Have you ever made the decision to eat out, hoping for a quiet, relaxing dining experience, but ended up instead with a circus of wild kids and two fuming parents? That isn’t enjoyable for anyone—including other guests at the restaurant.
The dining out experience doesn’t have to be frustrating. Here are some pro-Mom tips to make dining out easier:
Pick the right restaurant. Choose a more relaxed and casual atmosphere rather than a fine dining establishment. You might also want to take into account menu items so that your child will have plenty of things to choose from. We love eating at restaurants with outdoor seating! Some of our favorite places are State48 Brewery, OHSO Brewery, ComicX, Rustler’s Rooste, Luci’s At the Orchard, BJ’s Restaurant, and Oregano’s.
Practice at home. Eating meals together at the table helps kids get in a routine and they are more likely to mimic appropriate behaviors when eating out, says Leigh Small, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing and health innovation at ASU.
Call ahead for reservations or get there early. If the weather is nice try waiting outside where the little ones can run around. If they use a text confirmation for your table you can even wait in your car. Bring some snacks in case the kids get hungry.
Pack Entertainment. We have 3 small kids so we pack an activity bag to take with you to keep inquisitive minds busy. I love to pack a bag (like this one from Itzy Ritzy) with crayons, small coloring books, play dough, small toys, games, kid size utensils, a silicone mat, & scissors for cutting food.
Order right away. While you’re waiting see if you can view a menu on your phone and have an idea of what you’re going to order. Once seated ask if you can have some french fries or appetizers brought out if you’ve been waiting a while. Having something to munch on while you wait for your meals can make hungry kids a little more patient.
Have conversation. If you have older children you can ask questions about school or about something that interests them. For younger children try playing games like tic tac toe, I Spy, or asking them to color you something.
Eat fast. (Kidding, sort of. If we want to linger and eat we tend to leave the kids at home).
Remember that they are still children who are learning how to behave and often can’t control their emotions. If you want to learn more about the emotions of children check out Big Little Feelings. If you’re concerned about behavior here are some expert suggestions to consider before you head out.
Encourage children to think about the consequences of their behavior, says Natalie D. Eggum, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Social and Family Dynamics at ASU. Say, for example, “When you stand on your seat, you make me worry that you will hurt yourself” or “When you use your loud voice, the people sitting next to us can’t enjoy their meal or hear each other talk.”
Give children affirmation for good behavior you see. Say, “You are waiting for your food so patiently. Thank you.”
Don’t be afraid to leave early. “It lets the child understand that there are consequences to not following the expectations,” says Webb.
If your experience does end with a meltdown, use positive reinforcement to turn the situation around: “I’m sorry you had a bad day. Tomorrow will be a better day.” Remember that how your children act in the restaurant is not a reflection on your parenting!
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