Before my husband and I had our daughters, we enjoyed dining out at least 3 to 4 times per week. When our first daughter was born, fear set in. We spent months eating at home until we finally worked up the courage to take our baby to a restaurant. And when we eventually ventured out for our first time in a restaurant, I feared fussing, ear splitting shrieks, and our abandoning dinner and running for the door.
Sound familiar? Most parents know that taking babies and children out to eat can be a challenge. With short attention spans and the inability to sit still, children are ticking time bombs in restaurants. They tend to make a lot of noise and climb out of their seats, and those are the last things we want when dining out. But before you completely write off taking the family out to dinner, there are a few simple steps you can take to ensure a positive dining experience for both you and your child.
Tip 1: Stick to family-friendly restaurants. People expect children at these places. There is less pressure on you and your child to behave correctly. Family-friendly restaurants usually offer kids' menus, high chairs, a coloring activity, and booths rather than tables. Plus, you are likely to be surrounded by other families, and yours won't be the only restless and noisy child. Save the adult-oriented restaurant for date night.
Tip 2: Have realistic expectations. It's normal for children to have short attention spans and want to wander, especially toddlers. Since it's impossible to ask a toddler to sit still, give in to his need to explore. After you order, take your child for a brief stroll. Head to an empty area of the restaurant or step outside for a few minutes. After a short break from the table, your child should be ready to return long enough to eat. It's unrealistic to expect a child to remain in a high chair or booth for 2 hours straight.
Tip 3: Go during off-peak hours. Plan to arrive at the restaurant an hour or so before prime lunch or dinner hours begin. If you arrive prior to the beginning of peak lunch and dinner service, the restaurant is less crowded, and you'll be seated and served promptly. This is also a good time for most children as they are less cranky the further from naptime or bedtime it is.
Tip 4: Bring distractions. Small toys, books and snacks are a necessity when dining out. It may seem odd to take food to a restaurant, but trust me, it's a lifesaver. A few crackers will go a long way while you're waiting for a table or for your meal to be served. And don't leave home without the baby wipes. They are perfect for sticky hands and the occasional spill.
Tip 5: Mind your manners.
The next time you think twice about going out for lunch or dinner, remember these tips. They are sure to make what can be a very difficult situation go smoothly. Rather than dreading dining out with your children, you'll be looking forward to it.