This guide is for those of us with children who aren’t perfectly prim and proper, so, that’s basically everyone, right?
Enjoying restaurants with the kids is a wonderful way to experience your chosen travel destination. It is arguably one of the best ways to experience another culture, heck, even if you’re only popping over to the next state or province they probably have local favorites that are different from yours.
For example, living in the US in New Hampshire, I’m bordered by multiple states. In Maine you can’t turn around without running into the world’s best lobster roll. Massachusetts is so proud of their Boston Baked Beans that the city of Boston is nicknamed Beantown. New Hampshire loves its apple cider donuts & craft brews (seriously, there’s a craft brewery on almost every corner). Our Canadian neighbors bring us their poutine (gravy fries) and we all love our maple candies and doughnuts. I can get to Maine or Mass within 30 minutes and to Canada in 4 hours.
My point is – make the most of the trip you take and explore your destination to the fullest; there are things to enjoy whether you’ve traveled near or far.
Tip #1 Do yourself and other’s a favor
This can be a sore subject for some, but if you’re considering a restaurant that you imagine someone would visit to celebrate an anniversary or other special occasion, bringing your child there is probably a bad idea. Not only is there a high probability that you are going to make someone’s night less pleasurable, but it’s quite likely your going to be so busy wrangling and shushing and begging for appropriate behavior that you’re not going to enjoy yourself half as much as you thought you would.
Tip#2 Stay one step ahead
Once you’ve chosen your family friendly restaurant, if possible sit outside, kid noises are greatly muted by the great outdoors! If you’re inside, try to get a booth. As soon as you sit, clear away all silverware, condiments, salt and pepper shakers, if there’s a laminated booklet on the table showing drinks and desserts that’s your call; this could be a play thing….or it can turn into a dessert fueled tantrum starter. Beware. Booths are great for creating an area your child can safely fidget in & move around a little. Bring a small toy, but nothing that’ll make a lot of noise if your child decides to bang it against the table over and over. The very first time you see your server, request extra napkins, unless you’re toting along a sleeping baby, you’re going to need them.
Tip#3 The food
I must say, I’m shocked at the number of servers who will plop a hot plate down in front of my son without saying a word – or will tell me it’s hot and put it in front of him anyway. Everyone’s first instinct is to adjust the plate set in front of them, even a two-year-old; remember that not all servers are going to know what kids can handle and be sure to run interference if necessary.
I like to ask for an extra plate, so I can make my son a smaller plate from whatever is given to him. It’s less of a mess, and if the plate spills, you have more food to dole out. You can also tell the server your child’s order first – even if you’re not ready to order for yourself yet, ask them to bring the kids meal out as soon as it’s ready. Then you can make your selection and order your food. The sooner your kid gets their food the sooner they’ll have something to focus on besides how lame sitting at a table is.
Strollers are awesome. If you are out pushing the little one in a stroller, try to spot a place that’s not too cramped so that instead of leaving the stroller at the door, you can pull it up to a table. This is a great move if your child is young, sleeping, or will be just as happy in their stroller as anywhere else. It can be difficult to find a place to stash your stroller and it is hard to try to fold up your stroller while also holding your child…I’ve had some pretty awkward moments myself. Save yourself from that if possible.
Tip#5 You’re a Representative
As a person out with a child you are representative of all of us. We, the people with kids who still want to get out and enjoy ourselves. If your kid throws a fit, please bring them outside; it’s not fun, but it’s necessary. I’m not above letting my son crawl underneath the table in a booth if it means keeping him happy and quiet– let them have their fort. It’s really hard for kids to sit still…the wait for the food may be 10 minutes to us but for a 3-year old it’s an eternity! It’s also completely ok to give your kid your phone with the volume at a whisper level.
If a mess is made, please pick up after yourselves as best you can. You don’t have to get on your hands an knees here, but be kind to your servers and give all travel-loving, kid wrangling adventurists a fighting chance at continuing the stellar example you’ve set.
A chain is not a gain
You don’t have to stick to chain restaurants to find a family friendly place to eat. In fact, I advise against it. Try to find a place with some character, support the local economy and enjoy the journey. No one ever got authentic cuisine from an Applebees (no offense, Applebees). You are doing a wonderful thing letting your child experience the world outside your home. You’re brave and it’s not always easy, in fact it’s frequently a challenge.
Even if you have a rough experience your child is learning valuable lessons on how to behave in public and how to interact with others. It warms my heart seeing my son look the server in the eye and request his “apple juice, please” without me prompting him to do so. But we’ve been through it all – there have been times we’ve gone into a restaurant, ordered drinks and then had to apologize, pay, and leave before they even arrived. We’ve come a long way. I hope that these tips are helpful to you and make going to restaurants with the kids a bit easier. Dining out really can be a fun way for the family to spend time together.