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11 Tips for Dining Out With Kids

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 hangman, 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.)

  1. Thanks for this advice for eating at a restaurant with kids. You mentioned that quieter places can actually be good for kids since children can feed off the energy of loud restaurants. I wonder if you should visit several restaurants before so you can get a feel for what the environment is like.

  2. Mandy says...

    Another waitress here, just wanting to remind parents to include children – yes, even infants – in your head count for a reservation. Does your child need a chair? Do you need to be able to park a stroller? Unless you have an infant exclusively in arms, or a kid who floats in the air, count them! And communicate with the host ahead of time, not when you arrive at the restaurant. As long as you’re polite, they will probably be happy to get you a table that will be best suited for your family.

  3. Anna says...

    I hate eating out with my kids. Truly hate it. The inability to eat my delicious, and wonderfully prepared by someone else, meal in peace, the stress of will we bother our fellow diners, the anxiety of will our food get here in time before my kids explode in a hangry mess, zaps the fun for me, but I love to eat out. My trick: have the grandparents take them! My husband and I get to enjoy a peaceful, relaxing meal out at a different location, my in-laws love treating their grandkids (who behave “like angels” for their grandparents), and my children still learn restaurant manners. Works like a charm.

  4. Elizabeth says...

    My 5 year old has multiple food allergies, making eating out practically impossible. The few times we have I’ve packed separate food but I ache for these shared experiences. I can only hope someday he is able to join in the fun!

    • Jill says...

      I feel you and my heart is with you. My daughter was 100% g-tube fed until she was 4 years old. And, bonus, when she was a baby she would vomit…a lot. I began taking her our local café when she was still a baby. I would put some cubes of avocado in front of her and would push a bolus feed in her tube while sipping my rosé. My husband thought it was silly (read crazy), especially the times we had to apologize profusely to the restaurant while cleaning up after she’d vomit. But every time we went she would try a little bite of this or that and she learned wonderful dinner conversation skills to boot. Now at 6 she eats like a champ and while I know this isn’t your exact issue I say bring the food and normalize the situation as much as is possible. It is usually worth the effort.

  5. Margaret says...

    A while ago I noticed while tagging along with my husband with three young kids to a work trip to a Ritz Carlton resort, that my kids rose to the tone of a place… This was in part because I coached them that we needed “Ritz Carton manners” – now that is code for us to sit up straight, use good manners etc. It’s fun to take kids super fancy and have them practice. Also, while we don’t usually pull out the screens at restaurants, I try to remember I don’t know what anyone else has going on for their family. A friend once commented – how sad look at that whole family staring at their screens at this nice restaurant, and I said … “What if they’re 10 days into a 3 week road trip and just spent every waking minute together…. maybe – everyone gets to read their IPAD – makes perfect sense?

  6. Gloria says...

    I love all of these tips and have used many of them with our two boys! A couple of years ago we were visiting New York and had planned to meet by husband’s uncle and his parter for lunch. We had our (extremely wild) 2.5 year old boy and I just assumed that we would go to a fairly casual, quick lunch. The uncles, who lovingly knew we appreciate great food, insisted on taking us to Gramercy Tavern! Michelin star. With. A. Toddler. The wait was well over an hour and we didn’t begin the meal until about 2:30 (well into nap time)! The food was amazing but I was sweating bullets and maybe the most anxious I’ve ever been trying to entertain by toddler, the only child in the restaurant, for a multi-course meal that didn’t conclude until 5:00pm. Our wild child was miraculously well mannered for about 2 hours. Then the uncles ordered dessert. And the flip switched. Our 2 year-old was done. Everything in arm’s reach was going to be thrown across the perfectly decorated restaurant (iphone, spoon, plate)…luckily we intervened and nothing made it beyond the table and my husband swiftly took him outside before anyone was disturbed while we finished dessert. It was a truly unforgettable meal!

  7. Mary says...

    As someone who waitressed for many many years I always loved early tables! It was less hectic and I could make some “extra” money instead of just standing around waiting for seven to hit:)

  8. amanda says...

    I am taking notes, let’s hear it for the comments section (again)!

    We love to eat out, as does our 5 year old. While we reserve the fancy (or quaint or new or even, shhh, favorite!) places for date night, we have taken our son pretty much everywhere since he was 2 days old. (Mama had to see if her favorite pizza joint gave her heartburn post-baby. IT DID NOT!) Now, with a five year old, our favorite go-tos are filling a hard eyeglass case with random legos. I switch them out every month or so, but he enjoys the challenge of building with only, say, 18 legos, rather than a bucket full. Another thing we have been starting our dinners with, both at home and eating out, is the game 2 truths and a lie (wait, hear me out)! We had such fun playing over and over recently on an adults only trip, we thought we’d try it with him. It’s a good way to swing into dinner conversation about our goings on of the day, and hilarious to see what he thinks is clearly unfathomable (for instance, he knows for sure it’s a lie that I got a speeding ticket, because “mama drives like a grandma!”), and his “lies” are so sweet, like “they served only mushrooms for lunch at school today”.

  9. Great tips! What has helped is going earlier as suggested when it’s less busy and just keeping my kids occupied before the food arrives. I also learned not to get their drinks yet until the food arrives because my kids will fill up on the drinks.

  10. Megan says...

    I was a restaurant server for many years. Yes, I have seen a few disruptive kiddos in my time. But usually, it was the adults who would make a disruptive situation into an unbearable one. My advice? Let the kids be kids. Have fun. Draw, laugh, perhaps engage other patrons (who are willing of course!) into your fun filled banter. The time passes quicker and mostly everyone is grateful. Including your server!!

    • Tatiana says...

      Yes! It really is far more annoying as a fellow diner to hear parents stage whispering “shhh! Stop that!” all throughout a meal. Unless a kid is being mean or absurdly loud, just let it happen! No one expects silence at a restaurant. Toddler / kid babble is so sweet and if your kid gets a bit rowdy? My money is on other patrons simply thinking, “I’m glad it’s not my kid doing that.” Everyone just breathe. We’re all in this together.

  11. Layla says...

    Another fan of going to dinner early. I have 2 small children (1 and 3.5) and haven’t yet been brave enough to do many dinners out but when I do it’s almost always at our local woodfire pizza joint, at 5pm. There is a table with low seating that’s in it’s own corner so it’s actually perfect, away from other patrons and at kid level so they can feel included. I have no problem curbing the shouting/running around and trying to teach my 3.5 year old that he needs to sit at or near the table and that other people do not like shouting. If things get out of hand I will wind the meal up and leave.

