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Tips for Eating Out With the Kids

By: Sarah Knowles BA, MA - Updated: 1 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Restaurant Eating Out Kids Children

Going to a restaurant is supposed to be a fun, relaxing time. After all, you’re paying for what could be an expensive meal, and the goal is to enjoy yourself as much as possible. Good fun and good company make for a good dining experience, right?

Erm, not exactly. When it comes to eating out with children, the experience is often far from relaxing. Kids have a way of making any restaurant experience a stressful time, and often restaurant staff contribute to the tension by making children – and their parents – feel unwanted.

Eating establishments in Europe often dote on children, but that isn’t always the case in the UK. In that same vein, many UK-based restaurants don’t offer child-friendly food, serving instead food kids simply won’t eat, or meals with very large portions – and large price tags to match – that are unsuitable for small children.

So how can you make a restaurant experience with your children one you’ll want to repeat?

Pick the Right Restaurant

First of all, pick the right restaurant. There is no use going back to that charming French bistro where you and your husband had your first romantic meal together way back in ’96. Think about the candles and expensive wine glasses on the table, and the lack of space. And what about the other diners, huddled in cosy twosomes whispering sweet nothings to each other? Is that a good choice for your rambunctious bunch?

Restaurants that cater to kids are best, and should have:

  • A child-friendly atmosphere that takes into account the fact that most children won’t sit still for two hours straight. Crayons, highchairs, hearty crockery and even a play area can make all the difference.
  • Enough space for your children to wander around a bit, if they need to, without getting rude glares from other diners.
  • Menus that are child-friendly – and the right price for a child. Do you really want to pay £34 for Junior to have a rare Chateaubriand, when he’d be happier with a £3.99 hamburger?
  • Caring staff that won’t create a huge fuss if Scarlet knocks over her water three times, or if Olly colours - or vomits - on the tablecloth.

Go At the Right Time

There’s no use dragging the kids out when they’re so hungry they just can’t wait to eat, as ravenous children and restaurants with very slow service just don’t mix.

Don’t set out when Junior is desperate for his nap, and if you know that little Nellie projectile vomits after every meal, waiting until she outgrows this behaviour would make a lot of sense.

Instead, pick a time when the children are in a happy and relaxed mood, well rested, and comfortably peckish. If your kids are too old to sleep through a meal or too young to sit for more than five minutes without screaming, you might opt for the McDonald’s option the first few times, to ease them into eating out gently.

Otherwise, it’s just a waste of money.

Bring the Right Kit

Having the right items with you is important when it comes to eating out with children. If you know little Milo will only eat meat with salad cream, carrying a small bottle of the stuff with you can make all the difference. After all, you wouldn’t leave home without the baby’s dummy, would you?

Other items that can turn a meal out from madness into marvellous include:

  • Foldable booster seat, if needed.
  • Activities to keep kids occupied if food takes a while to arrive, including crayons/coloured pencils, activity books and books or Nintendos (with the sound turned off) for older kids.
  • Bibs, wipes – even a spare shirt if you know your youngest will upturn her plate into her lap at least once.

Manners Matter

Remember, the onus shouldn’t be purely on the restaurant to provide good service. Your children should also be taught how to behave in a public place. That includes basic manners such as eating with their mouths closed and not burping loudly, as well as saying “please” and “thank you” to the staff.

Parents should be on their best behaviour when out with their children as well. Mums and dads who let their little ones run madly around a restaurant, throwing food and disturbing other diners, are often not welcome back. If you think your children might misbehave, even a tiny bit, go early and ask for a corner table.

Going out to eat with children shouldn’t require strategic military planning, but it does mandate a bit of advance preparation. Try it yourself, and if it all goes horribly pear-shaped, hire a baby-sitter and invite your best friend out the next time instead!

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