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How To Eat in Restaurants With Kids

2013 March 28


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. ๐Ÿ™‚

*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.*

9 Responses leave one →
  1. March 28, 2013

    These are dead on. I hadn’t thought of the ordering later strategy, though, which we WILL use this Sunday as we eat our Lutheran Easter (hate it when they’re so far apart) dinner out because our place is too chaotic in the middle of a painting project to try and cook a big meal.

    Also, we’ve found that our older Bean can handle (starting at 4th birthday) a Very Fancy Restaurant (despite what that maitre d’ thought when we first called to make the reservation – she’s now a repeat darling of the staff), so don’t hesitate to expose the one that’s ready with some special one-on-two time. Serves as a good reminder of behavior at other places when I can remind her that our favorite Fancy Restaurant waiter would expect more of her. Seriously. He holds that much weight with us.

    • WWGD permalink*
      March 29, 2013

      Love that! And I love that she’s a regular there…!

  2. stella permalink
    March 28, 2013

    Thanks for this post. I remember our first restaurant trip with our daughter once she was walking and it was such a nightmare and I remembering swearing that we would not eat out at a restaurant until she was 5. Not very realistic and not fun for my husband and I who like to go out and eat on occasion. We try to eat out with her every couple of weeks and I have to say that we have noticed a difference and I think we are more prepared with some of the tips that you have listed. Sometimes its great and sometimes not but we are teaching her about enjoying different kinds of food and situations and that is a good thing!

    • WWGD permalink*
      March 29, 2013

      Glad you enjoyed, Stella! Practice definitely makes perfect on this front, even if it’s often less than…perfect ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Jennifer permalink
    March 28, 2013

    This was a fun read and some good tips! My Mom always jokes that John has been to more restaurants than most adults and yes, that includes Soho House ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. March 28, 2013

    These are perfect tips! I don’t know about group outings for us though, my youngest is only 10 months and I swear he has a timer or some sort of detector of poor or slow service and starts to act up. Here lately as long as I keep the snacks handy though, he is pretty good. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • WWGD permalink*
      March 29, 2013

      And honestly, I think as long as you keep exposing him to it, he will be a restaurant kid forever…starting them young is key!

  5. michele permalink
    March 29, 2013

    Great list! We too believe in exposing our little ones to adult environments. It’s important for us to keep doing the little things we enjoy and not be afraid of how the kids will act. We love the Soho brunch too (in Miami!)

    • WWGD permalink*
      March 29, 2013

      Totally agree. It’s not always easy, by any means, but I think when you can swing it, it’s worth it for everyone. Thanks for reading!

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