Eating out with kids? No sweat tips to keep everyone happy

There has been a lot of chatter online lately about kids in restsurants. Should they be there? What kinds of restaurants are kid appropriate? Why would anyone want to inconvenience others and ruin their dinners just because they wanted to bring their kids?

When talking about this subject, I have found that people can get quite heated and passionate. Sometimes they can just be jerks. I have read terms like “entitled breeders” and “inconsiderate parents” used to describe people who want to bring their kids to places other than McDonald’s or Denny’s ( no offence to either place, but they are not exactly what I would call fancy restaurants). I have seen people say that kid shouldn’t be allowed in anything other than a fast food restaurant until they are in their teenage years. I’ve read horror stories of children who run amok in restaurants, taking out servers left right and centre, screaming and pulling food off of other diners tables, ruining the meals of every single person in the restaurant. With the frequency and number of times I have heard things like this, you’d almost start to believe that every child who enters a restaurant is a holy terror.

Personally, the number of times I have witnessed this kind of behaviour could be counted on one hand.

I’m here to play the other side of the coin. We eat out a lot, like multiple times a week some weeks, and we do not restrict our dining choices to those that have ball pits or play places. We have done this ever since our son was born, and he is almost 7 now. Aside from the difficult baby stage where he often sounded like a velociraptor, at which time one of us would promptly take him outside until we could figure out the problem, he has never once screamed in a restaurant. He does not, contrary to popular belief, run free about the restaurant. If he leaves the table at all it is to go to the washroom and 9/10 he is with one of us when he does. As far as I am aware, we have never once had anyone complain either to or about us, however, I have lost count of the number of times that we have been complimented on his behaviour or had someone note that they didn’t even know there was a little person there. Q has eaten in all kinds of establishments, pretty much everything from fast food to fine dining and everything in between.

If a restaurant has a kids menu, or even if they don’t but they have something that my kid would like, we will eat there. We have never demanded special amenities like high chairs or crayons, and in the days when Q did use a high chair, if somewhere that we wanted to go didn’t have them, we just wouldn’t go there. No problems and not a big deal. There are plenty of restaurants in a city, no need to complain about it. There are always plenty of other restaurants who want our money. We have been to more than one restaurant that is considered to be a fine dining restaurant that was more than welcoming to Q and kids in general. It really comes down to what you want for your business.

I thought that I would share some of our tips and tricks that have worked when dining out with Q. I know a lot of people are intimidated at the thought of dining out with their kids, because they don’t know how they will behave, if they will be able to wait patiently, be polite or calm, or, or, or…
I’m here to tell you just that it is totally doable, you just need to be prepared. (Is anyone else hearing “Be prepared” from The Lion King in their head right now? No, just me? Carry on then.)

1. Be prepared. Bring a pad of paper, a pen, a little colouring book or something that might keep your kids amused during the wait. Bonus points if it’s something new that they haven’t seen before if you are anticipating a longer wait. This needn’t be something expensive. I bought a little game pad for about $1 at Michaels a few months ago and it is filled with tic tac toe and hangman. Q loves to play tic tac toe and it can keep him amused for ages. It’s also just fun to draw or write things down. Practice printing or handwriting. Make up a quiz or little game. Use your imagination.

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2. If a colouring book or crayons are offered, always take them. Even when your kid doesn’t think they want them, take them anyways. There has been many a time when Q has politely declined the colouring stuff but then later wanted it. It’s much easier to get it when you arrive. Trust me on this one.

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3. Don’t go when your kids are starving or tired . Hungry, yes, but the lest thing you want to do is take them when you risk them getting hangry or having a meltdown because all they want to do is go to bed and the meal is taking 2 hrs. Adults get nasty when they are hangry, it’s just amplified in our little people.

4. Let them have a say. Teach them how to politely order their own food and drinks. Have them be a part of the process. We have been letting Q order his own meals for a few years now, and it enforces his use of manners and eye contact, as well as letting him feel like he is just as important of a customer as his dad or I are. That has been huge. Let them find their own voice. People sometimes look at us like we have three heads when Q orders his own food, or drinks at Starbucks, but it gives him a sense of ownership and responsibility.

