Your table for two just got a little bigger. Like most parents, you may be dreading the first time you take your young child to dine out simply because there are a lot of unknowns. It can be a daunting experience, but every fine diner has to start somewhere! They will test your patience and test their limits while in public. It will be a trial and error experience until you both adjust. Fear not though! There are still lots of things you can do to prepare for a successful meal out with your little one.
#1 Naptime Comes First
A tired toddler is a handful. However, a tired toddler is an unknown and noisy environment is next to impossible! Make sure your kiddo is well-rested before heading out. Try to stay consistent with their nap schedule and make sure they get in enough shut eye that day. If you’re going out at a later time, sneak in a second or third nap to make sure they get enough zzz’s and won’t be falling asleep at the dinner table.
#2 Choose Accordingly
Try to pick a place both you and your child will be happy at. While it can be enticing to go out for a fancy steak dinner at a ritzy new restaurant, you should probably save that idea for date night. On the contrary, you also don’t want to bring your child to any of the chain “kid” places if they have limited experience with dining out. Often times, it is the other kids at these establishments that will be acting up, setting a bad example for your new diner. You want to choose somewhere that won’t overwhelm them but also won’t bore them. Family restaurants are a great place to start because they usually offer a decent selection on their kid’s menu and most of the time will provide some fun, like coloring materials or wikki stix, to keep them busy while they wait. As a best practice, call ahead and make a reservation so you don’t have to spend unnecessary time getting antsy while waiting in line. When you reserve your spot, mention that there will be a child dining with you so they can have a booster seat or whatever else you may need ready to go upon your arrival.
#3 Prepare and Pack
Pack all the essentials you may need, like extra diapers, small toys that won’t disturb other diners, snacks, etc. Some great toy options are coloring books, their favorite small-sized stuffed animal, etc. Most places will happily put a place setting at the table for their stuffed friend if you ask ahead of time, which is a great way to keep your child engaged at the dinner table! Also, while it would be rude if you brought your own food to the restaurant, it is a good idea to bring little snacks for your child. These will come in handy if your child starts to get hangry while your food is being prepared or refuses to eat what you order them. We can almost promise that the chef won’t be offended if your child is eating something from outside their restaurant, if that is what it’s going to keep them happy and well-behaved. Just make sure you leave great compliments to the chef for the food you order for yourself!
#4 Ditch the Phone
No one likes an obsessive texter! Once you get to the restaurant, put away your phone and don’t look at it until you leave. This will set a good example for your child and help everyone stay alert at the table. If they feel that you are more interested in your phone than you are in having dinner with them, your toddler will surely act out to get your attention. Let’s not forget, time spent away from your phone will allow you to be fully present in the moment and enjoy the company of the loved ones you're with. Your undivided attention is not only crucial for a successful night but will also be much appreciated by the rest of your company. We promise these memories will mean more to you than whatever your former neighbor’s cousin is posting on Instagram.
#5 Have an Escape Plan
You can do all the planning in the world, but unfortunate occurrences can (and usually do) happen on your first few trips out. If you are out with other guests, make sure they are aware this is all very new for your child and that you don’t plan on staying long. If you are going as a couple, designate ahead of time who will be in charge of bathroom trips, what you will order for the child, and what time you plan on leaving in order to get your child to sleep at a decent hour. Try to stay somewhere close to home just in case you need to duck out earlier than expected.
Dining out with little ones requires some planning and preparation, but we promise the quality time spent together will be more than worth it. It may take a few trips before you all feel comfortable going out to dinner and become regular pros. Remember, it is an experience all new parents have to go through eventually. Over time, it will become one of your family’s favorite ways to bond and have a great night with one another!