The DO's and DONT's of Dining Out with Young Kids

Contrary to popular belief (and pop culture), not all children run around screaming and causing a scene in restaurants. Like most things in life, practice makes perfect, and the more your kids are given an opportunity to dine out, the better they’ll get at it. Of course, there are some things you can do to help ensure everything goes smoothly (or as close to smooth as possible).

DO start really young

Kids who are exposed to restaurants early and often will see it as just another normal way to eat a meal and will be less likely to act out or cause a scene. So take your tiny baby into a restaurant, just have a plan for soothing him or stepping out if he starts to cry.

DON’T go too late

There’s no reasoning with a tired baby or toddler. So make sure to arrive at the restaurant early enough to order, eat, and pay before your kiddo has a meltdown. Plus, if you abide by the “no diapers after dark” rule, you can usually avoid offending other diners who prefer a… more mature crowd.

DO order something right away

Hangry children are horrible dining companions. So, when your server comes to take your drink order, be ready to request a kid-friendly appetizer or side so your kiddo doesn’t have to wait too long to take a bite of something — anything!

DON’T make the highchair optional

If you take your little one out of the highchair at the first sign of displeasure, she’ll quickly learn that it’s optional. Instead, find ways to keep her content in it the highchair for the duration of dinner — whether you entertain her with a song, distract her with a toy or book, or play peekaboo with the menu. That said, be reasonable; you can’t expect a toddler to stay in one place for hours.

DO put away your phone

Constantly checking your phone is a habit that’s hard to break, but put it away while you’re out to dinner with your kids. Instead, talk about what you’re eating, how the chef cooked it, and what you see in the dining room. In addition to keeping your baby or toddler engaged and entertained, you can think of it as an early culinary education.

DON’T be afraid to go to a nicer restaurant

Kids won’t learn how to behave in nice restaurants if they’re not given the chance, so don’t be afraid to go to a nicer place every once in a while. If you’re nervous about it, work your way up to a full dinner and just start small with lunch, or pop in for dessert.

DO have a stash of toys (and cash!)

There are two things you should always take on a dinner date with your kids: toys and cash. Try not to get the toys (or books! or crayons!) out too early, or the excitement will wear off by the time your entrée arrives. The cash is just in case you need to get up and go, should your child have a meltdown (despite your best efforts). Nine times out of ten, you’ll be glad you brought the toys and you’ll be able to hold onto the cash for later.

DON’T give up

Don’t give up on taking your kid to a restaurant after a bad experience or two. Nobody expects your kids to be perfect, and you shouldn’t either. Do the best you can and try to see each dinner out as a learning experience for your kids and for you.

DO tip a little extra

Even the most well-behaved kids are loud, messy, and generally require a few extra visits from your server. So, at the very least, add a few bucks to what you’d normally leave as a tip.

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