    Another thing: Kids are extremely messy eaters and the table always ends up with spat out or half chewed up food and tonnes of baby wipes or baby food. I always do my best to clear up the food on the floor and make the table half decent before leaving, I don’t think the wait staff should have to clean up our extra mess and I think it helps in them accommodating us next time, and perhaps other families eating out with kids too.

    • Amber says...

      This! We always try to clean up the worst of the mess. We also make sure to tip extra generously when we go out to dinner with our 4 and 1 year old boys. We call it the “kid tax” and usually tack on an extra 5-10% or so for the inevitable requests for extra napkins, etc.

      Also, there’s nothing more adorable than watching your kid’s eyes light up when he requests “chocolate milk, pwease” from the server.

    • Allison says...

      Thank you!! I was a server, and I’ve found parents like you to be the exception. I had one table with a child who was overstimulated, or the food was too rich for them, or something, and they threw up on the table. The family just threw a napkin over it and left. Guess who put her hand in a pile of vomit? I understand that things happen, especially with kids, so I doubt there was anything the parents could have done about the child getting sick, but at least give me a warning! Helping me clean would have been so considerate.

  12. Leah says...

    I have two typically developing kiddos and one with special needs. My special needs son tries very hard to be on his best behavior at restaurants but sometimes the noise, unfamiliar smells, and social demands are challenging for him to process. When we see him getting agitated, we have different techniques for helping him, but if all else fails, we let him zone out on our phone for a few minutes, until he feels calm. I honestly don’t mind if people see him and judge us as “screen parents,” but I thought I’d post this as a little reminder that when you see families out in public, you can’t assume you know their story.

    • Yes! This! There is so much judgement around kid/s on screens while eating out. For some families I know with no family nearby, who can’t afford babysitting or whose kid isn’t able to be with a babysitter, nights out with kid/s along is the only option – sometimes doing something on a screen works to create some special time for the parent/s and allows the kid to cope in that setting. This is coming from someone whose kid never even saw a screen until they were almost four and is well versed in Steiner lore. I’m a single mama of a high needs kid and it’s lonely enough without more judgement heaped on me!

  13. Kate says...

    I wanted to share a viewpoint on the game hangman. Thanks for the opportunity to share this! I am so thankful that this blog is such an amazing community of folks who want to help other see things from other points of view & provide nuanced input. I learn so much here from you all.

    Thank you, too, for your commitment to supporting, widening, & deepening the dialog about so many issues of justice, inclusivity, compassion, & understanding; inspiring us to take action to make a difference; & providing us resources to help us do so. I am so very thankful, appreciative, & admiring.

    As director of an adult ESL program that works with adult asylum-seekers, refugees, & immigrants from around the world, I was surprised when I saw our teachers leading games of hangman in our classrooms. I think that the teachers, who are passionate, beloved, difference-makers, just innocently & cluelessly pulled the game out of their [mostly white, privileged] backgrounds & classroom experiences without thinking about how the game & its imagery might feel from the perspective of our students. When I asked the teachers to move on to a different activity, I had several students whisper thank you.

    Many of our students come from places where hanging is practiced as a form of capital punishment if not vigilante punishment, & are escaping situations of danger, torture, threats, & intimidation. In our own country, so many folks live with the daily reality of knowing that someone might use disgusting threats of lynching & images of nooses to harass, intimidate, threaten, humiliate, & bully them. Many of us have experienced it personally. Many of us also know someone who has committed suicide by hanging.

    Whereas I don’t think that anyone playing hangman supports these activities or in any way thinks that playing the game might give that impression, I do think that are better simple language games out there & better simple games with fewer problematic issues related to their imagery. I’d love it if this generation were the one that quit playing & teaching hangman.

    I say & do many things out of habit, clueless to how someone else might receive it, until someone gently educates me, whether personally, through media, or through communities like this one. I’m sure that there are readers who will provide other perspectives on the issues of language games or games with problematic imagery. I look forward to learning more from you all!

    Thank you so much again!

    • (a different) Kate says...

      So beautifully and thoughtfully put, Kate – thank you!

    • Melo says...

      Thank you for this beautiful, thoughtful, and gentle reminder, Kate! I’ve never thought about the imagery or connotations of hangman, even though I grew up in the American South … I’ve always loved this wordgame (partly because stick figures are something I can actually draw), but now that you have kindly reminded us, I am going to search for other fun word games. Thank you!

    • Tessa says...

      Great comment, wonderfully put. Also important to consider that you can still play the game with different imagery- i.e. make a stick person without the hangman or draw a different character.

    • Ella says...

      I teach 6 year olds and for the reasons you have mentioned we play ‘snowman’ instead :) same rules, but once I’ve drawn the snowman’s hat, they lose the game!

  14. Karen says...

    I have three boys under 6 and this has been my experience too. I spend so much energy trying to make sure that we aren’t bothering the other patrons but when I actually look around, most people are either smiling at us empathetically or reminiscently.

  15. Lisa says...

    My children are 2, 3, 5 and 7 so dinners out are not typically graceful. I live in Boston and took my 5 and 7 year old to NYC last weekend on the train. Maybe it was just being with 1/2 of our family, but at 5 and 7 I quickly realized I didn’t need any tricks for dining out at those ages. We ate four leisurely meals out together and they relished being the “big kids” and were so well behaved and happy to try new foods (and to share). Being with them equally made my heart swell with pride and gutted me with yet another realization of how fast they are growing up.

  16. Caitlin says...

    #5. It’s cute to encourage your child to order food at a restaurant. It’s not so cute when the restaurant is incredibly busy, your kid gets shy or stage fright, and the parent refuses to help the kid AND the server out by just ordering the chicken fingers. Sincerely, a server from an incredibly busy restaurant.

  17. Jen says...

    I’m not a mother so this doesn’t apply, but I just want to say – even when a post is sponsored, there’s still plenty of adorable/usable content. And those faces! This blog is my home, seriously.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that means so much to me, jen :) thank you xoxo

  18. stacey says...

    I may have missed it but no one seems to have mentioned my pet peeve. Please for the love of everything good in the world, don’t let kids run around the restaurant. It’s obnoxious, dangerous for the kiddos and dangerous to the staff who are manuevering around tight areas with bus tubs or hot food or carafes of hot drinks.
    Every child is different, so know your audience. I was lucky to have mellow tempered kids, but some kids are more stimulable, more active, or louder. Adjust your outings so your child experiences success and everyone will be happier.

