toby and anton eating out

I always figured eating out with kids would be bananas. And it sometimes is! We’ve had whining, shouting, and two kids passed out in our laps. But over the past eight years, we’ve learned a few things, and some of our nicest times as a family have been at restaurants. Here, in partnership with Capital One’s Savor Card, are tricks for dining out and actually enjoying yourself…

1. Whenever possible, give your kids a small snack before they get to the restaurant, so they don’t show up hangry. If you do find yourself in this situation, secure the bread basket the second you sit down.

2. Before we walk into the restaurant, I’ll remind them of the drill. “Many people in the restaurant had a long day, and now they’re here to have a relaxing night, so we want to be quiet and polite.” It helps set the tone (even if they don’t remember the entire time, of course).

3. Go early whenever you can. There’s less a chance of your ruining someone else’s date and (bonus!) you’re more likely to snag a reservation at a good restaurant. Says cookbook writer and food genius Jenny Rosenstrach: “You know when you call to book a table and the reservationist says, ‘We have 5:00 and we have a 10:30’ and you’re like WHO EATS AT 5:00??? The answer is — at least for now — you eat at 5:00.”

4. It seems counterintuitive, but the quieter, calm places are sometimes better bets. Kids (at least our kids) can feed off the energy from nutty, loud restaurants, and wind up getting nutty and loud themselves. Calm places can have the opposite effect. We learned this, by surprise, when we tried to go to a bustling family-friendly brunch place years ago, and they didn’t have room — instead we went to the hushed, white-tablecloth bistro next door and our kids were ANGELS, eating oatmeal and chatting calmly about their mornings. We’ve done it a hundred times since and it really works.

5. As soon as our kids were old enough to talk, we encouraged them to order their own food directly from the server instead of using us as a proxy. It’s an easy way to teach them about eye contact and manners. Plus, it’s totally adorable to hear them request chicken fingers so formally.

6. We pace out the conversation. When we go to a restaurant, the first part is all about the kids. We chat about stuff that’s interesting to them — we play tic-tac-toe, we joke around, do a riddle, whatever! The goal is to keep them engaged and chill. Then the food comes, and they completely zone out while eating, which is when Alex and I talk about grown up things.

7. Remember: There’s no sit-still bribe better than a Shirley Temple.

8. Except maybe a brownie sundae with mint chip ice cream.

9. If you have energetic kids, come prepared. Bring sticker books, word finds, a pad of paper and a pen for tic-tac-toe. Consider reserving a stash of toys that are restaurant-only, therefore special.

10. Eating out with kids is an opportunity to expand stubborn palates. Says Jenny: “Order a few dishes for the center of the table that they’ve never seen before, and resist the urge to do the whole try-it-try-it-one-bite-won’t-kill-you routine. You can double check the math on this one, but the chances of kids reaching over and dipping the pita into the hummus for the first time in their young lives increases by at least 150% when they’re in a restaurant surrounded by people doing the same. (It’s okay to say, ‘I got this recipe directly from the restaurant chef’ when you present store-bought hummus and pita on your own kitchen table the next day.)”

11. Most important, dine out regularly, so they get used to it, and you can do it again and again.

What would you add? Do you have any tips for eating out with kids? Would love to hear…

(This post is sponsored by Capital One’s Savor Card, which lets you earn up to 4% cash back on dining and entertainment. Thanks for supporting the brands that help keep Cup of Jo running.)