When you have small children, going out to eat for the night often sounds like a relaxing break in the routine. You get to bypass cooking and cleanup for the night, and you don't have to do all the work involved in planning a meal that's healthy and appeals to both adults and kids – everyone can just order what they want instead. But in reality, a restaurant meal can wind up being even more stressful than just staying home – your toddler throws a tantrum (or throws food), other diners glare at you, you rush through your meal just to get out of there quickly. Is eating out while your kids are young just off the table? The fact is, you can enjoy a nice meal at a good restaurant with your kids, but it takes some planning. Take a look at some tips that will help you enjoy a restaurant meal with your kids.
Do Your Research
Start by knowing exactly what you're getting yourself into. The last thing you should do is just pack up the kids and head out to a new restaurant in town that you know nothing about. Call ahead. Make sure that children are not only welcomed (some restaurants ban them entirely) but are also accommodated. Find out what's on the kids' menu while you're at it.
Even restaurants that don't ban children can do things to discourage parents from bringing them, like not offering a kids' menu or providing high chairs. What you need is a restaurant that expects and actively welcomes children, and that has something on their menu that your child will definitely eat. Not only will the experience be better for your child (and by extension, better for you) but you'll also likely be surrounded by other diners with children – or at least diners who expect to be seated near children – who won't be upset by the minor disruptions that even well-behaved children can cause at times.
Pay Attention to the Timing
A child who is overtired or who is already very hungry is likely to be a cranky child, and may not be inclined to be on their best behavior. Taking your child out and expecting them to be on their best behavior when they're already sleepy, starving, or upset is setting them up for failure.
Set them up for success instead by making sure that you plan your outing for the time of day when your child is at their best, even if that means arriving in time for the Early Bird specials. If your child's stomach is already rumbling, consider giving them a small snack before you go, or choose a buffet-style restaurant where they won't have to wait for their food. For small children who are new to restaurant dining, don't plan on a multi-course meal. Skip the appetizers and order a dessert to go if you want one. Your child is much less likely to get bored if you stick with a one-course meal.
Outline Your Expectations
When children don't know what to expect or what's expected of them, they're more likely to act out. Don't surprise a small child with a restaurant trip – tell them ahead of time where they'll be going, and what's expected of them while they're there. For example, while it may be fine at home for your child to leave the table when they're full, let them know that at the restaurant, they'll need to stay at the table until everyone is done eating.
You can even ask them if there's something they would like you to bring (like crayons and a coloring book, a puzzle, or another quiet activity) to entertain them if they happen to finish their meal before you do.) Giving your child some input into how they can best meet your expectations can encourage them to do so. Talk about what they should do if they need to go to the bathroom, need a drink refilled, or have a problem with their food. Preparing your child for what they may experience gives them the tools they need to handle the scenario.
With a little preparation, a restaurant meal can be an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. And the more you practice these outings with your child, the sooner they'll be ready for new and different restaurant experiences. For more information or advice, contact a business such as Tony Roma's.