  19. christine says...

    Agree! We followed many of these ideas when our daughter was little. We have a fond memory of her, at about 3 years old, turning to the waitress and asking (in her tiny sweet voice), “do you have chocolate milk?”. When the waitress said “yes, we do” my daughter said “may I please have a small chocolate milk?”

    • Alex says...

      So cute! This reminds me of when we went to a Thai restaurant and my son asked if they had milk. He looked truly confused when the waiter said, no, only coconut milk. Haha

  20. Cynthia says...

    Excellent tips, especially going out to dinner early. My husband and I have seen too many children having meltdowns at the adult dinner hour in restaurants because they’re hungry and tired.

  21. We really enjoy going out to lunch and dinner with our 20 month old. We do it at least once a week. I definitely agree with the “don’t show up hangry” and “bring a toy” tip. Furtheron, we usually:
    1: Have her sit on our lap before dinner arrives, and sit her in the high chair when it’s time to eat (so she won’t get bored of sitting there)
    2: Feed her off our plates rather than ordering a kid’s menu every time, especially when time is a little limited (she often thinks it’s exciting to share our food as well)
    3: Lower your expectations and realize that kids have good days and bad days – also in restaurants. Sometimes we just opt for getting the check early. Sometimes we stay long after desert.

    Also I love your perception about how quiet places give your kids a more mellow energy! The more I think about it, the more I think that’s the case here too

  22. Terri Young, CZT16 says...

    I think I’ll try this on my adult kids! It will be great for a laugh with them. I think we used all these suggestions when they were little so they should still work, especially the Shirley Temple offering!

  23. Katie says...

    I’d like to add that it’s also OK to NOT eat out if it’s too difficult. We have 2 & 3 year old boys and no matter how much I plan/bring, eating out with them is absolutely miserable and stressful. I don’t know why I felt some sort of pressure to take them to restaurants like our friends did. My husband and I just decided together that this is a season of life that we’ll just order in and get a sitter when we want to eat out. So for now, take-out on a picnic blanket is the way to go. :)

    • Lisa says...

      I have to agree with this. We don’t eat out with our children if we can help it because generally it’s stressful, for them and us. There’s a comment further down that it helps teach restaurant etiquette, which is nice but TBH we barely ate in restaurants when I was a kid (couldn’t afford to) and I swear it hasn’t affected my ability to eat in restaurants as an adult.

    • Jenny says...

      Yes yes yes! My daughter just turned 3 and we’ve noticed that in the past few months, she started to do really well in restaurants (for the most part). But from age 15/18 months or so til 2.5, it just wasn’t worth it to go out often. And that’s ok! Many small kids just aren’t able to sit for the duration of a restaurant meal, particularly in a stimulating environment. Great if they can, but if they can’t just yet, that’s ok too. These are great tips though!

    • I became a stay at home mom about a year ago and switched from one meal a day with my 1 and 3 year old to every single meal with them. Oh. My. God. It’s much better now, especially in restaurants, but I definitely miss work lunches on my own in a delicious nyc restaurant! Eating with kids is an experience! Great tips here!

    • Libby says...

      Us too! My son has Type 1 diabetes and the stress of calculating the carbs in every bite he eats before he eats it (and then the potential that he’ll change his mind!) is just too much for us most of the time.
      Reading things like get the bread plate or a brownie sundae kind of break my heart. I wish it was that straight forward for us like it used to be.

  24. I enjoyed reading the points you brought up in this post as I clearly recall what it was like to dine out with my kids when they were younger. The ultimate satisfaction comes from hearing someone purposely stop by your table and say you have the most well behaved kids I’ve ever seen. Especially when they’re only four and five years old. Kudos for writing this article and bringing back those fine memories.

    KaSonndra

  25. agnes merat says...

    Such a great post! After living abroad for 20 years I was very excited to go to cafés again! (in France). I go every day and sometimes before school with my 5 year old. He sometimes walks there BYHIMSELF! I definitely feed him before going; he’s not excited about drinking or eating out, just about being in this grown-up place! At the café we order him a drink (in France it’s mostly menthe-à-l’eau, mint syrup with lots of water), or nothing but the waiters usually have something for him like a mini cookie. We buy the newspaper and he can have one page to draw on it. If we go to a restaurant we go reaaally early, like one hour before lunch time; if our son is hungry, it’s generally too late to go then ;-), and an empty restaurant is a good way to feel comfortable with the place, waiters have time for a joke. Then other people arrive and it’s exciting for him to watch them coming!

  26. Margarita says...

    We love good food and have been dining out with our kids since they were born. I spent wonderful long lunches with my adventurous 2-year old who gobbled up stuff like pulpo, artichokes and gazpachos (after toppling over the fresh OJ the kind waiter had poured into a fancy brandy snifter for effect). Now they are 7 and 9 and much pickier eaters. We have refrained to use screensa to keep them quiet, as our opinion is that it ruins the teachable moment  but that is another discussion! We still take them dining out with us, but there are a few things I learned along the road:
    1. I try to do lunch, not dinner. It´s cheaper, you normally get a reservation at place you normally wouldn´t and the kids are less tired (which for me is a major factor in how they will behave).
    2. When we are going to dine out in the evening, a nap is mandatory. (Real nap with real sleeping involved!)
    3. A good piece of meat (with whatever sides, worst case I´ll have their sides ) is always a good bet. Ordering dessert is often too much, as it takes more time. And even if the point of dining out is to spend time out of your home, like for everything with kids, there is a timeframe you should stick to. For me, the most difficult time to bridge with dignity, is the time after the meal, when they aren´t hungry and looking forward to the food, but satiated and tired. That is where I need the waiter to get my bill promptly so we can have a graceful exit.
    4. That said, there are places where the kids are totally out of place. It doesn´t necessary correlate with the fanciness of the place, but I think you know if you go, so I seldom try out new restaurants with my kids in tow, unless I have at least a reference. Trust your gut!

  27. K says...

    I have experienced success with a half-sized memory game. I throw say 10 pairs from the game into a bag before we go and we can play memory flat on the table in a small space and when that gets old I throw them all into the bag and shake it up, take turns picking to see if we can grab a pair blindly.

    But does anyone find it dreadful with restaurant toys (the crayons!) constantly falling to the ground and rolling away? “Excuse me, May I send my 3 yr old under your table? Our lion match is under your seat.”

