How To Eat in Restaurants With Kids
My kids are “restaurant kids.”
Both of them have been regularly eating out, in fine and not-so-fine establishments, since they were infants. Despite our new menu planning obsession, we still like to go out once or twice per week and have someone else handle the cooking and cleaning and we will likely never give up that little indulgence, so the kids have to be game…and good.
That said, it isn’t always an appetizing outing, especially now that Kai is at the height of his terrible twos (or what we hope is the height of it), but we have found a few tried and true techniques that keep us all happily seated (for the most part) until the bill comes. Here they are:
1) Opt for the early bird menu. We totally understand and respect that some restaurants and their patrons aren’t as kid-friendly as others and trust me, we can appreciate a toddler-free dinner just as much as anyone else. But we have found that even the more upscale spots we have on our must-try list will accommodate us happily if we eat early before their prime rush begins. We still get to enjoy the atmosphere and the food, but without the dirty looks from couples on date night. Or opt for their weekend brunch instead. Who can complain about children at brunch??
2) Don’t rush the food. My genius husband remarked on this on a recent outing. We (and the waitstaff) are usually in such a hurry to get the kids their food pronto once we are seated. We typically order their meals with our drinks and then they are finished and bored before we’ve even had appetizers. Hold off on ordering for them. The first half of the meal is the easiest anyhow so let their food come in the latter half, with yours, to keep them occupied when they would otherwise get restless.
3) Don’t count on crayons. My kids get bored of the complimentary crayons and paper most restaurants give you within minutes so we always come equipped with our own distractions (nothing loud or annoying, please) to keep them busy. Now that Little D can read, she loves to read to her brother and a few books go a long way when she is sounding out every. word. one. at. a. time.
4) Don’t jump to the iPhone/iPad/iWhatever. Have it there for back up, but don’t pull it out the minute you sit down because a) your kids will likely get bored again and b) you are really teaching them that patience is a virtue they can skip altogether. We keep our phones on us but try our very best not to pull them out at all and it’s often easier done than just said.
5) Nevermind the Michelin star. Some nights you have simply earned a glass of wine and a meal cooked by somebody else. It doesn’t always have to be five-star quality and choosing a family-friendly restaurant like CPK or Chili’s can be an easy, smart choice for everyone involved. If someone dares to even glance twice at my kids for making noise at CPK, I laugh. They are clearly at the wrong restaurant, not us.
6) Group outings. Plan group dinners with friends and their kids whenever you can — it’s amazing how busy a group of littles can keep themselves when they are amongst friends.
7) Ask for a booth. This really applies to families like ours with a toddler in tow. We always sit in a booth and both kids always sit on the inside, where we can “lock them in” so we aren’t chasing them around the restaurant when they are feeling curious.
8) Let them make their own menu selections. If you want your kids to clear their plates, fill them with something they like. Worry about the proper ratio of grains, veggies and lean protein when you are at home, let them pick their favorites when you are out and everyone will be much happier.
9) Be flexible. Sometimes you have to skip dessert (and I hate those times…). Sometimes you can’t opt for that second round of drinks. Sometimes you finish half of your meal back home on your couch, out of the takeout container. It’s all part of this parenthood game – sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. But most importantly…
10) Try and try again. I have a friend who just doesn’t take her kids out to restaurants. Ever. She says it’s just far too stressful and chaotic. I believe that, as with many things in life, you need to expose your young ones to new experiences, challenging or not, before they can adapt to them. We will keep going out to eat once or twice per week and some outings will be great and some won’t…but we will always leave behind a nice tip. 🙂
*image above of one of my favorite dining rooms in Los Angeles, at Soho House West Hollywood. Yes, my kids have eaten there. Yes, it was Sunday brunch.*