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Why we don’t take our kids to restaurants: a case against dining out

A case against dining out with tots

By Julie Anderson |

Our restaurant policy with young children is easy: Avoid when possible.

Little kids don’t require it, my husband and I sure don’t enjoy it, and restaurant patrons and staff could certainly live without having my youngest boy there, throwing his green beans on the floor.

But don’t tell that to my friends, most of whom have older children. “Just bring him!” they cajole. “It’ll be fine!” Yeah, right. Fine for them as they sit back and eat their own food and mind their own manners. Not so fine for me, who has to share her food, entertain with creamer cup pyramids, and pick sippy cups up off the floor before I have to let him out of his seat and explore : with me tagging along behind, of course.

It’s possible there are young children who are gracious little humans in restaurants. These improbable creatures sit quietly in their booster seats or high chairs, calmly read a book as they wait for their food, and eat politely with their families. I do not know these children and cannot verify their existence. However, based on the fact that some people actually choose to go out to eat with their preschoolers, anecdotal evidence must be out there.

But even if kids behave somewhat decently, I still think it’s a lose-lose situation. For starters, if your preschooler is anything like every other preschooler I’ve encountered, he or she isn’t going to eat much healthy food in a restaurant. Crackers, French fries, and maybe a little cheese or fruit is the best you can hope for. He or she would get a much better meal at home, eating what he or she is used to.

And you, as the Child Wrangler, aren’t going to sit and savor your meal. Dream on. You’ll be trying to get morsels of food into your wee one’s mouth while juggling sugar packets and singing a medley of Barney songs. You won’t have time to appreciate those succulent fish tacos with fresh mango salsa and sweet potato fries. You’ll be wolfing them down in between acts of the Mama and Daddy Variety Show, while praying you won’t have to deal with a dirty diaper or toppled dish of cottage cheese.

And what about the other people involved? Other restaurant patrons might think your child is the most precious little nubbin they’ve ever seen, but they won’t adore your little sprite enough to babysit him or her while you eat your dinner or pay your bill or have a conversation with your spouse. (Not that you’d let a stranger watch your child, anyway.) Nor will they find it cute when your little precious has a meltdown. You’ll get that look – the please-take-your-kid-outside look.

Why would you put yourself through this? I get that it’s good to expose kids to new situations and new tastes. I really do. It would be terrific to give your four- or five-year-old an appreciation for pad thai and chicken tikka masala. We all want our kids to enjoy the wide variety of food flavors, textures, and presentations that the world has to offer. But I think your odds of success are astronomically better if you wait until your child is at least six years old. By the time a child’s ready for big-kid school, that child ought to be ready for grownup restaurants.

Hopefully, by the time your child is in school, you will have introduced a variety of interesting foods at home and taught manners thoroughly enough that your family can have a great experience at a formal restaurant. But until then, for all of our sakes, please wait. Your five-year-old isn’t going to appreciate artistically prepared gourmet food, and he might be vocal about it. I don’t want to overhear the kid at the next table whining about the gross beets and slimy mushrooms on his plate. I don’t want to hear any sniffly sighs or theatrical moans and I sure don’t want to hear his irritated parent fussing at him to behave. He just isn’t mature enough to be there.

And I do say this with a shred of authority: My teenage sons have had, throughout their grade-school years, very experimental palates. They will try anything and they love many exotic foods. My oldest wanted sushi for his eighth birthday party, and he still chooses it as his favorite food. My middle son craves Greek food, seafood, and Mexican food. Even if they aren’t familiar with a dish, they will try it, because they have seen how much pleasure their dad and I get from eating and discussing fabulous food. They want to be in on the game and they have been – ever since they were old enough to play it. We didn’t take them out to nice restaurants until they were ready to sit politely and eat their meals. We’ve received countless words of praise from wait staff for their manners; they say “please” and “thank you,” look the waitperson in the eye, and compliment the food. But before the Age of Reason, we got babysitters if we wanted to have any sort of pleasurable meal. “Table manners should be commensurate with age,” wrote Meredith Carroll in Do Table Manners Matter with Kids?

There were exceptions, of course, like road trips and special meals after family events when it was necessary to have them along. And the stress caused from these few occasions led to our avoidance policy (see above). If we can’t get a sitter, we don’t go. Or one parent will go to the restaurant, and the other will stay at home with the preschooler. It took only a few times of getting burned (i.e., a noisy, embarrassing scene and/or an expensive, wasted meal) to teach us that Never Again was the best plan.

If we absolutely must feed young kids away from home, we’ll pack our own sandwiches, cheese, and fruit or swing into a grocery store for yogurt and granola bars. Feeding a little kid in the car is much easier than in a restaurant, plus you get to your destination sooner. As a last resort, we’ll aim for the healthiest fast-food establishment in sight. A place unlikely to be used for business meetings and romantic dates, with stuck-in-place furniture, plenty of disposable napkins, and a handy mop bucket.

I know I seem extreme, but there’s no reason to rush your kids into restaurants. There’s not some magical Sushi Window that’s going to close if you wait. Get a babysitter, enjoy some grownup time, and feed your preschooler at home with familiar foods. Your little bun will grow up fast, believe me, and soon he or she will be ready for a foray into the grownup dining world. But before the age of six or so, it’s best to let him or her eat at the kitchen table.

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About Julie Anderson


Julie Anderson

Julie Anderson is a stay-at-home mama and writer who lives in middle Tennessee. She is a regular contributor at, has a personal blog at, and writes passages for reading standardized tests for grades K-10.

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64 thoughts on “Why we don’t take our kids to restaurants: a case against dining out

  1. Priscilla Davis-Solorzano says:

    My child is incredible well behave in most social situations. We waited until she could eat with silverware and have dined out weekly since without any drama. (Not to include I have to potty now as our food hits the table)

  2. Anonymous says:

    I didn’t even finish reading this. This is sad. You are not teaching your child anything by being to ashamed to take him out to eat. The way he acts is b/c you let him act that way. Poor kid. =(

  3. LittleTPot says:

    I have a high-energy, four year old boy who’s usually bouncing off the walls, but we take him to restaurants two or three times a week. Yes, sometimes he talks too loud or crawls under the table, but overall it’s a fun experience for all of us. My husband and I love eating out and hope that our son will enjoy it, too. I usually bring along some milk and a small container of fruit to augment whatever we have at the restaurant. Last night we went for sushi, and my son ate rice, edamame, a kappa maki roll along with his milk and fruit. Then we practiced making “fruit skewers” with the chopsticks and grapes. I also have a special bag of toys that we bring to the restaurant and will resort to the blessed iphone if he’s getting antsy. He wasn’t disturbing anyone, and it was a nice night for our family. To each their own, but I’ll be eating out with my son whenever possible.

