Top Ten Tips for Dining Out with Kids
Even at the most family-friendly restaurants, dining out with kids can be an adventure. Each experience will be unique based on any number of factors, including time of day, nap schedules and age of your children, not to mention the restaurant itself. In an effort to make every dining out experience more enjoyable for the entire family, here are KidNosh’s top ten tips for dining out with kids.
1. Pick the timing that will have you–and your kids–at their best for dining out.
A good rule of thumb when dining out with kids is to go on the early side when there is less of chance you will have to wait for a table, wait staff is not “in the weeds,” and no one has the hungry horrors yet. So, Dinner–before 7pm. Lunch–try to avoid the 12-1pm hour. Brunch–before 9:30. Overall–weekdays are a better bet since weekends are the busiest time for almost any type of restaurant.
2. Be considerate of others around you and of the wait staff.
When dining out with kids, always be mindful of your surroundings and the mess you leave behind (see tips #6 and #7). If the restaurant supplies high chairs and other kid gear, this indicates it is likely a family-friendly restaurant and the staff is prepared to deal with a basic level of baby mess. Some crumbs under the high chair and on the table are fine. An entire plate’s worth of food on the floor–not cool. We recommend that parents make an effort to clean up what is in reach, and always leave a little extra in the tip (aim for 20-30%) to make up for the additional clean-up time.
3. Pick the right venue.
There are some restaurants that really should be reserved for grown ups (check out our date night recommendations). That said, there are plenty of family-friendly restaurant options for dining out with your kids. Check back often for our latest reviews of hot spots that welcome the little ones. Some other factors to consider when selecting a place to dine with your kids in tow: Background noise is your friend to drown out kid noise. Eat outside if it is an option. Call ahead and ask if they have high chairs–whether you need one or not. (High chairs are a great indicator of whether they have a kid-friendly vibe.)
4. Introduce new/different flavors and cuisines.
Don’t be afraid to try that new noodle house or Asian street food with your kids. They’ll never know if they like jiro ramen or crispy chicken hearts if they never have the opportunity to try. Something you’ve never tried either? Make it a first together.
5. Bring standby snacks…just in case.
A bag of cheerios, a container of yogurt or another snack may be your best friend if you find yourself with a hungry child while waiting for your meal to arrive. You never know when service may be slow or your kid doesn’t like what’s on the menu that day.
6. If your kids need to be busy, bring toys/distractions.
Unless you’re dining at a quick-serve spot (taqueria, dim sum parlor, food truck), chances are you will have to wait for your food. iPods, coloring books, books, quiet toys, travel board games, are great ways to pass time (and way better than playing with sugar packets or salt & pepper shakers). Or download and print this KidNosh Coloring Sheet before you head out to the restaurant. Your kids can keep busy drawing their meal and design their own restaurant decor.
7. Don’t expect other diners or the waitstaff to entertain/corral your children.
Waving at the table next to you is cute the first 2 times…then it gets old. Don’t let your kid run wild…especially in heavily trafficked areas. See tip #6.
8. Practice makes perfect.
The best (and some would say only) way for kids to learn restaurant etiquette is to experience eating out first-hand. If dining out is new for your kids, explain to them ahead of time the behavior expected in this new and exciting environment. Keep in mind that every kid can have an off day–just because you have one bad dining out experience doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again. Practice makes perfect, not to mention a great excuse to eat out.
If you do find yourself dealing with a meltdown/unacceptably bad behavior while dining out with kids, don’t be afraid to draw the line and call it a day. Ask your server to wrap your food to go and enjoy your meal at home. The restaurant staff–and other diners–will appreciate you taking control of the situation, and it reinforces acceptable restaurant behavior for your child.
9. Be conscious of time limits.
When you step foot inside a restaurant, remember that your window of time is limited by the attention span of the little ones. There are a number of ways to be proactive about your time constraints, so pick the best tactics that work for you, such as: check out the menu online ahead of time, order swiftly, order the kid’s meals first, skip the appetizers or ask for check when food arrives. As we mentioned in tip #8, practice makes perfect and you’ll soon discover the mix that works best for you.
10. Make a reservation whenever possible.
When in doubt–let them know you are coming. It makes for a smoother arrival, swifter seating, helps alleviate any awkward moments and limits wait time. If possible, let the restaurant know if you have any special requests, including any high chair or booster seats or specific table locations, when making the reservation. Even the most family-friendly restaurants appreciate the heads up.