5. Read. Bring a book. Read to them, have them read to you, or just read quietly to themselves. Talk about what they are reading. Learn together. Read everything. The menus. The signs. Encourage them to find things that are new to read and figure out the words. This is a great opportunity for some learning, bonding, and reading practice. We always have Q bring a book in, even when he says he doesn’t want one. There have been very few meals that he hasn’t sat and read quietly while we waited.

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6. Play quiet games together. One favourite is money hockey. Using a coin, try to shoot it gently across the table to score a goal on the other person. Q plays this with my mom all the time and it is great fun. There may be a bit of excited laughter with this one though, so be prepared.

7. Talk. Talk about your days. Get to know your kids. Make sure that they feel valued and important and like you want them to be there with you. Listen to what they have to say too. You’d be surprised at how cool this can be sometimes. Sometimes this is the best time to hear about Q’s day or find out what is going on in his head.

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8. Don’t go during peak times If possible, try not to go during the busiest times. Because my husband is a shift worker, we have eaten at all kinds of weird times, but doing that has also given us more of an opportunity to test out the waters and figure out what works and what doesn’t. If you want to go out to a fancier restaurant on a Saturday night, go for a 5:00 or 5:30 dinner service. The kitchen is usually gearing up for the rush, but will be a bit quicker and less swamped the earlier you go. I’m not telling you to eat at 3:30 or anything ( though that does work great too, haha), just don’t expect to go for 7:00 on a Saturday and have everything be snappy.

9. Set out clear behavioral expectations It is always easier, or at least in our experience anyway, to have your kids behave the way you’d like when they know ahead of time what that actually looks like. Explain why we do or don’t do things, encourage proper table manners and to show respect. Explain why we use this fork for salad or why we out our napkin in our lap. Point out examples of good behaviour in others and of behaviour that is not so good. Show them what it looks like. Our kids can’t know these things unless we teach them. Q knows exactly what is expected of him when we eat out, so there are no surprises.

10. Allow them to make mistakes Know that no matter how well behaved your child is, they are still human. We all have bad days.

11. Limit screen time Yes it’s easy, and yes we do it too, but once there is food on the table, the devices go away. For everyone. No one is eating and playing, and that includes us.

12. Have fun! Eating out is a great way to show your kids other food and cultures. Enjoy the experience and the time you have together. When you are stressed, your kids are going to be stressed too.

Eating out can be a lot of fun for everyone, and doesn’t need to be an exercise in frustration at all, especially when you are prepared. I hope that these tips help make it a bit more enjoyable for the whole family.

Do you have any advice for people who are intimidated about eating out with their kids?

Comments

  1. says

    We’re both on the same page. I always bring notebooks and some art supplies – usually stickers and crayons. And, I almost always talk about behavior before we go inside. I, too, find that clear expectations set it up so I don’t have to nag so much.

  2. yannivlovely says

    Love Love Love!… are you on the stay at home mom group by any chance? There was just a discussion about that! I take my toddler anywhere, but of course to my face I never received bad remarks. I love the advice you gave and as my daughter grows it would be good practice to verbalize expectations beforehand.

  3. says

    These are really great tips. I especially like “let them have a say”…they’re learning to be adults and I just love that you mentioned teaching eye contact and manners. It’s so important to instill politeness.

  4. says

    I’m a server in a restaurant and I love kids. However, I have waited on some families that let their kids yell at me, cry, throw food/crayons, the list goes on and on. The worst is when they see their kids throwing food on the ground and then THEY LEAVE IT FOR ME TO CLEAN UP. That is not my job. I have also waited on lovely families with very well behaved young children. I appreciate the parents who bring activities to entertain their children, take them outside when they act up, pick up after them and don’t let them treat me like their door mat. So, please teach your children to be respectful and I don’t think anyone will have any issues with them.

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