  4. Niki Freeman says:

    You describe in this post EXACTLY what my husband and I have been saying for years! Yes, there are some children out there who are amazingly mature beyond their years and are able to sit still for longer than 2 minutes and wait patiently for their food, but my kids are more like the ones in this article. One of us has to chase the toddler around the restaurant while the other scarfs down their food super fast before the pre-schooler begins whining that her mac-n-cheese isn’t like what we eat at home… Thank you for articulating what many of us parents know to be true about our own children.

  5. Niki Freeman says:

    And I notice that the ones posting below about their great experiences so far are only talking about their one child. When we had only one kid, we did take him out dining with us sometimes. The ratio of two adults to one kid made it effortless and fun. Once you start adding baby to pre-schooler, and then baby + toddler to preschooler, things change rather drastically. Just my two cents. :)

  6. beckster says:

    I understand what you are trying to argue, but I think never taking kids out to eat is not the answer. When my husband and I want to have a quiet dinner to talk to each other and relish our food at a fancy restaurant, we get a babysitter. When we take our kids out to eat with us, I find it very enjoyable to talk with them, play games, and sing songs. When taking kids out to eat, the goal shouldn’t be for them to be so well-behaved that the parents can ignore them and do their own thing. The goal should be to spend time with the children over a meal and teach them how to behave. Of course, common sense should be utilized. Take your kids out a bit earlier to avoid interupting other’s date nights and choose restaurants that are appropriate for their loudness level and palates. (and it’s nice to leave extra tip if your kids make a mess :) )

  7. Hellen Root says:

    The well behaved ones are out there…I had the perfect little angel who sits and is quiet and well behaved(she is 12 now). Then there is her brother…the little boy you described above! That’s him! Now I’m pregnant w/ twins…yep eating out as a family will be a famous past time until they get older. :)

  8. beckster says:

    We have a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old, and an infant. We eat out with them at least once a week and usually have a very nice time.

  9. Diera says:

    I think this is very much a matter of personal taste. Obviously, if you don’t have a good time at restaurants with your kids, don’t take them. It’s not like restaurant eating is necessary and it’s certainly cheaper and easier to stay home. I love restaurants, even with my kids along. Perhaps I am overly childish myself, but I kind of enjoy having an excuse to make stacks of creamer, play tic-tac-toe, or go for a walk while waiting for the food. Obviously, we pick our restaurants carefully for the enjoyment of all family members, no Chuck-e-cheese but no trendy bistros either, and equally obviously, we don’t allow meltdowns to go on inside the building nor have we ever asked anyone at a restaurant to babysit our kids while we talked (who does that)? I’m not going to claim we’ve never had a bad experience, but not nearly often enough to outweigh the good experiences. It’s really not something we do because we think we have to expose our children to restaurants, it’s something we do because we like to do it. If you don’t, don’t, and we’re all good!

  10. Elaine says:

    I just read the barrage of comments on the facebook post about this article, almost all of them skewering the writer with comments like “why have children if you aren’t including them as part of the family,” or the kids misbehave in restaurants because their mother isn’t teaching them to behave properly…honestly, I’m shocked at these reactions! I completely agree with the author. I have two young boys and it is incredibly stressful to eat at restaurants with them. They’re both high-energy kids, and even if nobody runs off or throws a tantrum, we’re constantly on edge that it *might* happen. Why spend all that money on a restaurant meal when everyone’s going to be stressed out?? We do occasionally take them out to dine, and we’re always well prepared when we do (coloring books, action figures to play with at the table, etc.) Nobody would ever accuse me of not being close to my kids (I’m an attachment parent through and through) but if my husband and I want to have a little break and enjoy a restaurant meal, it works best for us to hire a sitter for a few hours. The kids get to play at home and enjoy themselves without being admonished for what’s essentially typical kid behavior, and we get to have a peaceful meal out. Also…all those people who say their child is well-behaved in restaurants because they’re good parents…just wait until you have a second (or third, or fourth) child who may not be quite as mellow — then you might realize how much of your child’s behavior at a restaurant is due to their natural temperament rather than your superior parenting style.

  11. Anonymous says:

    we have a 6 year old and an 11 month old, that we always take with us. My children are very well behaved in public, and I feel its because we’ve always taken them with us!! How are kids supposed to know how to act if you dont take them and show them!!! Yes, its nice to have a night out with the hubby once in a while, but I figure someday our kids will be grown and have their own lives when they won’t want to be bothered with “boring mom and dad” so we soak up all the family time we can get now!! we’ll have plenty of alone time when are kids leave the nest! And as far as what other ppl think of me having my kids in a restraunt, if you don’t like it feel free to leave, or just dont look at us! I dont judge ppl and dont expect to be judged in return…thats why its a PUBLIC place!!! Just my thoughts…

  12. Niki Freeman says:

    For the record, I don’t think my kids were misbehaving at the restaurant. They were being extremely well-behaved… for their stage of development at the ages of 2 months, 20 months and 5 years old. My kids are older now, so we do take them out sometimes. (when we can afford it! X-D ) We’ve always had sit-down-together as a family meals and tried to teach them how to enjoy the time politely together. But truly, a 2 year old who has the attention span and patience to sit quietly through a 90 minute meal is the exception, not the norm. (I worked at a pre-school and know of what I speak.) I’m glad many people are able to enjoy eating out with their kids, because it’s one more great way they can bond and have fun together. As for me and mine, we did our bonding away from the poor ears of polite society, until they were old enough to sit still through the meal. :)

    You’ll find No condemnation from me on your choice to take your angels out to nice restaurants to eat. And thank you Elaine for pointing out that there should be no condemnation on those of us with more… ahem… “energetic” kids, who choose to “deprive” them of expensive fine dining for a few years. ;)

  13. Middle ground says:

    I’m against taking kids to fancy restaurants. But, I’m a big fan of taking them to family restaurants like Denny’s, IHOP, or our local diner. They get to learn restaurant manners and learn how it all works. We actually have interesting discussions about things like tipping and being respectful of the people who serve you food, etc. We only go out for lunch or early dinner though. Hopefully, when they’re older, they’ll have a better sense of how to behave at a fancier restaurant.

