All right, I need a show of hands. How many people enjoy going out to a restaurant with their kids? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller…?
Going out for a meal with your family can be pleasant and uneventful, or it can be an experience of elevated blood pressure, raised voices, and headaches – all before the bread basket arrives. Takeout can be an easy go-to if your main objective is simply not cooking, but there are times when going to a restaurant is necessary or just something you feel like doing. We acclimated our kids to restaurants at very young ages and here are some suggestions for making the restaurant experience more pleasant:
- Figure out the best time of day for your kids. Are they better at lunch, brunch, or dinner? Don’t force a toddler to sit through a 7 pm dinner if he typically go to bed at 8. If your child naps at noon, brunch will most likely involve a meltdown. If it is an “occasion” restaurant, I suggest eating early and getting out.
- Make sure you can occupy your kids. If service is slow, is there an area nearby where you can take a quick walk? Did you bring a book, crayons, etc.? Are you OK with them using electronics for a few minutes when all else fails? Nothing is worse than a half hour wait with an incredibly bored child.
- Don’t default to fast food. I know that it can easy to go to the drive through at McDonald’s, but kids have long memories, and once they’ve had it a few times there is no turning back. We tend to steer clear of fast food and would rather go to a local, neighborhood place than a chain restaurant. My daughter is a more adventurous eater because we exposed her to a wide variety of restaurants. My son still puts ketchup on everything, but I have convinced myself that at some point taking him to different types of restaurants will pay off.
- Don’t be afraid to go “off menu.” Not every restaurant has a kiddie menu, but most places will be accommodating. My theory is that if a restaurant has bread and cheese they can make a grilled cheese sandwich. If they have fancy pastas on the menu, someone can put some in a bowl with butter on it and bring it to your kids. It can never hurt to ask and more often than not I have had success.
- Stay close to home if possible. Nothing enhances a stressful meal like a 45 minute car ride home…said no one ever! We are fortunate to live in a neighborhood with lots of options.
So the bottom line is: you do not have to fear a restaurant. There will be some rocky experiences, but eventually your kids will get the hang of sitting and enjoying a meal and your restaurant-induced panic attacks will stop. And, stay tuned for some local restaurant suggestions…