You may have heard the story recently about a diner owner who yelled at a 2-year-old for throwing a tantrum. While it’s never okay to yell at a child (and the owner certainly didn’t conduct herself well), I have to admit I found myself siding with her. After all, it’s a parent’s responsibility to respond to their child’s tantrums and act accordingly.
But as we all know — that’s easier said than done.
I, myself, have absolutely been “that parent” getting the side eye at a restaurant as my toddler sing-shouted in an embarrassingly loud voice while my baby created a sea of food destruction beneath his high chair. My kids are certainly not perfect and they have definitely been known to annoy other patrons while dining out. That’s just par for the course when you choose to eat in public with two kids three and under. But I still think there are ways to make the situation better. After all, if you’re anything like me (i.e. you really hate cooking) the idea of not going out to eat again until your children are able to conduct themselves in a manner that is not akin to wild animals sounds like pure torture.
So where’s the solution? How do I make sure dining out is a pleasant experience for everyone involved? Here are some of my “tricks” I’ve learned over the years …
1. Prepare your child (if possible)
If your child isn’t a baby, you can begin to (or at least attempt to) have conversations with them about dining out and the etiquette surrounding it. Obviously an 18-month-old isn’t going to really get it, but you can at least begin to explain the basics of using inside voices and sitting in your seat. With my three-and-a-half year old I always try to remind her — either on the way to the restaurant or right before walking in — that restaurants are a place for everyone to enjoy and that it is our job to help them do that by using good manners.
2. Choose a restaurant wisely
My husband and I L-O-V-E food. Like a lot. Also, we live in Portland, Oregon — a mecca for all things delicious — so to choose fast food or many of the other “kid-friendly” options sounds almost blasphemous to us. The thing is though, you have to pick your battles and trying to eat at a fancyish restaurant with two children? Well that doesn’t really sound like a hill I’m willing to die on. These days we have a list of our local go-tos (restaurants with delicious food that are also loud and unstuffy so our kids will fit right in), as well as our tried and true: Chipotle take out. Once you have kids, staying in is the new going out.
3. Bring snacks
I recently read the response from the mother of the child in that Maine diner debacle and the one thing I kept thinking was, “For the love! Somebody please get this child a snack!” Just because you’re at a restaurant, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring food. I’ve seen plenty of parents get grumpy over a wait for food at a restaurant because their children are “starving,” but your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on the part of the restaurant you’re dining at.
Of course, it is their job to work toward promptness, but things happen. I always try to keep a few snacks in my bag at all times. As a parent, you can never be too prepared. If you know your child is hungry and you don’t have any snacks, ask for bread or a glass of milk or some fruit for them right when you sit down — or better yet, see if you can order early for your child. No one wants a hangry child on their hands.
Also, if you have young children who aren’t great at drinking from regular glasses, be sure to bring along your own water bottle to avoid messy spills.
4. Bring distractions
This is the kind of common sense tip that you’ve seen on basically every other list about dining out with children, but it is absolutely crucial. I have a small tote bag filled with magical toys and books and games that I keep in our car and only bring out at restaurants. The novelty keeps my kids busy while waiting for our meal.
5. Bring your own bib (and SO many baby wipes)
Your server isn’t going to want to keep returning to your table 8,000 times to bring you more napkins for the mess your kid will inevitably make, so be sure to have plenty of baby wipes on hand. You’re gonna need ’em.
6. Clean up afterward
I realize that you are at a restaurant and you are paying them for the convenience of not having to make your own food or clean up after yourself, but all bets are off when you bring in a tiny person who spreads rice and beans all over the floor as if it were confetti at Mardi Gras. I used to work at a restaurant, so I know firsthand the type of trash the servers will be talking behind your back in the kitchen. Babies make messes — that’s life — so there’s no need in stressing out while your baby makes a mess during the meal.
Afterward though? Make an attempt to clean up a little. Almost every time I do this I am told it’s not necessary by our server, but they also tell me how much they appreciate it and “you wouldn’t believe how many people just let their kids destroy everything when they come in — it’s nice when people at least try.” A little consideration goes a long way.
7. Always be prepared to peace out
Sometimes you really want to celebrate with a meal out and other times you just plain don’t want to cook. I get it. Completely. But, it’s also important to consider your child and other diners. If the wait is long or nap time is quickly approaching, put your child first and consider getting take out instead. Try to hold onto the plan loosely so you won’t be too disappointed if it doesn’t work out. Sometimes kids are surprisingly great when dining out, but sometimes they aren’t. It’s all a bit of a crap shoot and sometimes it’s best to just cut your losses — or at the very least take shifts with whoever you’re dining with to hang out outside with your kids.