  14. Rapha says:

    I think your sweeping judgement is just sad. Sure some kids would be a disaster at a nice restaurant, but that’s certainly not true for all kids. My daughter is very easy-going and laid back and we started eating out with her when she was 2 weeks old. We’ve been to hundreds of restaurants all over the world with her and the only time we’ve had to leave was at a nice Cuban restaurant when I gave her a bite of rice and beans that was scaldingly hot and she burned her tongue and couldn’t stop crying. From the time she was an infant she always loved trying new foods. Sure she goes through picky phases, but we can almost always find something she’ll like. We often get her an appetizer instead of a kids meal. She’s 4 and I think she behaves so well in part because of her personality and in part because eating out is just so normal to her that it feels more like a routine.

    I think problems arise when you have high energy kids who can’t sit still, or parents who don’t engage with their kids at the table, or the kids are bored/over-stimulated/tired or you have kids who don’t handle new and unfamiliar situations very well. It drives me crazy when I see parents ignoring their kids at a restaurant and then they get mad when the kids start being disruptive. My husband and I love to play, so hanging out with our daughter in a restaurant is fun – we bring brainquest cards, we play I spy, we work on counting etc…

  15. Noelle Corris says:

    If that arrangement works for you, great!

  16. Aim says:

    It’s interesting I think there is a balance to be had and it’s all in finding what works best for your family & children. We avoided eating out for much of the first 2 years with our kids and then decided the only way they would learn how to behave in a restaurant is to go to one. Their favorite meal is breakfast so we found a local breakfast buffet restaurant, where kids are free BTW, and started going first thing in the morning some weekends. It’s a family owned restaurant that’s frequented by many large Mennonite families with lots of kids so VERY family friendly. It was a great decision, no waiting for the food, the kids had LOTS of choice and it’s even helped our extremely picky daughter branch out a little food wise.

    From there we have moved on to eating out at various other places and it works, obviously we don’t go on a bad day and we bring things to entertain the kids (crayons, small toys, books, little packages of crackers etc). We eat lots of foods from various cultures at home so we can always find something the kids will eat and it’s never not healthy, we’re lucky they don’t like chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, burgers etc.

    So I think it’s just paying attention to your children and their likes & dislikes and starting small.

  17. Lori Garcia says:

    We ask for the check before our food arrives – my kids go from zero to crazy in .08 seconds. You just never know, so I say be prepared. I fully agree with you, awesome article.

  18. Sarah Richards Casey says:

    Wow, our daughter is completely different. She’s 3 now, and has eaten in restaurants since she was a newborn, she was nursed in them, that counts right? ;) She’s never thrown food, even at home. She eats what I pick for her to eat. Healthy foods, veggies and fruit are devoured before she starts on the main item, on her accord. This doesn’t mean my child never saw a Happy Meal box, that would be a lie, but it’s rare.
    Bring toys and books to keep them occupied. That’s worked with us. Oh and our daughter used to love to drink those milk creamers. YUCK!

  19. Gretchen Powers says:

    I guess it really does depend on the child. I have one child, a girl, she’s never melted down. She is really wonderful. That’s why I’m not having more, I’ve reached “perfection” (wink) with my first. I don’t know whether this article is sad or offensive in my final analysis. It’s sad because the writer is so resigned and apparently so lame a parent she can’t get her kids to behave…and it’s offensive because she’s saying it goes for everybody, when it soooo does not. I wonder, though, if she talks down to her kids the way she seems to talk down to her audience, if that’s why they act the way the do? We talk to our child when we’re dining out, pay attention to her just like we’d pay attention to each other or any other adult who is at the table, you know, engage her in it all. That helps. Some grown ups just don’t know how to engage their kids in any way except “Barney” and babytalk/toys…and I guess they reap what they sow.

  20. CS says:

    This is an absurd issue to become judgmental over. Has it occurred to anyone we all have different experiences? For goodness sake, there is nothing “sad” about wanting leaving your kids home when you eat out! Everyone’s kids are different! Some are brown eyed, some are blue eyed. Some potty train at 2, some at 4. And some don’t behave in restaurants while other kids just do. My daughter has only just begun to behave in restaurants and she’s almost 4. Yes, we tried and took her along, and had a terrible time. Eating out is expensive. I like to relax and enjoy myself. For those of you taking your kids out to restaurants 3x a week to normalize the experience…respectfully, many of us can’t afford to do that; eating out is a luxury in a depressed economy.

  21. JAW says:

    I think restaurant manners and proper behavior is something that can, and should, be cultivated. Even in pre-school age children. I expect my toddlers to sit quietly and play quietly during an hour an a half long church service every Sunday (we don’t do childrens church). And, I expect them to sit quietly through dinner as well. Teaching this was hard work for my husband and I initially, but like any behavior and circumstance, if you have expectations for your children, and enforce those expectations, then you can expect children to behave. Yes, even three and four year olds!

  22. Heather McDuffy Tristan says:

    Maybe it’s a cultural thing. We live in Korea, and in this urban environment most people simply do not cook at home (the houses don’t even come with ovens). You have a small range top and a microwave so you can make do if you want to scramble an egg or something, but for the most part, everyone eats out at one of the millions of restaurants around ALL THE TIME. This includes babies. We’re sitting on the floor without our shoes on anyway – why not? My daughter is four now, but she has lived here since she was one and has no memory of living in the US, where she was born. When a child is reared in restaurants, they learn the correct way to behave there just as they would learn the correct way to behave at home. And the kids only eat french fries thing? That’s just weird to me. She’s only ever eaten whatever I or my husband order – and usually both. We just get our food and an extra small plate for her and she goes to town (yes, including red bean paste or mushrooms or pad thai or whatever scares American kids). Heck, half the places we eat have a FIRE in the middle of the table for cooking your meat (which freaked me out when we first moved here) and my baby/toddler/preschooler just learned that we don’t reach for stuff, we ask for it to be passed because fire is dangerous. Yes, we have had a few crazy moments. We went to the US for a visit this year and wanted to eat when we got off the plane after 30 plus hours of traveling and my over-tired and overwhelmed three year old completely lost it and went berzerk and peed on herself at a cracker barrel. We took her outside, explained to her that her behavior was unacceptable, changed her clothes, and sat down and had a nice meal. Kids can do it. Even very small kids can do it. Here, they all do it all the time.

