10 Tips for Going Out To Eat With Kids

Updated: Jul 19

Getting Out After Quarantine

Quarantine has caused many of you say “after COVID we are definitely going out and doing more”. I hope you stick to that and really make it happen. It is so important to explore things and places outside of your home. As our world is slowly opening back up, in some cities, this post is specifically for parents who plan to start going out more with their kids, specifically to restaurants!

A little over 4 years ago, Vic and I walked into a nice restaurant to have a meal. It was super crowded, so they could only seat us at the bar. We accepted, even with 8-month Makenzie in the carseat hanging from my arm. Unbeknownst to us, it was Valentine's day. We don't officially celebrate that holiday. So, we hadn't thought to consider that before heading out to dinner.

Family Date Night

For as it was just another Saturday. And each Saturday, since Makenzie was about 4 or 5 months old, we have gone out for a family date night, which always involves a restaurant. We have had a family date night faithfully for almost 5 years. Every Saturday we venture out with our two kids to enjoy some good food.

I know just the thought of this triggers anxiety in some parents. You immediately started thinking about your kids and said to yourself, “NOPE!”. You know that your kids are rambunctious and all over the place and you think that there's no way they could ever handle themselves at a restaurant like “normal people”.

I'm here to tell you that you're wrong! Makenzie is about as spirited and rambunctious and all over the place as they come. Brayden is pretty chill but when you combine him and Makenzie, he can definitely rise to the occasion.

So, no, our family date nights have not always been without drama, messy tables, spilled drinks, food on the floor and bathroom chats. But, we go anyway...and you should too! Here's the thing, if you never try it you will never experience what it's like to actually have a nice family dinner out. If you never try it your kids will never learn how to act at a restaurant. Kids learn by doing and the experience is so worth it for the whole family.

How to Eat Out With Kids

1. Start at home. Start teaching your kids at home to understand that the meal table is not a playground. Everyone should be seated, not crawling over or under the table. Teach your kids that dinner time is for good conversation and eating. This may take some time to get your kids on board, but it's possible. If you allow them to treat the dinner table like an amusement park, then that's exactly what you will get out at a restaurant. While at home, correct their unacceptable table manners each time. Just remember, your kids don't need to be perfect. They just need to understand the general concept of what is expected at the table.

2. Never go out to eat with hungry kids. Wait, you say, “isn’t that why we go out to eat; to appease our hunger?” No, that is why adults go out to eat. Kids don’t care what's going on they want food as soon as the hunger hits. That leads to number 3.

3. Give the kids a snack or even a full meal before you get to the restaurant. This ensures two things: 1 no hangry fits and 2 . You will not spend money on food for them to waste. Once at the restaurant, you can then select an option for them that you know they will eat, without worrying about trying to get them a full healthy meal. We sometimes pack a lunch box of things for our kids to eat on the way.

4. Go earlier than the popular dinner time. There have been times that we have gone out to dinner at 5:00 or 5:30, knowing that it will allow us to miss the typical dinner crowd. This is a dream for eating out with kids!

5. Get seated in an area of the restaurant that is less crowded. We love getting sat in the back, at that corner table. This way if the shenanigans do happen, we can kind of handle it in peace.

6. Bring items to distract your kids. Some restaurants will have activity sheets and crayons for kids, and some will not. So, I typically have items in my bag for the kids. I keep crayons on me and will let them bring a favorite quiet toy of theirs.You should still engage with your kids while they play or color. Since the key during dinner is to interact with each other, we only give the kids our phones as a last resort to keep the peace.

7. Get creative with the things on the table. Makenzie loves to play match with the jelly packets. Or we play a game with the sugar packets where I tell her what I need (like 6 yellow, 4 pink and 2 blue). She then has to give me exactly what I asked for.

8. Ask for the check before you're done eating. That period between finishing your food and getting the check always has the possibility to go south. By this time, you may have been there for a while. The kids are likely ready to go and it might even be being close to bed time. We try to get ahead by paying early so we can dart out, if needed. This has happened!

9. Research restaurants. Yelp and Google allow reviewers to indicate if a restaurant is good for kids. You can also check out many menus in advance. This will help you decide if they have food your kids will eat. Another good thing to look for is the crowd estimate. There is usually a line graph to tell you when a restaurant is the most crowded. Simply avoid that time.

10. Just go. Take away the worries of what everyone else will think about you or your kids when you are out and about. You're doing this for your family not for other people. People may look at you if your kids put on a little show, but don’t worry about them. It is totally normal for kids if your kids aren’t angels at a restaurant. Ignore all the judge-y people!

Bonus: start with a low-key place, like a cafe or not-so-popular restaurant. Don’t aim for J. Alexander's on your first family night out.

I assure you; you can do this! You can take the time during this quarantine to focus on #1 and get your kids used to having table manners. Remember, they won’t start out perfect, but eventually you will all be pros and look forward to going out. Maybe one day you will also start a weekly Family Date Night!


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