Silverware heading for eyes, little hands darting for the water glass. Every parent knows that dining out with kids, especially young kids, can be extremely challenging.
However, there is no reason to stop going out all together. It’s truly beneficial that kids visit restaurants to learn how to behave in public, and allow parents a chance to get out without a babysitter.
Done right, it’s also a bonding activity for the family and often a welcome change of pace for the primary cook in the family. It can be overwhelming just thinking about going out to eat but it really is possible to have a harmonious and enjoyable restaurant experience with young ones. The key is to prepare carefully and approach it with a positive attitude.
Tips For Dining Out With Kids
Prepare the Kids to Dine Out
One way to help make the dining experience positive for all, and set your child up for success is to prepare them ahead of time. This doesn’t mean that you should sit them down and sternly tell them that they are to behave. Instead, it means talking to the child on his or her level. Explain that it is a treat to eat out and that it is something to look forward to. Discuss the importance of manners and how to use them at a restaurant. Maybe even practice with them.
One way to get children to listen and inspire them to behave is to keep things positive. Instead of making negative statements about what they should not do, focus on what they should do. (It’s not “and don’t forget to say thank you.” It’s “and what do we say after the waiter or waitress takes our order?” Be sure to respond with lots of approval when they correctly answer, “thank you!”) This makes children more likely to want to behave well and please you.
Choose the Restaurant Wisely
While it’s true that chain restaurants and kid-focused restaurants may seem like the best option, that really isn’t the case. Restaurants advertised as child-friendly often turn out to be free-for-alls for kids and they won’t learn anything more about behaving in public than they’ve already learned at the playground. What’s more, you’ll probably be miserable. The idea here is to get your children accustomed to behaving in the adult world; they’re going to have to do it for the next 15 years or so, and you’ll probably want to eat out at some point. Instead of Chuck E. Cheese or Cici’s, choose smaller, local, or family owned restaurants. It’s ideal as it is more likely that the food will be fresh and contain better quality ingredients. Also, a restaurant of that type tends to be relaxed and child-friendly, without sacrificing quality, flavor or manners.
When to Dine
Strategically planning the dining visit is important, including the time that you should go. Avoid dining at the restaurant at the height of dinner hour or later at night. Instead, make the reservations or visit the restaurant no later than 5:30 pm if at all possible. The restaurant will not be as crowded and that means fewer people will be bothered by kid’s behavior. You will also be less likely to become stressed. Kids pick up on that stress and keeping cool will help things go smoothly.
What to Pack For Dining Out
Make sure to pack the essentials when you take your kids out to dinner. Don’t just pull out the toys or items as soon as you get to the restaurant. Instead, try to engage your child in conversation about the look of the restaurant, the trip there or the kind of food he might want. (Pretty much the same conversation you’d have with your spouse or friends, just in kid-friendly language.) It’s also important not to wait until your child is agitated or super hungry. Instead, once you see him become bored, go ahead and break out the carrot sticks or start distracting him with the toys. Perhaps bring along a drawing pad and a few crayons, or a favorite doll. Just make sure that it isn’t one that adds to the noise factor.
Raising children with a healthy attitude towards dining out is a gift to them and to yourself. Instilling a taste for foods outside of the standard fast-food fare should ideally start when they are young as should the skills to behave well when they’re in a restaurant. Take the time to plan each restaurant visit and ensure that the visit goes well for both you and your little one, and one day, you may even get to relax and enjoy your own meal.