  23. Stephanie S says:

    I think a lot of people went into reading this article with a negative viewpoint, I know I did, because a lot of us like to take our little ones out to eat. After reading the entire article I do understand where you’re coming from and I have to admit that I can’t fault you on where you’re picking your battles. I noticed a lot of negative comments on FB and I just wanted to give you a virtual pat on the back because really you know what works best for your family and if it’s no fun to eat out with your kids then there’s nothing wrong with eating in as a family. You’d think you were giving your babes kibble on the floor by denying them the chance to eat out with some of these commentators. I will continue to take our daughter out to eat with us and we’ll see what happens when the August baby is born and how that affects our eating out arrangements. I’m curious, have you tried eating out at local/ethnic places? We avoid the chains and usually try to eat at hole in the wall places that are low on ambiance but high in food quality. They are usually less expensive then chains and being family owned they love meeting our little girl. Just something to consider.

  24. Michelle Hodge says:

    Amen! We have a 5-year-old, 4-year-old, 2 1/2-year-old, and 11-month-old. We RARELY visit restaurants. It’s just not worth it! Sometimes I worry I’m robbing them of some important socialization experience. You just confirmed my instincts. There will be plenty of time for restaurant dining when they’re older (or for my husband and I, once they’re teens who don’t want to be seen in public with us!).

  25. Susan says:

    We have four children – 13mo, 2.5, 5, and almost 7. We have taken our children out to restaurants since our first was a baby. We had one bad experience in all those years (we were on vacation, our 3rd child was 11mo and had missed her nap. She was inconsolable as soon as we ordered the food. I left right away so she didn’t disturb anyone else – took her back to the condo and my husband got the food packaged to go). Other than that, we frequently go to what I call “mid level” restaurants — we don’t do fast food (except for Subway on road trips), and no super fancy places at the other extreme (I don’t care for sushi). My children stay in their seats, color or play quietly at the table, and eat their food. For certain places I will bring some fruit along to supplement. Even though it’s two adults / four kids, my husband and I manage to eat and enjoy our meals (I should note he is the SAHD and I work full time, so he is very hands on). We also fly on airplanes with them multiple times a year with little problem. We always laugh because as we board the plane we can sense the fear in people around us, but then at the end of the flight we get tons of compliments on how well behaved our children were on the plane. Sure it’s a lot of work for me to plan, organize, get creative, but it’s worth it to me. I respect other peoples choice not to vacation or dine with their small children – whatever works for you. I just wanted to put it out there that is IS possible, especially with more than one child.

  26. Julie Newton Anderson says:

    Thanks you all so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts. I’m sorry if this article offended or upset you. I think that a strongly worded opinion can lead to a valuable discussion and that was my intent with this piece. Of course, whatever works best in your family is what you should be doing.

  27. Maria says:

    Sorry you’ve had such a bad experience. We’ve been taking our girls, 4 and 2, out since they were babies. Sure there were a couple of times when I made a quick exit with them, but overall they enjoy it too. People always compliment us on their behavior. We do have to entertain them and be sure they have something to eat so they don’t get too hungry and have a meltdown. I don’t even think about it so much anymore. It’s a routine – what to bring, what we tell the waiter when we arrive. No super fancy restaurants and we always arrive early to avoid the rush. I always bring my trusty “Survival Kit.” It’s definitely more enjoyable when you don’t have to entertain a little one(s), but it’s all part of the deal. You know your kids best, so only you can make that judgmental call. Hope you get to enjoy some good meals out soon.

    We don’t have the luxury of a family member to watch the kids. If we were against taking them out, we’d almost never get to enjoy a meal out.

  28. Erin says:

    Wow. The shizzy comments here are pretty astounding. Accusations of lame parenting and not knowing how to engage her children because they are unfun in restaurants? Do you know how to get worked up about stupid stuff, or what? Haha!

    I have achieved perfection with my first too. She is a perfectly precocious, energetic, and all around awesome little lightning bug. At two years old, she does not enjoy being strapped into a high chair while we wait for a meal, eat a meal, and wait for the check. I expect no two year old to be so subdued. We take her out to eat sometimes, but she enjoys the less-stringent atmosphere of home for eating her meals. When we take her out places, which we do all. the. time., we take her to places where she can have FUN.

    And to the peeps out there who have toddlers that enjoy restaurant dining, then you should definitely take them all the time! Because they LIKE it.

    I agree with the CS. If you found a way to judge the author for this article, then you need to reevaluate your uncontrollable need to judge everything and everybody on a constant basis, because to judge over this point is plain silly.

  29. mom of 2 says:

    I could not agree more. All of it. When my first baby was seven months old we went on vacation with my family and ate out every night. It was hell. She fussed and fidgeted and wanted to nurse (and did nurse, as I have no issues with that but I could tell some others were less than thrilled about it) and my husband and I took turns gulping down these fabulous meals (because someone had to be dealing with the baby) and spent a fortune just wishing it could be over. Now, my daughter was a fussy, extremely active baby. She never sat quietly in a high chair, car seat, stroller… basically anywhere. But she was also walking at nine months old and that’s always been her way. If she was awake she was on go and she wasn’t all that inclined to sleep when out and about. So for us, restaurants were a no go. Then with two kids? Worse. We did it when we absolutely had to, but honestly we spent a lot of money not to enjoy our meal and have the kids eat badly. So we stopped for a while. When they were both preschoolers we found a couple of family friendly places we all enjoyed. Now that they are school age, we to go out for birthdays, special celebrations, and that sort of thing. But really, why take babies and toddlers out just to prove a point? I think that’s ridiculous. I think it’s much better to teach an older kid that it’s a priviledge to go out to eat, and an opportunity for them to show off their best behaviour.