    • Kelly says...

      omg yes. the forces of gravity are much, much stronger in restaurants.

  28. Cherie says...

    We have a restaurant bag full of travel sized games, with UNO being the game they reach for time and again. Keeps them entertained and relatively quiet!

  29. Tip for dining out with multiple children: We have two girls- ages 4 and 6. One thing that has kept them interested and engaged when eating out (and gives my husband and I a few minutes to chat to each other) is to order the girls different things and then have them negotiate sharing the food with each other. They’ll spend five minutes discussing the merits of their macaroni and cheese or fish fingers with each other like tiny food critics, whilst serving each other from their own plates. You’d think they would scramble for who got more of whatever they liked best but it’s actually worked in reverse- they’ve become so generous with each other.

    • Sarah says...

      That is the sweetest, Adrienne!

  30. Bates says...

    The game Spot It is a great restaurant game for the 4+ crowd.

  31. Lucy In Devon says...

    A thought- how many times have you seen adults behaving terribly in restaurants!? Rude to waiting staff, poor table manners, breaking things etc. The last one is on my mind as in the summer my 3 year old accidentally knocked over a wine glass on a restaurant table and it broke- she’d been playing with a toy dinosaur quietly waiting for food and moved her hand without thinking. At the time I was so uncomfortable, oh no what will people think, then I thought hang about- adults break things all the damn time. How come someone little trying their best gets less slack than someone older having a whoops moment? It’s been a good mindset change.

    • Liz says...

      I’m a server in a busy restaurant/bar and I completely second this!! The behavior I see from adults is usually far worse than from kids, especially if they’ve had a few cocktails (the adults, I mean :). I’d much rather clean up a glass that was accidentally broken by a kid that was playing at the table than one that was dropped by a drunk adult!

      Also want to note that this is said without judgement, as I have also been the over-served adult guilty of breaking a glass. But I’m certain it was not as cute as when your three year old did the same :)

  32. Lauren says...

    Like you mentioned – We’ve found the best trick for our toddlers to be the novelty of toys they don’t usually see! We keep a metal lunchbox full of little toys in the car and grab it only for restaurants or waiting rooms. It has little board books, toy cars, silly putty, sticker books, and small toys, etc. Once the kids get ancy at the table, the box comes out and everything gets a little quieter! Something about the box is magic too – they love opening it up and unloading everything.

  33. Dawn says...

    I love your point about engaging with your kids before the food comes. I was recently at a restaurant with the six-year-old boy I nanny and his parents. We sat down and after several minutes of adult conversation, he sweetly piped up and said, “hey guys, could we talk about something that I know about?”

  34. Ramona says...

    Just a thought on this screen time/no screen time thing I see playing out here…

    I once took my daughter to meet a friend and her son for lunch. I was annoyed when my friend pulled out an iPad for the kids to play games because we are pretty strict about no screens with our daughter. But then when the fries I had ordered for the kids to share arrived, it was my friend’s turn to be annoyed because they eat super healthy and she apparently doesn’t even let her son have junk at restaurants.

    So I think as moms, we all have stuff we are really vigilant about, and we all have places where we are more relaxed. This is probably healthy not just for us but for our kids too! And it’s just different family to family, but doesn’t make anyone any better or any worse. And I’m sure our kids will survive it!

  35. Sara says...

    This post is so fascinating to me. The tips are helpful and I look forward to putting them into practice someday.

    We have a 2.5 year old son and I stay home part time. My husband and I lived in nyc for ten years and went out to eat all of the time. Now, we can’t afford to do it as often. When we have the opportunity, and we have to take our very active, very curious son along with us, no one has a good time. YouTube helps.

    My son is learning his manners, eye contact and the art of conversations from our weekly Sunday dinners that I host with his grandparents and aunt and uncle present. Our dinners are simple and healthy, our conversations lively and the experience for our son – life changing. We can play endless games, make believe for hours. We don’t own a television.

    I don’t judge restaurant screen time and I hope others think twice the next time they do.

  36. Anindita says...

    Tips for toddlers: Prepare some hard boiled eggs from home & give it to the kids after you’re done ordering. It will give them minutes of fun peeling the eggs, fine motor skills exercise, and a snack afterwards!

    • Ricky says...

      I bring a hard boiled egg as well, partly in case my son doesn’t end up liking the restaurant food or just eats a little. Also e.g. a chopped carrot is easy to pack and keeps him patient while waiting for food.

  37. Guylaine says...

    A game of “Would you rather” while you’re waiting for food works really well. I just google the kids version on my iPhone… This works for birthday parties too if things are suddenly out of control!

  38. Tori says...

    We were on vacation in Minneapolis when my daughter was 1 1/2 and went to a burger & shake joint for dinner. As soon as we stepped in the door my daughter decided to have a meltdown and screamed her way through the restaurant to the back corner where they sat us (ha!). Within 5 seconds of sitting down, this magic man appeared with a plate that had like 12 French fries on it and she stopped screaming immediately. I was in shock! I think maybe he was an angel.

    • Sarah says...

      I’m from Minneapolis and love everything about this story – especially that last line. Snuffy’s? Annie’s? At any rate, so glad our town treated you right.

    • Tori says...

      It was the Convention Grill in Edina. I love Minneapolis, I’m originally from there (Robbinsdale), but moved away when I was 10 and it was fun to go back!

    • Emily Newhall says...

      Love it! Makes me want to go to Convention Grill again soon to see that angel.

  39. Lacey Parr says...

    We rarely eat out but me and the kids have started a sometimes-tradition of getting a late lunch at the sit-down pizza place next to the library. We love to bring in our giant basket of books and it’s so fun to read them aloud in a different place. They are so attentive and it’s a great distraction while waiting! And you’re so right about quiet restaurants! This place always seems to be deserted when we go and they behave so much better than at chikfila 😂

  40. Em says...

    Two things: we have never used a screen with our daughter (almost 3) while eating out, and because she doesn’t know it’s an option, it’s not something she asks for (and she’s learned other coping mechanisms over the years!). This requires more of us as parents, since more of our attention is used to keep her happy and quiet-ish, but we believe we’re building habits that will serve her (and us!) well in the future. To your tip about calm restaurants being counterintuitively useful: if you’re dining out with a baby (sub-one year or so), we found that loud places are great because no one will hear or notice the odd yip or yell! :)

    • kiki says...

