The national television news show “The List” asked me for tips on how to take young children out to a restaurant - without eliciting the stinkeye or getting kicked out, like the family in Katy, Texas…and I empathize, I really do. Sometimes it’s just a bad night for everyone.
I love going out to eat, but taking my three kids out can be challenging. Over the years, I’ve learned that three things continually save my hide.
1) Be prepared. Advance planning is essential. With three kids aged 1, 4, and 7, I still have a few years left of doing pre-restaurant prep. From choosing a kid-friendly place, going early, calling ahead to check on the wait (correct answer for parents of toddlers: 5 minutes or less), to packing a restaurant survival kit with toys and snacks, a few minutes of strategizing can make a big difference. What not to bring: balls (too active), musical instruments (too noisy), and stuffed animals that could get dirty from spilled food and beverages.
By all means, bring the basics. Forgetting to bring a diaper bag to a restaurant is a sure sign to the universe that one is in need of some humbling.
This particular baby had recently started eating solids and was having unpredictable – umm, elimination patterns. So, of course, he produced a head-to-toe blowout diaper at the table. Fortunately, I was with one of my best friends, and we laughed for ten minutes straight because I was covered in baby poo. I had to “borrow” two cloth napkins from the restaurant: one to wipe the contents of the diaper off my pants and the other to wrap the baby’s body so that other diners wouldn’t lose their appetite watching us slink out.
2) Be a good role model. Our little monkeys will do as we do and not as we say. So, of course, it’s time to be on our best behavior. Save the diva/divo act for another day.
3) Be positive. This parenting jewel holds true in any situation, and particularly in public, where kids love to hear themselves praised for carrying out specific behaviors in front of other people. Use the presence of other diners and the waitstaff to your advantage. Tell other people that you’re so proud of your kids for staying seated, speaking quietly, trying that new Brussels sprouts dish on the menu and watch your kids glow from the positive energy.
Of course, if these tips don’t work, it’s probably a sign that a meltdown is imminent. Ask for the check and some takeout boxes…and make plans to try again.
The art of eating out with kids takes practice. Hope to see you out soon!