  30. mom of 2 says:

    @JAW–the church thing is a good point, but I have to say we had the same problems there. We just had really tough babies and you can’t teach babies to sit still and be quiet. When the kids were really young, my husband and I went to different masses. Not for long, but just so we could have a little quiet reflective time to ourselves and not have one of us walking the back with a baby. And I agree, you have to teach kids to sit in church and we used to bring an array of stuff-coloring books, crayons and such and they had to deal with it, and deal with it they did, every single week, but it was really, really NO FUN. Now, my kids are incredibly well behaved for their age, both in church and restaurants, but I cannot stress enough that this took a great deal of time. For us, we decided it was worth it to slog out those years in church, but not worth it to pay for dinners. The kids mature in good time. They are now and have always been, good kids. None of this is at issue anymore, and those years passed quickly. So why not take a pass on the tough years? Why call a parent lacking because they deem the wrestling match not worth it?

  31. Anonymous says:

    we are NY’ers so eating out is a way of life here… we have been taking our son since he was very little to restaurants. its all about preparedness. we have sticker books, iPhone, coloring books, small toys ready to whip out… but we like to do most is try and engage him in family disucsssion. its a great time to focus on nothing other than that. he’s only 4 so that doesn’t last the entire hour but that’s how it starts… my husband and I tag team feeding him and when he gets a little restless we whip out the sticker book so we can finish out meals. he never gets up as we use a highchair (still) and we are there to enjoy a meal with him so he is never ignored (that’s when the behavior can go awry as they will start to seek attention). going out to a restaurant takes practice. if you only do it once in a blue moon your child wont understand the concept.

  32. Rosana says:

    I guess, to each their own. I take my kids everywhere I go (not work) Actually, I am going to a wedding this weekend and my kids are going to be the only kids there (besides a little girl from the wedding party) but the bride knows my kids and she knows that they can be there with no problems.

  33. Daniela Masciangelo says:

    We bring Sebastian (almost 3) to restaurants quite a bit, because sometimes it actually IS fun. True, it’s not really relaxing, and sometimes it’s plain dreadful, but sometimes it’s quite entertaining and fun. If I am in the mood to take that chance, it’s all ok and we deal. (also helps if there is wine involved!!) We don’t bring him anywhere fancy, and we only bring him to places where kids are commonly seen- being in Brooklyn, that leaves plenty of options!!
    That said, I can relate to many of these descriptive scenarios!! This is a very amusing article!

  34. Kim says:

    My 2 1/2 year old LOVES to eat out. He asks us to “go out to dinner” all of the time and we all enjoy the change from the kitchen table. Never had a really problem except the one time when apparently the kitchen lost our order and 2 hours later we had them box up our meals… but I think I was honestly more cranky than he was at that point. All kids are different!

  35. Sanriobaby says:

    Dining out with your children all comes down to the child’s temperment, thier parents ability to deal with a worst case senario, and where they choose to dine at. Some kids, regardless of age, are very easy to deal with, they enjoy the entire experience of going out and dining like a “big kid”. Other kids are just not capable of sitiing through a meal w/o spazzing out, and that’s okay too. Most kids CAN dine out, but thier parents have to have a plan ahead of time and an exit strategy if needed. But I do feel that there are some parents who are completely blind to thier thier child’s temperment and are completely unrealistic in what they expect from them, and these are the families who are usually bring their kids out to a fancy place, don’t bring things to distract them, and yet expect them to sit through a six course meal for like 3 hours or they just give up and let them run around like monkeys and expect the workers and other patrons to entertain them instead. My suggestion for those who fear taking thier kids out, have a plan- go to a low key resturant and go early, know what you want to order ahead of time if possible, brings coloring books, crayons, a small toy and trinkets, bring a small snack in case the kitchen is backed up, and bring cash so you can make your exit easier if you need to leave fast. Kids feed off thier parents emotions and if you go into this stressed out, then you are only setting yourself up for a bad time.

  36. Teachable Moments says:

    We take the kids everywhere with us. They are teachable moments. Before the event, we discuss where we are going and what we are going to be doing and set the rules and what we expect from them. This allows them to learn from different situations. Mistakes have to be made in order to learn. We learn from them and they learn from them. There are many family friendly places to dine. Bring them some things to occupy their time and interest during the wait. It’s fun to learn about new things and new places.

  37. Anonymous says:

    We take our kids to restaurants all the time. The rules are the same as at home, so they listen. It’s really not difficult. We don’t allow them to complain about food at home, or whine, or throw things, so they’ve never tried it in restaurants. And we have three kids under 6. No big deal.

  38. Anonymous Lady 1976 says:

    I have a 2 1/2 yo, and it really has never been a big deal for us to take her places. I actually love it. Since we don’t have the money to go out very often (maybe once or twice a month, if that), it’s OK if she eats something that isn’t 100% percent (she usually part of what I’m eating and drinks milk we bring from home). Eating out is a treat for all of us – no one’s going to keel over if we eating something slightly fatty once in a blue moon. We always bring books and crayons/coloring books, and we’ve never had a problem with her yet. If she does something we don’t approve of (dropping food), we calmly let her know that that isn’t OK. I think parents just have to be flexible and keep their children’s limits in mind as far as going to bed on time and how long they could reasonably sit there without running around. No biggie! : )

  39. VictoriaBC says:

    Kids get better at things with practice. We take our 3 year old and baby out for meals about once a week and it’s not a problem at all. My 3 year old is polite and eats his dinner. I think it depends on the kids and how much experience they have eating out.

