This section is intended to provide for you tips and advice for choosing an appropriate restaurant when eating out with infants, babies, toddlers and older children. A goal of having a pleasant meal with your family, enjoying a glass of wine (not chugging it while packing up a screaming child), while at the same time helping your child learn appropriate restaurant behavior, can be realistic. Stay with me here because I know some of your may be shaking your heads or laughing hysterically by now.
Do Your Research
Spend a few minutes doing some research on where you are going to eat. While there are many restaurant review websites out there, yelp.com is one of the best for getting information on restaurants that are “good for kids”. Use this filter, and others (including price, neighborhood etc) to find exactly what you are looking for. You can also do a search for lists of top family friendly restaurants like this list of the top family-friendly rooftop bars and restaurants. Do not be limited by this however, as there are some additional suggestions below on finding somewhere appropriate to eat.
Choose restaurants that fall in to one or more of the following categories:
- are lively and loud
- have live music – to mask screeching child sounds and provide a distraction
- have access to somewhere to walk/run around (on the beach, on a patio etc.)
- are in a hotel – most hotel restaurants are very used to catering to families
- have high chairs or booster seats – if they have them, they want your business
- are of an ethnicity that welcomes children such as Asian, Central or South American or Italian – formal French is probably not the best choice
Avoid restaurants that fall into one or more of the following categories:
- have a 10 course tasting menu – honestly do you really want to go there with a child anyway?
- look like somewhere you might take someone on a romantic date or to propose
- have white table linens, more glasses than people and more forks than you know what to do with
- have employees who look at you as if you have two heads when you request a high chair
Pack with you a restaurant kit that fits in a resealable plastic bag. Mine is shown in the photos below. My youngest was 3 at the time of this photo so you will want to adjust this for the age of your child. I bring out the activities (one at a time) while we are waiting for our food and save the iTouch (or other media device) for when my food comes. Currently my activities include:
- a coloring book
- smelly felts (provide twice the entertainment of regular felts)
- a pocket puzzle
- glow in the dark bracelets ($1/pack at Michaels craft stores)
- Apple iPad, iTouch or iPhone for games and videos
- a stand for my iTouch/iPhone (iStand or business card holder will work)
- child size earphones*
* In this photo I show child size earbuds, but have since switched to proper kid’s size headphones (please see post here for the best kids headphones). We now have one iTouch for each child but earlier on we bought a Belkin splitter so the kids could both watch a show on the same device.
My dining necessities include the following:
- sippy cup or bottle
- pacifier for young children
- toddler size cutlery
- paper disposable bibs* or wipeable bibs- not cloth
- tiny diner placemat **
* Pampers sells really good ones, or if needed you can pilfer some from the nearest IKEA.
** I love this placemat so, so much ! It has suction cups that attach to the table and has a lip that catches all the crumbs so that you don’t have to either crawl around on your hands and knees, or skulk out of the restaurant pretending that you didn’t notice that your baby dumped have their food on the floor.
Almost any restaurant will welcome a family at 5:30. No waiting for a table, faster service, usually no reservations required and less stress since there will be fewer patrons. The added bonus is that you can still get your child to bed on time.
Request a table that is away from other patrons. This little detail allows you to relax a little knowing that should your little one have some bad moments, they are unlikely to bother anyone.
Clear the Table
Remove any excess cutlery and glasses. All children want to clang on their glass with a steak knife. While this may be charming to you as the parent, I assure you it is less charming to other people. On that note, remove or extinguish all fire sources on the table. I’m in my late thirties and I still find fire intriguing. Imagine how a baby or toddler must feel about it.
Feed Them First
Do not make your little one wait for food. Order their food first (or feed them their bottle or baby food) so they are not left hungry. If the restaurant does not have a kids menu, ask if they are able to prepare anything special for kids (many are used to this request). Furthermore try finger food that takes a long time to eat…..edamame, yam fries etc. With a full belly, they will have a much greater ability to focus on an activity while ideally you enjoy your meal.
The Last Resort
If all else fails, resort to the age old bribery method. “How about a bowl of ice cream if you can stay still for 10 more minutes”. Not ideal, but at least you didn’t start here.