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Eating Out with the Kids (and Enjoying it!)

You’ve probably seen your share of restaurant disasters in which babies, toddlers and older children are too noisy, too messy and rude. You might have wondered why those people were allowed to remain on the premises to ruin another family’s nice, quiet meal. Now, fast-forward to the next time you have your children in tow and want to have a meal out. Certainly a well-meaning person like you won’t fall prey to the ‘Annoying Others’ syndrome.

Here are some common-sense tips to make sure you enjoy your family eating experience and others around you enjoy a peaceful meal as well:

Choose a family-friendly venue. It takes a little practice for children to learn the skills necessary to behave properly in a restaurant. Speaking quietly, ordering appropriately, waiting for the arrival of the food and then eating with very few slurps and spills doesn’t happen in one outing. Don’t go to ‘Chez Ritzy’ with your children and once you arrive at your casual dining place, ask for seating that allows as much privacy as possible.

Choose a restaurant just a short drive from wherever you’re staying. Go early enough that children aren’t tired out before they enter the restaurant. And find a place that can serve you quickly - the whole experience taking no more than an hour. Dining for children is all about choosing, eating and getting on to the next activity. If you want leisurely dining, this is not the time.

Pack an emergency bag with a few light snacks such as crackers or cereal to stave off hunger while waiting. Add a few tiny toys to play with and perhaps wipes for spills and quick face clean-ups.

Allow children some choice in their order. If you order something they hate to eat, the experience will go south in a hurry. You might even rehearse ordering something yummy on the way to the restaurant. Don’t allow children to be served before the adult food comes as they will be finished and ready to hit the road before you’ve even begun to eat.

Maintain control of your children throughout the meal. Reminders of soft ‘indoor’ voices may be necessary, a short walk out into the lobby or outside may be helpful and please don’t allow children to roam freely around a restaurant. Accompany them to restrooms for both safety and control.

Remember that spills happen when children eat. They are inevitable but leaving the mess for the servers is not only impolite, it leaves a poor example for your children. As much as possible, clean up after yourselves and remember to tip your servers appropriately when they’re helpful during the meal.

Finally, keep a sense of humor about the whole event. Eating out with children is a different experience than eating with adults. You may not be able to have deep, meaningful conversations or enjoy the food in the leisurely way you would like. So enjoy the ‘whole family experience’ and then make that date with your spouse for a relaxed and luxurious dinner for two at Chez Ritzy very soon.

Emergency restaurant kit

When eating out with young children, you’ll need to pack a few extra things into your usual diaper bag ensemble.

Here are a few ideas, tried and tested  by other optimistic dining-out parents:

• Crayons or colored pencils

• Miniature notebook

• Crackers, cereal, pretzels

• Sippy cup or juice boxes

• Small board books

• Dot to dots, word searches, mazes

• Miniature travel games such as Amaze or Rush Hour, Jr.

• Small puzzles

• Miniature stencils

• A deck of cards

• A few quiet oral games such as  I Spy… (save these for special times when you really need them)

Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and proud grandma to three boys who are quite well-behaved in restaurants.  She can be found at

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