  40. Stacie Moore says:

    This is so strange to me. I know different people have different people have different lifestyles but this just seems like you’re using your children as an excuse to be a homebody, which is fine, just be honest with yourself about it. My son is 6 and autistic and we eat out at least 3 nights a week. . He’s been going to restaurants literally since he was born so it’s just his normal. I can count on one hand the number of times he’s been difficult and he has never had any kind of serious melt down. (I feel like a lot of kids have these issues because they can sense their parents’ unnecessary anxiety. It’s like a self fulfilling prophecy… you’re so certain they’re going to freak out, they do.)Anyway, I have never had to actually have a conversation with him about how to act in public because he has lived so much of his life out and about. He always uses please when requesting anything, thanks wait staff, and waits patiently when he has to just because he has seen how I handle these things. I had a very “social” existence before he was born, was I supposed to stay in, eat boxed meals that require hamburger, and look forward to a meal at Bob Evans once I had kids? That’s just not me. And, my son would loose his mind if he had to live like that for even a week! We rarely go to chain restaurants, let alone places that would be deemed “kid friendly” but obviously kids are kids and are not going to want to hang in a dimly lit booth for a two hour dinner so I just use common sense. I’m always one step ahead when I need to be. If i think it will be crowded, I call ahead, explain that I’m bringing my son, and request a booth out of the way (most places are more than happy to do this), I order our entrees when they come for the drink order, and I send my debit card when the meal arrives. That way when we are finished, we don’t have to flag anyone down, just sign and we’re out the door. If we’re meeting people and I know we’ll be there longer, I let him bring his iPad and he reads, colors, or watches cartoons on that. It’s just about being prepared and being laid back about the whole thing. Trust me, I’m a single mom with a special needs child, if I can do it, you can. Just chill out a little bit, they’ll be fine. They may even enjoy it and get a bit of life experience.

  41. mom of 2 says:

    Interesting trend: I notice so many who say no big deal also mention iPhone and iPads. My kids are a little older (7 and 9) and I just got my first iPhone maybe three weeks ago so we never had that sort of distraction available (we would never have let them bring Leapsters or DS games to a meal, home or away). I’m amazed at how fast things change. Not that this changes everything–every kid is different–but let’s face it, electronics can buy you some quiet time and access to games, videos, and such anywhere and everywhere is a very new experience.

  42. mamabee says:

    I’m not done reading thru the comments but I take my son out to eat often, mostly at more kid friendly places like White Spot, Red Robin and fast food spots but I have taken him out to “grown up” restauratns where he has happily enjoyed the setting, opportunity to be out and about with his family, tried a variation of his favourite noodles/chicken strips/burger fare and played with his toys or crayoned a picture. I take him to restaurants when he is well-rested and bring along things to entertain him, which even adults do for themselves in the form of Iphones. I take him to dinner out for the same reason I take him to museums that are more adult oriented, cultural festivals, the grocery store, to pick up a new pair of shoes for me, to the bookstore, to the coffee shop or to a friend’s house. I take him out in the world to expose him to interesting new experiences, meet new people and explore his world. We don’t live in an adults only world so he is allowed to go out and check out the museum with its untouchable exhibits and eat at a restaurant that also serves wine.

  43. jlmohr says:

    We take our kids (ages 3 and 1) out to breakfast every Sunday. We find it’s a great time to have a special meal out as a family. The kids are fresh and happy in the morning and the kid’s breakfast menus are simple and much the same as what they would get at home on the weekend. We have a lovely time out as a family and the kids get practice sitting and waiting patiently for their food to arrive. Whenever we do need to take them to a restaurant for lunch or supper, they know what to expect and are happy as long as their needs are met (snacks and toys during the wait).

  44. Rhonda Hartman says:

    If you never let them eat out until 6 how would they know how to behave in a restaurant? I was a single mother and if I hadn’t taken my son to restaurants then I would have eaten at home every single night and while working 2 and sometimes 3 jobs it was a nice treat for me to be able to have a meal out. I just think this absolute policy is a little bit much.

  45. Lisa Pierce says:

    My daughter is special needs, and was placed with me as a 6 year old. She had no social skills, had no idea of how to sit in a restaurant, and was evaluated at 18 months old emotionally. I could have taken the path of the author, but instead, I chose to teach her how to behave as a civilized human being. I started out at restaurants that are more forgiving- Denney’s, a local mexican restaurant, Subway, and yes McDonalds. As she learned, we moved up-going to nicer places. When she was 11, she was in a special needs class where they were dealing with social skills. Her final exam in the class was to come to school dressed nicely, and her class went to Olive Garden. Thanks to her being taught at home, and her school enforcing what I had taught, she passed with flying colors. She is now 18, and I am comfortable taking her to any restaurant in town, knowing she will behave herself, and now she knows that after dinner is done, if the rest of the conversation gets boring, she is allowed to bring out her Kindle. But ONLY after dinner is over.

  46. Amanda says:

    We have taken my child out to eat with us numerous times since she was a baby. Sure, not every time was perfect, but she learned a lot. Today she is a well behaved 4 year old (yes it does exist) with excellent restaurant manners.

  47. Kathy Tazumi says:

    A few years ago, just as my toddler was just turning 2 years old we were planning to go to what is still rated as one Honolulu’s premiere restaurant’s – without her. At the last minute, we had to bring her with us since reservations could not be changed on short notice. I was worried how she would fare with the upscale food and the time it would take us to have a multi-course tasting menu. The night was fabulous – she tried many new tastes from our plates, the staff brought several small dishes of plainer food for her to try and Chef was so impressed with her behavior that he invited her into the kitchen! (she was the only person in the dining room to get this invitation). Since then, she rarely orders from the kids menu (she has never liked chicken fingers or grilled cheese) and usually says, “I’ll share what you’re having” when we dine out. That wonderful experience enabled us to dine at another high end establishment with her on the same trip!

    My beef with most restaurants – make kid’s meals a smaller portion of your regular menu, not the usually crappy list of frozen burgers, mac & cheese (from a box) and chicken fingers!

  48. Leyla Forrest says:

    i respectfully disagree here…..the only way for them to learn is to teach them. you have to bring them out to experience dining out. my 2.5 year old doesn’t always do good, we have to remind him to quiet down and sometimes beg him to eat but he learns what is acceptable and what isn’t. you just have to be ready to leave if it gets out of control and try again another day.

  49. Chris F says:

    Couldn’t agree more with Leyla Forrest. We take our 10 month old with us to restaurants and have done pretty much since she was born. It helps that we are taking the baby led weaning approach and can usually find something healthy for her to eat (even if it is just some of our side vegetables). I am always willing to leave if she gets too disruptive and have on more than one occasion left to breast feed in the car. So far she has been pretty good, we have only had one instance where we had to take her out of the way and that was down to bad timing on our part and her being overly tired. You can’t expect a child to learn how to behave in a situation if they don’t experience a it, and I don’t believe that the same rules apply at home.

