It’s wonderful to enjoy a meal where someone else does the cooking and dishwashing. But if your dinner companions include young children, a restaurant outing can be a disaster in so many ways. Here are mom tips for a stress-free (sort of) dining experience.
Expectations. Eating out is boring to kids, says Sara Peschke, mother of Sadye, 7, and Roman, 4. “Don’t expect perfect behavior for more than 30 minutes,” she advises. “Talk to your kids about what is expected and ask them to repeat back to you what you’ve said.”
“We realize that our expectations can’t be too high,” says Melissa Kovacs, mother of Anna, 3. “We have to anticipate a meal that is less about catching up with each other and more about eating, managing a child and whatever conversation we can get in.”
Timing. “We go to early dinners so that we’re not running into Anna’s bedtime-meltdown time,” says Kovacs. “Go when there’s not a long wait and before the restaurant gets crowded,” says Maria Kniestedt, mother of two young kids.
Food choices. Many restaurants now post their menus online. Familiarize yourself with the choices. It certainly helps to know the restaurant serves food your child likes.
Ambience. “Pick a loud place to eat,” suggests Irene Calderon, mother of Drew, 6. “Then the kids don’t have to be so quiet and you can spend the evening enjoying yourself. Give up on the fine dinning experience and save yourself and other customers the stress.”
Early restroom visit. “Take the kids to the bathroom as soon as you arrive at the restaurant,” suggests Kim Yezbak, mother of three. Don’t wait until after you’ve ordered or the food arrives for nature to call.
Table or booth? Choose a table with chairs when you’re dining with kids younger than 5. A booth can enable kids to get overactive, bounce around and stare at the table behind them filled with people who might not appreciate the cuteness. “Giving them one chair to sit in helps avoid having a small child climb all over you when you are trying to eat or have a conversation,” says Yezbak.
Entertainment and snacks. The coloring-page place mat will only last so long. If you can’t eat all of your fettuccine in the time it takes your 5-year-old to color, then have a backup plan. “I have an on-the-go bag filled with washable markers, a special pad of paper, stickers, and a favorite book or two,” says Kniestedt. She also carries a snack in her purse in case service is slow.
Claire Fadden is a freelance writer.