We’ll just say it right now – eating out at a restaurant with a toddler is not always going to be a clean, easy, or casual thing. But with the right attitude and focus, it can be a great thing for your child, your family, and your sanity to get out of the house, share new experiences and locations with your little one, and eat out in public like, you know, you were once able to do without a second thought.
Here are some tips for dining out with your toddler:
1. Change your mindset
The truth is, this isn’t going to be an experience like you used to have eating out at restaurants with adults. It’s just not. So instead of taking your toddler to a restaurant and aspiring to have them order something properly like an adult (you know, like make a logical food decision and then eat what they order), sit quietly (or even at the table) for the duration of the meal, change your approach and consider it instead to be going on an adventure with your child, rather than going on an adult outing with a child along with you. Treat it like a “family date night”, or a special adventure with your child – an opportunity to actively engage with him or her – talking, reading, playing games, and going on a little walk together to go explore. If you consider these things part of the experience rather than a disruption of it, you’ll be much happier.
2. Choose the right venue
Changing your mindset will be more adequate and effective in some places over others. A high-end, candlelit steakhouse is less conducive than a diner for your child’s dining out success. Don’t set them up for failure by taking them with you to an inappropriate setting for a toddler. For dining out with your toddler and enjoying the experience, choose a place that is kid-friendly and sets them and you up for success. This doesn’t have to mean the establishment caters to or coddles kids’ needs – that is to say, it doesn’t have to have a Playland to be a kid-friendly place. It’s reasonable to be able to take a toddler to an actual bona fide restaurant and have it be a pleasant experience. But choose a place that is ok – even interesting! – to get up and walk around with them a bit, and doesn’t socially imply overly-hushed tones and minimal movement.
3. Make sure he’s rested
Don’t take a tired toddler out and expect it to go well. Make sure he’s ready for it by ensuring he’s well-rested beforehand, and account for his nap schedule so that eating out doesn’t interrupt or interfere with nap time. This will set you up for much more success than taking a tired, cranky toddler out.
4. Bring supplies
Have some small snacks he can entertain himself with while he waits for his meal – Cheerios, for example, or small cut up grapes. Bring some quiet toys like crayons or small animal figures to play with so he can sit quietly while waiting for the food to come.
5. Eat early, eat quick
Speaking of waiting for the food to come, to maximize the success of your outings, plan to get in and out as quickly and easily as possible. Look at the menu online ahead of time and know what you’re going to order, and place your order ASAP. Ask for the check when the food arrives. Keep things moving and avoid gaps between courses; keep it simple with one course and less idle, waiting around time. Go at 5p instead of 6 or 7p so you’re not waiting for all the other orders to go through before you. Be ready to leave quickly if need be.