  50. Stacey L says:

    Like most of the other parents have said, we take both our kids (2 yrs and 6 months) to restaurants frequently. I think it comes down to choosing your restaurant, choosing the right time window, and knowing when to cut your losses and leave if you have to. Our toddler is not a perfect angel, but can manage to make it through a meal with minimal disruption. I certainly don’t want to feel that I have to stay in all the time, and I don’t want to think that my kids are “tying me down”, so we go and bring them along. A little bit of planning and strategic toy packing are well worth not having to eat in every night. (And finding a babysitter can be really tough for us, as we have no family in the area, and just moved here 3 months ago.) To each his/her own, but I think the author should take a risk, swallow her anxiety, and hit up an Applebees! You only live once, and chicken fingers never killed any kid!

  51. s amox says:

    i have a few kids and they all go out with my husband and i when we go my 4 yo is always happy to go and see new things and for the phrase raised in a barn i guess should be aplied to all my kids because thats were they r all growing up my kids have manners and know how to use them and i will not go out for my birthday anniversary or whatever with out my kids and will not treat them like they r a dasiese to the general public and the food ur kids eat healthy or other wise is your fault not your childs so don’t blame them for how they act u should question your self

  52. nfb11 says:

    Julie – I couldn’t agree more. There was plenty of time to eat out before you had kids and there will plenty of time in the future when they are old enough to behave properly. Expecting them to not act like toddlers and/or expecting paying patrons around you to tolerate toddler behavior while eating out is selfish and rude of the parents. My children eat plenty of different foods at 3 and 5 because we have exposed them to them AT HOME. They don’t need to eat at a restaurant for that — there is take-out. And we take them to toddler classes, parks, and playgroups in the area for their exposure to different places and for socialization. Toddlers do NOT belong in restaurants unless the restaurants are specifically family-friendly and have toddler play areas. It is selfish and rude of parents to do otherwise.

  53. Chica says:

    We take our 3 old out all the time! She loves it and 8 times out of 10 is well behaved. We went out for sushi a 2 weeks ago and she was so funny, eating miso soup without spilling and using chopsticks pretty darn well! The other day we went out Korean and she was so excited to eat Bugogi! We are expecting our second next month so who knows what it will be like with two but so far we have had a great experience with going out with our kiddo. I know it’s different for everyone. I have a good friend with 4 and we all went out with her kids and they behaved very well!

  54. Akemom says:

    I, too, must respectfully disagree. I have an extremely picky 5 yr old & an adventurous 8 yr old. We have been taking them out to eat since infancy. They are requires to give their order directly to the waitstaff, say please & thank-you & remain in their seats the entire meal. I have been very flattered when more than one waiter (or fellow diner) has come to our table & complimented my kids on their good behavior.
    Don’t get me wrong, they’re NOT angels all the time. However 9 out of 10 times they behave beautifully. We feed the picky one a little something healthy before we go & usually bring him some applesauce. They are both allowed to pick out a couple of small, QUIET toys to bring along & usually entertain each other. Unacceptable behavior is dealt with in the bathroom. A 2nd infraction is a trip home with our food in to go boxes. That has only happened twice.
    I love the opportunity for a meal & a glass (or 2) of wine that I neither have to cook or clean up.

    Recently we were at a restaurant seated next to another family with kids 2ish to 8ish. They were crawling on the floor, whining, etc… Now when my kids act up anywhere, I tell them they are acting like THOSE little monsters & they straighten up. They eat up the praise they receive from perce y strangers on their nice manners.

    I’ll end this post by saying that it is short lived. Sometimes WWIII breaks out in the carried home, but I usually have a good buzz by then.

  55. Rebecca Tillman says:

    I have a 2.5 year daughter and she does play at the table when we take her out to a restaurant, but I have to say that she does eat very well and does not do all that running around, being loud or throwing her food in the floor. I have had people ask if she is mine, and I say say why do you ask and they say they have never seen such a delightful child being that good in public. She is very respectful of other people and loves children. I have very few problems out of her when she is out and about with me or my parents in public. She loves to ask allot of questions and play with her food while she eats it but never gets out of hand. She knows that she will be in major trouble when she get home if she acts out. Time out in her room on her bed is very hard for her and she hates it.

  56. Rebecca Tillman says:

    She gets 2.5 min. timeouts, but it seems like forever to her. Don’t get me wrong, she does get crazy at home, but in public it’s like she is a totally different kid. She makes me very proud to be her mom.

  57. Sarah Kline says:

    Taking kids to a four star? No, but what about deli’s, fazoli’s, subway? These places have healthier food and are great for learning. Also, traveling and having your child eat in the car is pretty cruel when you could easily stop. I think even McDonald’s is appropriate in this situation.

  58. lucieslist says:

    I agree, dude. You’re totally right. It’s kind of a nightmare…

  59. Maria Teixeira says:

    Children are people, too! I have seen some pretty disruptive, gross, mean, rude, etc, adults in restaurants in the past, I guess everyone’s got something to learn!
    We have taken our 2.5 year old out since he was born. He has been everywhere with us restaurants, planes, hotels, festivals, concerts and he does great all the time. Sometimes he’s cranky but we just work with him a little bit, just like we do at other times, and so far we’ve gotten through it every time. I have no horror story to tell. People often comment on his behaviour but even if they didn’t I’d still bring him along. He likes to be with his Mama and Papa and we like to be with him and that’s that. He eats a wide variety of food and he’s recently begun ordering for himself. He always says please and thank you but not because we force him to but because we say those things to him. Kids are capable of lots of things if you lead by example and give them the chance. We have a 4 month old, too, and we’ll just keep doing what we do. If you see us (or a family like us) out in public you can roll your eyes and/or offer your negative opinion all you want but I tell you what you parent your kids how you see fit and let me do the same.

