Before we had kids myself and my husband would eat out a lot together. We had the time and the money to pick lovely restaurants, relax over bottles of wine and enjoy good food.
Kids changed all that. Of course we still try to steal away a few hours every few weeks or months to have a night out together in a nice restaurant but often if we want to eat out it involves taking our kids with us, particularly if we are away from home.
For some, the notion of bringing kids to a restaurant is filled with dread and fear. It is just not worth the hassle. However, we have always given it a shot and are now at a point where we are very comfortable going to most restaurants with the kids. Of course, it has gotten easier as they have aged. There are, however, a few tips that have helped us along the way and while the thoughts of eating out with the kids are on my mind I thought I would share them here.
1. Find family friendly restaurants
It’s definitely a no-brainer but if you are heading to a restaurant with kids it is best to find one that is family friendly. While no Michelin star restaurant should turn away kids, my own view is that if you want to relax and enjoy your meal it is probably best to stick to more casual dining establishments that offer kids menus.
2. Practise at home
We try to have dinner around the table as a family most nights. Obviously it’s not always possible but when we do we try to instill certain table manners which would equally work in a restaurant; for example staying in their seat for the duration of the meal, avoiding screaming matches during dinner etc. For us, because we have tried to instill these behaviours at home, visiting a restaurant is no big deal as it is just having their meal at a different table. In fact it usually results in excitement for a kids menu or something different to Mammy’s usual fare.
3. Bring activities
Arrive prepared. Pack a bag with colours and colouring pages, DS games, iPads or whatever you think will occupy your kids while both waiting for a meal to arrive and while waiting on the adults to finish. Of course if you choose a family friendly restaurant you may find they will have stuff to give the kids. Our own local Italian, which we visit from time to time, has a large TV on the wall which plays kids DVDs. They also have colours and pages.
4. Order food to come with starters
If the adults want starters and the kids are only having a main course then get their food to come with starters or as soon as they are ready. Having kids wait for their food longer then necessary is a recipe for disaster. You can then let them linger over their food as the adults finish their starter and get their main course. Otherwise asking the restaurant staff to bring the kids stuff as soon as it’s ready can help.
5. Allow a treat
For us if there is a little bit of time after the kids finish their meal and if the adults are still finishing, ordering a little dessert can be a great way to buy some time. We tend to go with one scoop of ice-cream. In some places you will get this as part of a kids menu. Take advantage of it. And get a lollipop. Lollipops are a great distraction and while in their mouths they will be quiet.
6. Don’t linger
Kids will not tolerate a long drawn out meal experience so it is best to just accept that the experience, while hopefully enjoyable from a food perspective, is not going to go on. Once the meal is done get out while the going is good. My kids will do well for about an hour and a half but after that they will get tired, agitated and definitely not make for an enjoyable meal out. We have learned to eat and go.
7. Prepare a plan for meltdown
Eating out with kids will inevitably end in tears at some point (I have been there many a time). Rather than sit there in sheer panic make sure to have a plan in advance about what to do if one of the kids kicks off. Go for a walk? Offer a treat? Get the hell out of there? Whatever you decide, make sure you know what you will do and just initiate meltdown plan.
8. Enjoy it
Eating out should be an enjoyable experience. Certainly in our house when we eat out it is a treat. Just because we have three kids with us doesn’t mean we want to come away having had a terrible time. Akin to what a pilot would say, “sit back, relax and enjoy the flight meal!”