      OMG girl, it will get harder as she gets older not easier. slow your judgements on screens. For real. she’s not even 3, it’s not a badge of honor you’ve held off on screens. LOL. and be easy on yourself if you need to tap into an educational video sometime in the future, you will not ruin her.

    • Malia says...

      I think it’s great you haven’t used screens with your kid at restaurants. In my experience, when things start to go awry at a restaurant, it’s because (no matter how old they are) I shouldn’t have taken the kids out in the first place!

    • Alex says...

      I find it so sad when I look around a restaurant and see all the kids on screens. We used to keep it as a last resort for the final minutes waiting for the check, but have found behavior is far worse if they have screen time so we’ve nixed it. Now my main goal is to curb my own phone addiction at all other times if the day!

  41. Have to add our tip for dining out with a BABY (yes!) – sit at the bar or in a cozy corner table or booth, order a cocktail (if you’re drinking) and an appetizer for there, place your dinner order to go. 🙌🏼 When you get home, put baby down, and relax on the couch with a movie and dinner. Best! Of! Both! Worlds!
    My husband and I have been doing more and more dates without our daughter lately, and I oddly miss the days of having her tag along, sleeping or mesmerized by the lighting.

    • Lauren Ash says...

      Yes! My husband and I did this too when our now 4 year old was newborn and we lived in the middle of San Francisco. Those memories are some of my favorite from that time in our lives.

    • Ramona says...

      This is genius.

  42. Leslie says...

    I’ve seen several comments from moms posturing that commenters are “judgey” because they’re not 100% on board with children at nice restaurants. There were maybe 2? Remember that many of us a) don’t want kids or b) can’t. We should always be putting ourselves in the parents’ shoes… but not vice versa, apparently.

    • Maureen says...

      I agree! I think I saw less than 5 judge-y comments but they really hit a nerve with a few ppl. I think we should all remember that everyone has their challenges, kids or no kids. Let’s just try to be kind.

    • Jenny says...

      YES. This.

      As a singleton who is childless by choice, society’s heteronormative standards seems to place greater value on families than child-free adults. Not just in restaurants but at workplaces where the parents seem to get first dibs on better working hours, their weekends and public holidays intact, etc because the implication is that the singletons’ time is less valuable than that of parents with kids to take care of. I get that parents have greater demands on their time but it shouldn’t be assumed that the non-parents should always be available to pick up their slack. In cases of emergencies, sure but to assume that they’ll get every Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah or what have you off every single year is just plain presumptuous. We have plans and families of our own too, just not children. And I fail to see why those who choose to have children should be placed above those who either didn’t want kids, aren’t yet at the stage where they want kids, or can’t have kids.

      Put simply, it often feels as though the child-free have to give up something — the right to expect a tantrum-Free meal at a fancy restaurant, an uninterrupted 2 hours at the cinema/theatre/concert hall/ballet — to accommodate parents with children too young for the environment/activity mentioned, lest we be accused of not being “understanding”.

    • Ramona says...

      I think it’s worth it for all of us to remember that we live in a community full of all different kinds of people with different needs, and that we rely on that community in many different ways and need to treasure and respect its members even when their needs or capacities differ from ours. We’ve all been little kids who threw tantrums in public places. When we were at that stage, our whole world was taken care of by the people who are now the elderly who might sometimes frustrate us by moving too slowly or whatever. And of course one day we will all be elderly ourselves, and then we will rely on the people who are presently children to nurse us when we are sick and police our streets and discover cures for our illnesses and everything else. So young or old, parents or not, moving slow or moving fast, being loud or being quiet, we just need to be patient and generous and empathetic with one another. Public places are venues for practicing what it means to live in a community, both for kids and for adults.

    • Rachel Oreck says...

      Yes Ramona yes. Well said!

  43. Jane says...

    Sushi train type places work best for us : family friendly, food instantly appears before your eyes (going past on the train track), you can help yourself, small plates to try different things, you can see it before you try it. It’s a win.

  44. Lauren says...

    My only advice for folks is to start with brunch dates. Our kids are so happy to be up on weekend mornings that they’re great in restaurant settings at that time….vs tired and over it in the evenings (which we all can be sometimes). Plus: mimosas (for the parents, lol)!

  45. Carla says...

    We live in the Philippines where most restaurants are in the malls. My husband works abroad and for 5 years our son had been an only child. I’ll bring him to the mall and engage him on the way. I’ll tell him what we’ll do at the mall, what he’ll see and where we’ll eat. If we’d been to that restaurant before, I’ll tell him stories of our past experience and who was with us. We used to bring 3 small toy cars that fit in my bag that he played while waiting for the food or waiting for me to finish. I made sure that he’d count them before leaving home and he’d count them again before leaving the restaurant. I told him that if he lost any, I’d never buy him another toy. In a way, that made him responsible and learned to take care of his toys. Lately, I’ll tell him the night before if we’re going to the mall the next day and enumerate all the errands that we have to do. He never complains even if the list is long. In return, I’ll ask him where and what he wants to eat.

  46. Lena says...

    My husband and I have three boys under five and sometimes we want to go out to eat because we are too tired to cook. Lately I have noticed a trend where parents with kids in their twenties/thirties coming up to us in restaurants and telling us they miss these days with their children. This causes me to relax and remember that sometimes children are just being children and often people don’t care if kids are being a little rowdy. They have the rest of their lives to act perfectly. Let them flirt with the waitress and then duck behind the booth when she makes eye contact. They just might be making someone’s night more fun!

    • Karen says...

      I have three boys under 6 and this has been my experience too. I spend so much energy trying to make sure that we aren’t bothering the other patrons but when I actually look around, most people are either smiling at us empathetically or reminiscently.

    • Carla says...

      Not related to dining out.

      Last year, at my son’s recognition he was so clingy. He went where ever I went. And if something needed to be done even if he could do it on his own, he’d ask for my help. I never complained, just let him be by my side all the time and did all his requests. One mother came to me and told me to hold on to these moments. She had a 7 yo child who’s already independent. She missed the time when the child’s world revolved around her.

    • Amber says...

      I’m loving these comments. This really resonated with me. As a mom of a 4 and 1 year old, the last two times I’ve taken my oldest for a haircut, I’ve sat next to a parent of boys in their late teens who reminisced about when their children were the age mine are now.