  60. Andrea Claire says:

    I totally see the author’s point, and there was much of my life that I swore I would never take a small child anywhere, much less a restaurant. But then I had a baby and moved to the beach in quick succession, where my partner worked at a restaurant, and suddenly my son, at the time six months, found himself in one every day. I can honestly say I’ve had minimal problems with his behavior, since along with learning how to eat table food he learned how to eat with table manners. He’s a walker, not a player, so our concern was not whether he was under the table pulling the table cloth down but his desire to always go out back to see the turtles (like I said, we lived on the beach for a spell). He has excellent table manners, and he’s always known if he acted up, we would leave. Period. His desire to be out, about, happy and in the fancier places was greater than his desire to be bad. And since he’s been eating at higher end (not five star, but it was not mcdonalds) his entire life, my boy is a more adventerous eater. Yes, chicken fingers are fun, but he’ll gladly eat any seafood that plops in front of him and he’s been eating sushi since he was in kindergarten (btw, he was 5). I will ask, though, if you won’t take your children to a low end restaurant, how do you take them to the grocery store? OMG, I always find the children at the grocery store to be much more hassle than any restaurant I’ve ever been in, suffering from product overload.

  61. Jinthesun says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Sure, have kids and don’t expect to change your lifestyle. You may think your little angel’s behavior is “mostly fine,” but that couple at the table next to you in the fancy steakhouse probably disagrees. Big family events, restaurants that are family-friendly, fine. No one expects a nice, quiet meal at Fridays. I have three kids, and I look so forward to date night, when I can relax and unwind – without kids. It’s important to get that time with my spouse. I have left very, very upscale restaurants because of loud, obnoxious kids whose parents thought that just because there wasn’t a category 5 meltdown in progress, their behavior was fine. It’s selfish, and it’s rude to other patrons. If you want to do it when a restaurant first opens, great. Teach them when the restaurant isn’t full. But keeping your toddler or infant out at 7 or 8 at night just because you want to be out, not caring about anyone’s dining experience but your own, is the height of self-centered parenting.

  62. Amanda Torres says:

    As with a lot of other people here, I respectfully disagree with your biased no tots allowed policy. I have 3 children ranging in age from 14 – 9 years. If you do the math, we once had 3 children aged 5 & under. Oh, and we dined out with our children.
    Our policy was that the moment one was showing signs of being antsy, my husband & I would engage them. By talking or coloring with them, or if it was while we were waiting for our food we’d walk them around pointing out artwork. If they became cranky during the meal (WE didn’t wait until they were crying) one of us would take the fussy child outside to find out what was causing an issue. Now, the last stage, one we never had to employ was to leave the restaurant if they weren’t feeling up to being out. Again, we never had to leave, but we also never planned to dine out if someone was teething, had shots that day, etc.
    Waiting until age 6? I notice you just said they could learn how to eat out at home. Really? Do you dress up like a waitress and hand them a menu? Or do you think that calling them to the table saying dinner is ready is the same thing as walking into a restaurant and waiting for your meals to be cooked?
    It isn’t the same. If you wanted to take an extra long route to training for the real world, why not call in your order 30 minutes before your arrival to avoid waiting for the food?
    I personally think that this type of thinking is why we have so many children that simply do not know how to behave! Parents that think playgroups, day care and such will teach their children “socialization” are so far off the mark! Socialization is not meant to be with children close in age! It’s to understand how to interact with society! Young people, older people, cashiers, wait-staff, and of course some children near in age. It’s teaching your child how to behave outside of the home!
    I took my children with me everywhere, including when I’d drive for Meals on Wheels, go to the dr, eat out, grocery shop, etc. I also took them on field trips to fun places & quizzed them when we got home. I can’t say I’m a perfect parent, but all 3 of our children are in gifted courses, and I’m always hearing about how well behaved they are from their friends parents (sleep overs), from teachers, and from several fellow diners at restaurants.
    Training them later is like saying your child doesn’t need to speak, know numbers/letters, or even be toilet trained until age 6…when they start school. Toddlers are at the BEST age for exposure as their brains are soaking everything all in. To wait, just because it’s a waste of time to leave a restaurant early because their child might soil a diaper, might make a mess (CLEAN IT UP! Yet another lesson to teach) or might cry is lazy parenting, and actually I think THAT is the selfish type of parent because their child’s education is being put on hold.

  63. Allie H says:

    I would have to say that if you don’t want to hear kids being fussy at a restaurant, don’t go out to eat at any time. I agree that there are parents who just don’t pay attention to their kids acting badly while eating out and that it’s not fair that they inflict that on everyone. But I also agree that unless the place has some sort of rule, people with kids have a right to be there. I agree that ritzy, expensive places are most likely going to be boring and unless you’ve been recommended to eat there by at least ten other people, it’s not going to be any sort of food you can’t get at a more moderately priced place. I agree with everyone saying that if you know your kids are going to be fussy and noisy, to take them to places with toddler areas where everyone’s going to be noisy and it’s no big deal. All that being said, I remember being taken to eat out when we visited with my mother’s family. We had cousins we could sit on the same side of the table with that we didn’t see every weekend so we had someone different to talk to, which was fun, and when they didn’t come out to eat, I know my brother and I always had some sort of fun quiet toys with us and we took complete advantage of the paper table mats with the coloring designs and the crayons that were there for little kids. I remember when the host or hostess counted kids and brought the right amount of crayon packets and paper mats to the tables, and these places were Denny’s, Marie Calenders, Lyon’s, etc-food for everyone and family atmosphere and I know I was about 5 years old for these outings. I will agree that you have to know your kids, and their behavior trends, keep an eye on them, see if they’re getting fussy, but I don’t think it’s impossible to have a family dinner out of the house every once in a while.

  64. Allie H says:

    I also don’t agree that you should let your kids not eat the foods they don’t want to eat. If it’s something they won’t eat out, get a cookbook, go online, find different ways to prepare a food and see what your kids like. I know kids go through phases of eating only one color and that’s different, but to just go along with the fact that they say no to something, is just weird. If I didn’t like something my folks didn’t care-if I wasn’t allergic, I was going to finish everything on my plate. I knew someone who’s young boys one night decided that they suddenly didn’t like eating meat and she didn’t question it-she bought them tofu nuggets instead and let the matter go. At such a young age, you’re seriously messing with the nutrition they need to grow up healthy. When they’re 16 or 18, they can make the choice to become veggie or vegan and it should be something you discuss but to let them make a choice like that at such a young age and go along with it, you’re giving them to option to say no to a whole variety of things, food and otherwise, and they’re going to expect that you’ll let them go with their choice. Just something to think about.

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