Originally posted: Nov 13th, 2018; Updated: June 25th, 2019
Friday dinner date anyone (with kids)?
We (used to) love Friday night dates! Now what with kids?
Weekly Sunday brunches… in your dream!
Whenever a restaurant outing comes up, my automatic thought is still “It could be nice for a change, but it’s not worth the hassle.” I believe my wife agrees, and this is why we still err on the side of takeout and pyjamas for AFTER our son is in bed.
What? I’m not going to lie and sell you this perfect image of the three of us going to weekly Sunday brunches…maybe one day!
No, we are not living that dreamy life of drama-free weekly Sunday Brunches.
Your choice vs a required social event?
What to do: before, during and after going to the restaurant with kids?
PRE-GAME: THE TRAINING STARTS AT HOME
This is why I place the most emphasis on the “pre-game” stage; preparation is key!
How you conduct mealtimes at home everyday will have a massive impact on how your kids handle restaurant mealtime
Get involved during family mealtime
Parents taking turns to lead mealtime is a good way to develop unique strategies and train both parents and children.
Anticipating potential hurdles
Do you or your kids have special dietary needs or food allergies? Call ahead to ensure the restaurant a compatible option and appropriate food selection for your family.
Is the restaurant kid-friendly? Think high-chair, changing table, plenty of ambient noise, room for a stroller, etc. This means the restaurant staff are also prepared to help with children diners which goes a long way. Phone them and ask. You will get a feel very quickly if they welcome customers with kids…
Do you have the option to decide what time to go out? Taking a tired toddler out when they should be either napping or asleep for the night is a bad idea. It not lowers the threshold for a meltdown, but can also affect their routine which means you’ll be paying for it the following day(s). Consider what time works best for your kids; off-peaks restaurant hours can also help mitigate the chaos factor.
Are the food options engaging? Go online and check out the menu. Cuisines like Indian food or Korean barbecue require more than just eating single-chunks of food. This is great if your kids are old enough because it engages them, especially if they need to build each bite as it encourages mindful eating and allows them to be creative (yes, this can also backfire and be messy, so just know what works with your kids). Forget “kids menus” (aka chicken nuggets and fries!); share food and try new dishes out!
How are YOU feeling that day? Don’t be afraid to cancel. If you’ve had a long and stressful day, or feel like crap, you can always change your mind. Remember, kids are smart and can sense when something is off. Whether they react by acting out, or you have a low fooling-around-tolerance, you don’t want to flip out because you’re saturated from the BS your day has thrown at you…that’s fun for no one. It may be disappointing to cancel a reservation or on a friend/colleague, but think of the potential headache you are saving yourself from.
How does the drinks menu look? Okay that’s a joke!…kinda. I’ll take a gin and tonic please!
If you know your kid, you know the wild card. What is the ONE thing you know you should address before embarking on a wonderful restaurant dining experience? For my son, it is respecting his sleep schedule AND pre-feeding him a small snack. Taking a hungry kid to a restaurant (or anywhere) and watching servers walk by with other peoples food = toddler meltdown.
Entertainment bag: Pack a small entertainment bag/pouch with a few different toys (Lego rocks!) and colouring books. Be prepared to play games like “I spy” or even sing a few of their favourite nursery rhymes. If your kids are old enough to talk, try to stimulate an exciting discussion like where your next family vacation should be (warning: you may have to deliver on any promises you make). The point is you want a deep arsenal of tools!
Being invested in family mealtime everyday will help you learn your children’s habits and know what will make eating at a restaurant easier
GAME TIME: HEADING TO THE RESTAURANT
FOR A GREAT TIME AND HOPING TO SURVIVE
Place your order quick: Looking at the menu ahead of time helps.
Ask for the bill BEFORE the meal is over: Especially at busy restaurants since it gives your server enough time to sort out the bill before the meal is over.
Feed yourself and your kids at the SAME time: You only need four hands! For young kids (6-12 months) that need help with solid foods, you will have to be more hands-on. But! don’t ignore your own meal just to feed them. Alternate between eating your own meal and helping them. Otherwise you will eat a cold meal once the kids finish, and they will still need to be entertained. And again…that’s not the point of going out to a restaurant, you are meant to ENJOY.
Encourage autonomy: If your child has been eating well on his/her own at home but needs a bit of upfront help (i.e. cutting up chunks of food), spend some time to help them get started and encourage independent eating! Remember, try not to freak out if things get a little messy…be prepared with a bib and damp cloths!
Remember to use your entertainment bag: If you packed a little bag/pouch with toys, books, and/or small games remember to introduce these items at strategic times (i.e. once you’ve ordered and are waiting for food).
Re-enforce the same rules that you do at home: Be consistent because it helps send your kids the same message over-and-over…until they become mindless zombies! Make positive statements when they demonstrate good behaviour because taking a moment to acknowledge it can help build confidence.
Be assertive with distracting relatives, friends, or colleagues: Don’t fear being assertive if it means respecting your mealtime rules. My dad once shook his car keys repeatedly to get my son’s attention, who was focused trying to pick up a piece of food from his plate. It was annoying because my son threw his food on the floor in excitement. I don’t blame him nor my father (a little). Really, I should have nipped it in the bud and told my dad to save it for after dinner. #MealTimePolice
Know when to wrap it up…or escape! If you are at a group dinner for example, you may get caught up socializing, but pay attention to signs like your kids getting tired so you can wrap it up. Ideally you are monitoring the situation at regular intervals to avoid any impending disasters.
Reinforce the same mealtime rules used at home to present a consistent message to your children
Other people’s comments…
As a final perspective, don’t be swayed by peoples opinions or comments when you are out dining. When you enter the parenting world it seems everyone wants to drop their two cents, share stories on how THEY did it, or make useless comments. Just focus on doing your best and enjoying. If things aren’t going perfect, most people will be empathetic and try to help…especially if they have raised kids. As the saying goes “opinions are like belly buttons: everyone has one, but doesn’t mean they are helpful for anything.” You know what is best for your family!
A conscious effort might be necessary to ignore other people’s comments: you know what is best for your family.
If you are looking for guidance tailor-made for YOUR family, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us – we are here to help!
Acknowledge good behavior and address areas that need improving and how you will help
You make a good point when you mention how you should pay attention to your kid so that you know when it is best for them to leave the restaurant. My family and I will be going to a restaurant this week, and I want to make sure that my son doesn’t get too tired. I’ll be sure to keep an eye on him so that I can tell when he is getting tired.
Glad you found this article helpful.
Enjoy your restaurant outing with your family!
Sarthak and Maude
I like that you mentioned how your meals at home can be used to help your child learn how to behave at a restaurant. Now that my wife is on a business trip, I would like to take my children to a restaurant since I don’t have a lot of cooking experience, but I am worried that my youngest daughter will get too excited when we arrive. I’ll let her know that she needs to behave the same way that she does when we eat at home.
Hi Eli, thanks for commenting! We’re glad this post provided some practical tips. This sounds like a very reasonable approach, and it is a perk of having clear rules/boundaries in the food environment at home. Enjoy the restaurant outing with your kids!