  47. Anna Wagstaff says...

    My parents love to eat family style at ethnic restaurants. It was such a treat for us as young children to be in charge of ordering for the family. Nothing is cuter than a 8 year old ordering Indian food for the family. My parents really encouraged us to be adventurous eaters and we were since we ordered it, we ate it!

  48. Jenna says...

    My parents mostly ate at what you’d call immigrant family restuarants- often owned by the parents of some of my Dad’s students! My parents always ordered family style, and made a point to include me in the choosing of the dishes. That meants I had a dish I wanted/liked, but also could try whatever else was on the table. It made an adventurous eater out of me (without being forced) and meant I was engaged with the ordering and eating process. Family owned resturants like these tend to be quieter, but also really accepting that kids are kids. Other places made me nervous- was I behaving right? – but those family owned places made it feel special and easy all at the same time.

  49. Jennifer Rollins says...

    We have a pencil box full of “restaurant toys” — it’s simple stuff. Those toob toys (we have vehicles, trains and ocean creatures), popsicle sticks (some marked to look like train tracks), and silly putty. They ONLY get these at restaurants. From the time they were two until now (6 years old) they have happily played with the box of restaurant toys whenever we go out. They started out just playing with the vehicles or stacking sticks. Now they make elaborate structures and stories to go with it. I actually look forward to seeing what they come up with.

    • Melissa says...

      What is a Toob Toy !?

    • Carlotta says...

      I am the opposite. I grow up loving to go it out and my parents never had to entertain me or my siblings. It was actually rude for us to even put books and stuff on the table and same with my kids. When u eat you eat, you can have conversations, you eat and appreciate your food and the time for playing it’s not while at the table

    • megs283 says...

      this is a great idea. I need to make a restaurant box for my wild and crazy almost 3 year old!

  50. Megan K. says...

    One of the best tips I ever received was from a co-worker. If her kids got a compliment from the waiter about how polite they were acting while at the restaurant, they got to order dessert! GENIUS!

    • Vanessa says...

      This is awesome! Am trying this next time we eat out :)

  51. Katie says...

    My older brother (the second youngest of four) was super energetic as a kid, and we didn’t go out much as a family until he was about 11 or 12 and could sit for the hour and a half required of him. My parents trick was to go to golf courses and bring a putter. He would order, go out to the putting green, come back to eat, and when he was done go back and putt. Worked for him!

  52. Jen says...

    Small stash of LEGO inside an altoids tin. Works a treat

  53. Kara says...

    We’re restaurant people, and I distinctly remember being scared/excited to take my firstborn to a restaurant for the first time when my dad was visiting (the person who made me a restaurant person) at around 6 weeks old. Needless to say, my son is very experienced at eating in restaurants. Other parents always comment on his generally good restaurant behavior, “what’s your secret?!?”, and ultimately it comes down to practice. We’ve done all the things (toys, screen time, crayons, books, pens, sugar packets, pre-food snacks, etc) as well as none of the things, and for every single instance, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. (Isn’t that true for so much of parenting?) But what has made the biggest difference, is just doing it. Don’t worry about judgy people judging you (if the screen is what’s needed in that moment for all of you to enjoy yourself, use it!!), tip well, clean up after yourself as best you can, and have a plan to leave quickly if all else fails. You got this!

    • Kate says...

      I second this “tip well, clean up after yourself as best you can, and have a plan to leave quickly”

      My husband owns a restaurant, so my two kids 4.5 and 1.5 have grown up eating out at restaurants, both at his restaurant and lots of others too, most times they are very well behaved, some times not so much.

      Get in at 5pm and order ASAP and get out of there.

      If things aren’t looking flash (mainly with the toddler) we leave as quickly as possible.

      People always comment on how well behaved they are, we don’t do screens, just chatting, paper and pencils and some toys.

      Funnily enough, the times they do muck around always seem to be at my husbands restaurant….too familiar perhaps.

  54. Ann says...

    Order an appetizer or bread plate. Then, let them order whatever the f they want! Because who gives us rules to order what to eat as adults?

  55. EmilyS says...

    We have a six month old and here are a few tips that have worked for us in the infant stage. Get a high top table if possible – that way if the baby needs to be rocked or bounced, its not awkward for one of you to stand next to the table while the other remains sitting. Also, depending on the weather, outside tables always seemed to keep him calmer than inside. We also routinely go out and order a drink and appetizer and then get the entree to go – lets us at least get out for a little while and socialize together while also not testing the time limit on the baby or trying to maneuver one person holding the baby while eating.

    Love reading all these other tips to use as he gets older!

    • Ooooh I just posted a tip about dining with a baby but these are gooood too! 🙌🏼 Keeping in mind for the next one ;)

  56. Katie says...

    Something we learned to do when our first was a baby is to ask the server for the check once you are done ordering. Then you can enjoy your meal and if, heaven forbid, your baby loses their mind 3/4 of the way in, you can bolt without it being a dine and dash ;)

    • B says...

      This! We did this with our son starting before he was one, and it is our best tip for dining out with kids. Also have your card ready to hand to the server when you ask them to run the check. You can give a little wink and say, “Let’s just run our bill now, in case we need to make a speedy getaway.” It saved us a couple times.

    • Lauren Ash says...

      Yes!! We have a 4 year old and a 1 year old and have been doing this since our oldest was TINY. It makes for a much more graceful exit. ;-)

    • Marta says...

      I do this all the time. Most of the time I don’t have to leave in a hurry, but it gives me peace of mind to know that I can just GO.

      We have a very good eater at home (2yo) so my trick is actually, order her the food she likes most. She tries most things she sees at home and at restaurants so I don’t feel I have to take any risks :) I will order rice or pasta and most of the time she will also try whatever is on the table as well. Guess I am lucky but no kid complains about pasta and ice cream, and as long as they are getting greens at home, who cares? I order burgers and pizza when dining out, not broccoli haha

  57. Silver says...

    My child hated cafes, and in Australia there is a pretty full on culture of no sugar for kids and I embraced it. Then we went to Paris when my boy was 2 1/2, and into a cafe to get out of the blistering cold and in swoops the waiter, pops a blackberry cordial in front of my boy… he is happy – yes happy, and when later he grizzles (in Paris one has to dine long with wine right?), before a moment has passed the waiter has placed a lolly in front of my boy. Every cafe had a similar approach and to this day he loves cafes. Viva la France!

  58. Kim says...

    I am not surprised there are those with and without children making assumptions and judging others for their infant’s behavior at a restaurant, or their child on an iPad…but can we just not? It’s disappointing to see these negative comments on a site that has a pretty good amount of parenting posts.

