reservations. We make sure they have crayons and paper. They know that if they behave and eat all their food, they can have dessert 🙂

Elizabeth
Guest

My husband and I find that bringing a few small and quiet toys with us help our 3year old last a little longer. For us, it also works better to hold off ordering his food until we order ours ( most restaurants offer to bring his first). But for our little munchkin, if he finishes way ahead of us and has to wait after finishing its much harder for him. The anticipation of getting food seems to keep him occupied ahead of time.

hillary
Guest

i think its sad to plop a kid in front a screen while you eat- they have to learn how to act in a restaurant. i don’t take my kids to fancy restaurants (i feel that’s not a kids place) but i just talk to them about things while we sit and eat. this reminds me so much of that book holly posted about last week- “Bringing Up Bebe” and how different we are from the french! Just some good old rules and work will do the trick!

Cori Papuga
Guest

Ever since we got an ipad/kindle fire our dining experiences with our almost 3 year old have been amazing. I hate to plop him in front of a screen but it keeps him busy long enough to distract him from wanting to get out of his seat. The crayons and paper only last a few minutes until they fall on the floor. With the ipad/kindle fire he can play games, watch shows that we’ve downloaded, color/paint.. endless activities. There are even times now he doesnt even need it but its great to have as a backup!

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