10 Tips for Dining Out With Little Ones
When expecting a little one, a lot of first-time parents are worried about what life will look like with babies and then toddlers in tow. Some things you can no longer do, sure, but there’s plenty about life that doesn’t have to change all that much.
Traveling, shopping, and even eating out in restaurants do not have to be pleasures of the past. Instead, you can bring your kids to eat out and enjoy a family meal and (believe it or not!) good conversation with your partner. It takes patience and planning, but once you get in a groove, you’ll feel confident dining out with your little ones.
From one seasoned parent of three to your growing family, here are the top tips for dining out with babies and toddlers in restaurants.
Milk the Newborn Days
It might seem daunting to leave the house in the earliest months of parenthood, but getting out to your favorite restaurants while Baby is itty-bitty is actually easier than later. While they are still sleepy most of the day and night and can rest in a carrier, make those brunch and dinner reservations at the fancy spots and embrace the “break” while you clink glasses and they snooze.
In a few months when Baby becomes more alert—and noisy—this will not be as easy, and you’ll have to get a sitter if you want to hit up that favorite steakhouse or wait in line for brunch at a hotspot. So, live it up while you can get away with it…thank us later!
Check the Menu
Look up the menu of a new place before you go; anywhere that has a children’s menu is absolutely going to be welcoming of families with young kids. If there’s no kids’ menu, the next step is to check the appetizers and sides lists for anything prepared simply, like a macaroni and cheese, baked potato, or simple soup.
Restaurants with non-fussy offerings of this ilk are usually happy to accommodate children’s requests, and just children in general. Save the fine French dining and five-course tasting menus for nights on the town alone with your significant other or friends.
When in doubt, call the restaurant directly to make sure that they are comfortable with babies and little kids. You might be pleasantly surprised at how many restaurants happily accommodate young diners, and the host can usually tell you anything special to know like when there will be live music the kids will enjoy, or which times and days of the week are best for littles.
Parenting groups are the ultimate source for all boots-on-the-ground baby info, so tap into your local ones. Facebook, the Peanut app, and anyone you can strike up a conversation with at the park can give you the details on hidden gems for family dining. You won’t know the insider info until you tap into the mom-and-dad network. Don’t be shy–when parents love a small business, there is nothing we love more than telling everybody all about it!
Don’t worry, it’s not just the grannies that dine at 5pm or even earlier. Sometimes, being the first seated at a restaurant for lunch or dinner is the best with babies and toddlers. Not only does it almost guarantee you less of an audience if someone has a tantrum, but you’re likely to get your food served more quickly with fewer diners present.
Since most people seek out date night reservations for closer to 7pm, eating on the early side will also make you feel less self-conscious about potentially ruining the romantic evening of a neighboring table. Early to eat also means early to home, bath, and bed… so plenty of time left in the evening for you to indulge in a glass of wine or bowl of ice cream and good-bad TV in peace. Win-win!
The old adage, “Fake it ‘til you make it” applies to so many areas of parenting, and dining out with little ones is no exception. If you appear calm, your children will feel calm, and so will your partner and the restaurant staff. You’ll also trick yourself into feeling cooler and calmer about the situation.
Just remember: you have every right to be here. This is a meal. You are a paying customer. The worst-case scenario? Someone has a tantrum and you take your food to go. You’ve been through worse. You got this.
The most important thing you can do to make a meal out run smoothly is to bring some form of familiar entertainment to keep your kiddos engaged while you wait on your food. iPads and cell phones are okay backup plans, but volume control can get dicey, and you want your kids to get used to being out and actually enjoying their meals in restaurants. So, pack coloring sheets and crayons, Water Wows, and stickers for toddlers, and light-up or chew toys, lift-the-flap books, or small sensory cubes for babies.
As long as all seated adults are ordering food, most restaurants won’t mind if you bring something small for your baby or toddler to nosh on while you wait for your food. Small baggies of dry cereal, applesauce pouches, and similar low-mess/stink-free munchies serve as a great diversion.
…And Adult Reinforcement
Once you get the hang of dining out with your little ones, you’ll have the confidence to do so alone. But especially if you are a new parent or have more than one young child or baby with you, it’s best to bring a partner, friend, or babysitter along to make the meal run smoothly.
An extra set of hands means all the kids’ food gets cut up and served promptly, and that if anyone starts to cry or tantrum, adults can take turns eating while the other tends to the fussy one in the waiting area or parking lot. Usually, a quick change of scenery is all that’s needed for a grumpy tot to calm down, but that can be impossible if you’re on your own.
Chances are, there will be a trail of crumbs, a drink will spill, or more trips to your table will need to be made than for most of their guests. This is okay. When servers see families with young children coming in, they know they’re going to have to get their hands a bit dirty. Leaving a larger tip than standard is a gesture of kindness and gratitude that goes a long way, especially if your little ones didn’t eat much off the menu.
Have a Strategy
Like just about every other area of parenting, having a plan makes everything easier. When it comes to dining out, know at least generally what you’d like to order before you sit down. Bring your own wipes and hand sanitizer so you aren't running to the bathroom to wash hands before eating. Order as soon as your server greets you, so they can fire up the food and you can cut the kiddos’ wait time.
On the back end of the meal, a plan is necessary, too. As soon as your food hits the table, ask for your bill. This way, you will be paid up, packed up, and ready to go at the first sign of restlessness or any whimpers from the little ones. It also makes the process more swift for the staff in getting your table turned over for the next guests, while cutting down your stress. At the end of the day, that’s the most important part of this whole process.
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.