    Do you really think your judgemental comment about someone else’s (probably) rough day is helpful? Maybe it’s irritating to be a server and have to wait approximately 20 seconds longer for a child to order, but this is how kids learn- by doing. Maybe it’s really annoying to have a child crying in the restaurant while you are out in public and trying to have a relaxing meal, but children are part of the community. Occasionally they are going to be places you are, and sometimes they’ll be annoying.

    • Amy Clarke says...

      Hear! Hear! And can we all keep in mind the fact that we, too, were kids once? And probably obnoxious ones, at that. :)

    • Angela says...

      Yes! To all of this.

    • Chrissie says...

      Yup. Nailed it, Kim.

    • Cait says...

      Respect goes both ways. I would never complain about a crying child at most places. However, I once had a crying infant behind me at a national symphony orchestra concert at the Kennedy center. Same with an infant crying at 9 pm at an expensive, upscale restaurant. I always try to give parents the benefit of the doubt and cut slack, but not everywhere at every time is meant for babies/small children. That is what babysitters are for.

    • Laura says...

      Well written! I love your point about kids being part of the community. I think this all applies to kids in airplanes too.

  59. Emily says...

    At my husband’s birthday dinner yesterday in a loud restaurant I absolutely found number 3 to be true! My kids are usually great in restaurants and they were hollering messes!

  60. Julia Burt says...

    One of our favorite traditions for birthdays it to pick a new restaurant or cuisine, like Korean or Nepalese, to try. Sometimes it has had us pull into a drive through on the way to pick up burgers but it always makes for a memorable evening!

  61. Loren says...

    Does anyone still play the game where you draw a bunch of dots on paper and then take turns connecting them with straight lines? If you complete a square you get to put your initial inside. I have used that to entertain so many children over the years.

    • Jorden says...

      I loved doing this when I was young! I will have to do this with my boys. Thank you for the great memory!

    • Lindsay says...

      my dad would play that with me during church and now I do it with my kids! fun

    • Christina says...

      Dots! YES! I (30 yrs old) quietly played this game with my 26-year-old cousin a few weeks ago at a family event. It was a restaurant with paper over the linen cloths, and we were the only people under 60. We still engaged with the conversation around us (we are adults, after all), but it was so fun to just quietly knicker back and forth over the game, too. It’s funny how quickly we got back into the groove of ‘kids table.’ :)

    • Dana says...

      Yes! My mom always suggested we play that game when out to eat. It always felt like it was our special restaurant game. Looking back, it’s sort of funny now, because my we ate out all the time and therefore played it often!

    • Erin says...

      Pigs in the pen! Love that game.

  62. JFS says...

    You’re absolutely right, Jo: eating out presents great opportunities to help kids practice using a fork and knife, exercise polite manners with staff and other diners, and understand the cost of food (and calculate the tip). When our kids were small we didn’t go out much, and if we did it was for breakfast (cheaper and more forgiving.) But our boys are 10 and 13 now and we often use these hacks to make fun conversation: TableTopics cards (Is it more fun to be a grown up or a kid?) back stories (identify a person in the room and make up a story about who they are and what they’re all about), or “would you rather” questions (ex: Would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?) No electronics necessary.

  63. Katherine says...

    We don’t bring too much extra stuff. It stresses me out when other moms bring extra food, throw away placemats, toys, crayons, highchair covers, iPads, sticker charts, etc. My son does well when we keep it simple and show him how to behave at a restaurant. We also try to maintain the “no phones at the table” rule.

    • megs283 says...

      different things work for different people!

  64. Deanna says...

    I think it’s important when picking a restaurant to make it somewhere you can get home easily from, or don’t mind having it boxed up quickly. I threw a temper tantrum in a restaurant while out with my parents and aunt. I apparently wouldn’t stop, so my mom packed me into the car and had my dad bring home her food. Being willing to follow through on her threat, and the threat of not being able to go again was enough. I never did it again because eating out has always been my favorite.

    She also got a booth whenever possible so my sister could eat then fall asleep. My mom just put her napkin over my sisters head whenever necessary.

  65. Bren says...

    My biggest advice ever when it comes to eating out with toddlers – REQUEST A BOOTH! We pretty much only go to restaurants if they have booths, as my 2 and 4 year old won’t sit still in a chair for anything. But they are somehow totally content if they can stand up in the booth and move back and forth between sitting with me, or sitting with their dad. Also, depending on the place I have been known to let my kids play under the table because at least they aren’t running amuck causing serving to trip, ha! I realize people may judge this, but hey, desperate times! And bonus points if there is some type of windowsill or ledge for my son to run his matchbox cars along! We like to make tunnels out of menus for the cars, and I always have those Melissa and Doug Water WOW pads so they can paint with water! Also I bring magna tiles a lot. It’s all about the variety!

  66. Maureen says...

    I always keep a deck of uno cards with me and I whip them out only when we are eating out which is not often. The crayons usually keep them busy for 5 minutes until our order is taken and then we do uno until the food comes. My 5 year old totally gets it and my 3 year old keeps her cards face up so we can help her choose a card, but it helps her learn colors and numbers. Also, my kids think “restaurant jail” is a real place (I know I am terrible). Thank you for all these new ideas!

    • Kelly says...

      Laughed out loud at “restaurant jail”! Haha, brilliant!

    • Ryal says...

      I am 60 and my kids are in their 30s and I wish I had known about “restaurant jail” when they were little. I’ll save that for when I have grandchildren. Thanks for a good LOL.

  67. Tracie M. says...

    As with all things parenting, set them up for success (put your kids in situations where they can do well). Don’t take them to super fancy places when they are little. Start small and easy, places where the food comes out quickly. Bring things to do, paper, pencils, books to read quietly etc. Don’t go out past their bedtimes, unless you absolutely have to. We have taken our kids (now 12 and 14) out to dinner since they were newborns and it has never been a problem. If they got too crazy, we took them to the car for a few minutes to chill, but they never use electronics at the table, they love exploring new places, and we love taking them. We just ate Ethiopian with them this weekend and had pretty good conversations over our meal. It can take some “training,” but is so worth it!

  68. Karen says...

    We’ve been taking our boys out to nice restaurants since they were babies. Sometimes we’d take turns walking outside if one of them got fussy but most of the time they did really well. I always had a stash of small toys/coloring books, etc that were the restaurant toys. When my boys were small, there weren’t iPhones (thank goodness) and they did just fine without watching videos. And now that my boys are teenagers, they know meal time is not screen time.

