I like to cook, so even before we had kids, we weren’t eating out every night of the week. However, we do like to go out now and again. Dining out with toddlers is a much different dining experience than dining as a couple. And though, we try to avoid being the family that annoys other patrons, I’m sure sometimes it happens. Here are some tips to make dining out with toddlers a little easier.
Choose kid-friendly restaurants
You don’t have to be stuck with Chuck E Cheese and McDonald’s all the time, but you should seek out kid-friendly establishments. Chains like IHOP and Souper Salad generally have plenty of high chairs and don’t mind accommodating wee ones. But you’d be surprised at the other type of restaurants that can be kid-friendly. Mom-and-pop Chinese restaurants and sushi places are a great choice in our area, as well as some chains like Red Lobster and Outback Steakhouse. We have three kids (who are 2, 2 and 3) plus often have a foster child or two in the same age range. Our family can be a spectacle, so choosing kid-friendly restaurants is a must.
Sometimes my husband goes out to eat with girls, while I stay home with the boys. If you have a large family, splitting up to go out to eat now and then makes sense. It promotes bonding time among the kids and parents, and tones down the chaos.
Go at off hours
Instead of dealing with a packed restaurant at 7pm, go earlier. Your kids need to get ready for bed early anyway. We often find the best times to go out to eat are between the normal lunch and dinner hours — around 3 or 4 in the afternoon.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Kids spill things, they cry and scream sometimes, and in the big picture — it doesn’t matter much. Don’t go crazy if your kids act up while you are out. If you keep a quiet, calm tone, they’ll usually follow suit and calm down more quickly. If they get really out of hand, ask for to-go boxes and leave. And be sure to leave your waiter or waitress a nice tip for the extra trouble, especially if they go out of their way to make things easier for you.