Eating Out with Kids

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Eating out with kids can be a serious pain in the ass. Here are some tips to make your experience less horrific.

Dine Early

My husband often forgets that when you have small children, going to dinner at 7 or 7:30 isn’t going to fly. V’s bedtime is 7:30 or 8, depending on her nap. See the problem here? If we want an optimal eating experience we need to leave the house at 5:30. If you’re doing lunch the same rule applies. Don’t overlap with nap time or you’re going to end up with a whiny, tired kid. Plan on 1-1.5 hours of time at a restaurant.

Early dining is doubly important on Fridays and weekends, when restaurants tend to be busier. You don’t want to spend 40 minutes waiting to be seated just because you wanted to eat later. Arrive early so you can get seated within 15 minutes. I’ve found that many parents frequently do this already and many restaurants are really good about getting food out fast for the earlier, family oriented crowd.

Make sure the kids aren’t hungry.

I realize that you may not want to spoil their appetite, but a small snack before leaving the house can do wonders. Hungry kids are terrors.

Bring something for the kids to do.

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One word: Tablet. Think your kid is too young? You’re wrong. Even if they are too young to interact with a tablet they can easily watch videos. Seriously, a tablet is the #1 lifesaver of your dining experience, especially if they do know how to use it. They’re especially helpful if you do have to wait to be seated or if the food is just taking forever.

My mom is old school so she’ll bring a bag of crap for kids to do at a restaurant, everything from books to crayons and small toys. This is fine, though you just won’t get the same focus that you will from a tablet. Also, crayons fall off the table a lot.

Read the menu ahead of time.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve still been getting myself and the kids situated when the server has attempted to take our order. Going anywhere with kids is like moving because you have to tote around so much crap. I have to make sure the kids are sitting and busy before I can even attempt to read the menu. You can save yourself this hassle by reading the menu online ahead of time and picking out your dish in advance. The same goes for the kids’ food.

Know the restaurant.

This is huge. Ideally you want a place that is family friendly and somewhat loud (to drown out complaining children). But more than anything else, knowing the restaurant just helps you be better prepared. Do their kid drinks spill easily? If so you’ll need to bring your own cup. Do all their high chairs have broken straps? Do their booster seats slide off the bench? Will your kid even eat their food?

Booths are nice because you can confine the child without a high chair.

Booths are nice because you can confine the child without a high chair.

Build a rapport with restaurants you like.

We eat out frequently and usually at the same select group of restaurants. It’s nice to go to familiar places where you don’t have to think about what to order or what to bring. Things are a lot easier when the staff knows how you like things. One place we frequent will start cooking V’s order as soon as they see us walk in. They also won’t bus our table when we have to use the restroom.

Create a Baby Safe Zone.

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Infants have an extremely long reach. Before you do anything else, a large swath of the table needs to be cleared in front of the baby.  Nothing can be placed into this zone or it will be immediately grabbed. Drinks, knives, and hot foods especially need to be kept out of reach.

Beware the bathroom breaks.

Dining alone with kids sucks on many levels, but the worst is when someone needs to pee. You can’t leave any kids alone at the table at a young age, but if you leave there is a chance the table will be bussed. I try to leave the diaper bag in an obvious location. Other people will write a giant note on a napkin. Telling the wait staff usually doesn’t work because some guy will inevitably not get the memo. Even telling the patrons next to your table to keep a lookout is not foolproof.

Leave the kids at home when you go to a nicer place.

I’m sorry, but if you’re going to Ruth’s Chris you probably shouldn’t be bringing your kids. Some restaurants are for fine dining, and kids don’t really belong. Save the nice restaurants for date nights when you have a sitter. You’ll be happier, the kids will be happier and so will the other patrons.

Tips for Servers

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Both of my sisters have been servers and I know how hard you all work. That said, not everyone has children or knows how to deal with them. Parent servers are the best because they know exactly what you need. Here are some tips for servers dealing with families.

  1. Bring a lot of extra napkins. We will use them.
  2. If the child is pretty young always ask before placing any item in front of them. Many parents need to keep hot items away, or cut up food, or segregate items before handing to the child.
  3. Don’t put anything in front of the baby! (see Baby Safe Zone above)
  4. Offer to put the kid meals in first so they come out faster.
  5. If there is only one adult, keep in mind that everyone will go to the restroom together. Don’t clear the table unless you know they’ve actually left the building!
  6. If people are at the table, please offer to clear finished dishes. The stupid baby zone makes the rest of the table damn crowded.
  7. Parents like when people are nice to their kids or compliment them. This is a good way to earn brownie points.
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