  69. Susanne says...

    My husband and I took our toddler to Paris for a month this summer on a work trip, and we were worried to go out to eat with her for half of it, given French kids’ reputations as obedient, good eaters who dine at 9:30. But we finally caved, and I’m so glad we did. Outside the tourist center, restaurants were accommodating of our kid, but she was also so interested in everything — sitting outside, watching people and dogs walk by , and getting the kids’ “menu” including flavored water and a scoop of ice cream were all highlights. The novelty of it all really worked for us, so much so that she now insists on ice cream at all restaurants. Plus, French kids melt down, too.

  70. grace says...

    when my husband and i are out eating with our 5 yo daughter, we’ll take 5 or 6 sugar packets on the table and write random numbers on them. we’ll flip the sugar packets with the numbers facing down and each pick one. whoever picks the highest number wins. that game never gets old with our daughter and it’s a good way to pass time until the food comes :)

  71. Kathy says...

    Love all of these comments/ideas! My kids (now ages 3 and 7) have been coming out with us since they were wee babies. Going early is KEY…plus, wehave something we call “restaurant backpack”: a special bag of quiet activities they only get to see/use when we’re out. This typically includes hidden picture puzzles, “new” (to them) pens and paper, coloring pages, and stickers. When all else fails, though, nothing beats a good ol’ family game of “I Spy” 😀

  72. My daughter is two and for the past six months or so we’ve been brave enough to take her to the local Flatbread (pizza chain). Here’s how we do it: go at 5 (love Jenny’s tip), decide what to order straight away, and then lean into the super-family-friendly aspects of Flatbread. They have an open kitchen where you can watch them bake pizzas in a giant oven, so we take turns escorting our daughter to watch (she thinks every pizza is hers). They give you crayons and paper. If you ask, they give you a small piece of dough for kids to play with. It’s AMAZING, the food is great, and we get to feel like real adults (who, to be fair, are eating dinner at 5).

    • AJ says...

      Ugh! Don’t even mention Flatbread when I don’t live anywhere near one. Best. Pizza.
      Ever. I have to be content to eat it maybe once a year, if I’m lucky, when we visit relatives in Connecticut or go on vacation in Hawaii. Sob! Please open in California!

  73. Kate says...

    I don’t remember eating out very much when I was little because I was so sensitive to cigarette smoke and every restaurant we would have wanted to go to had smoking sections! My eyes would get all itchy and start watering and it was miserable for everyone. I have trouble believing that smoking in restaurants was a thing not that long ago!

    • Sally says...

      Yes, the idea of smoking in a restaurant seems so long ago, but it’s not!

      Whenever we went out to eat when I was a child (granted, not that often – 4 or 5 times a year maybe), I remember us being asked “smoking or non-smoking?” by the waiter.

    • Sabrina says...

      I live in Austria (I moved here about two years ago after living in America my whole life) and smoking in restaurants is still very much a thing here. It’s so miserable to be in a place where smoking is allowed. It bums me out so much.

  74. Naomi says...

    Always, always always always… always bring a pen. In the very least, bring a pen. Ideally, bring a pen, some paper or notepad and a book. With those items, even the most boring meal and quiet restaurant can become enjoyable: hang man, tic tac toe, coloring, drawing, passing secret notes, and so much more. When she was younger, we had a small bag in the car with coloring pencils, paper, a coloring book and something to read – at all times. And it worked wonders! I’m now really good at holding an adult conversation while playing tic tac toe or coloring at the same time.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “I’m now really good at holding an adult conversation while playing tic tac toe or coloring at the same time.” = hahaha, yes!

  75. cgw says...

    What worked for us was training our daughter to eat with us, at the same pace when she was really, really young. After the new born stage, when they are old enough to sit at the high chair without any support beside a lap belt, but young enough that they need help feeding we started training at home at the dining table. We would give her a bite, then we would eat (a bite). No matter if she was making sounds for more or reaching, we would take turns eating. Over some time I honestly think it really helped her understand that she was at the table for the long haul. She knew she would get her bite. It slowed her pace, but also allowed us to eat. Later, it meant she could sit through a nine course Chinese wedding banquet without having to get up and run around the tables and waiters. We also brought stuff to entertain her. When she was in a high chair we would have it hooked to a strap with a velcro end to wrap around something on the chair so if it fell it was easy to get back. As she got older it turned into books, small color markers and a small sketchbook, we have also offered the phone at times. It all depends on where you’re eating, how long the wait time is, etc. But each time we never willingly got her off the chair unless it was for the bathroom or something, even as a baby and toddler, once she was sitting and about to eat, she didn’t get taken out, not even for doting grandparents. Now she’s 14 and does very well at restaurants. Also, we never ordered her food first. Instead, we always had a small snack bag of something, in case, and only if the toy/book/markers/etc wasn’t working. Otherwise, order at the same time, eat at the same time, wait patiently. We know we’re quite lucky.

  76. Mary Bly says...

    I work in fine dining and have for years. It’s always much appreciated if you have a reservation and are bringing children to let us know! When arranging reservations I’m less likely to put a party who says they will have children with them next to the party who is planning a proposal. Sometimes I will have my hosts stash paper and crayons on the table ahead of time, or place that party in a section with a server who can do funny voices. It will save a scramble when you show up if you let us know ahead of time.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh that’s a good tip! i had no idea, but i’m going to do this from now on. xo

  77. I love going out to eat with my kids (ages 6, 4, and 17 months) and the best thing to do is just go! I’m a big proponent of taking your kids everywhere, be it grand adventures or the grocery store so they learn how to be everywhere. My best tips are to order a couple of plates to split instead of ordering off the children’s menu (it’s cheaper and they eat real food instead of chicken nuggets), as Joanna mentioned we always go over the “restaurant rules” before we go inside, and we ask for the check as soon as our food arrives…just in case we need to make a speedy exit. My kids are experienced diners, but they’re still kids! Sometimes it just doesn’t work out and there’s nothing worse than waiting for your check when your kids are DONE.

    • If you have any tips on taking two-year-olds grocery shopping or generally getting them into strollers, I’d be most grateful. Oh, and getting them to wear a winter hat. Or not needing television to eat a frozen waffle. Wait, maybe I just need someone to help me be a mom?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, yes to tips about getting kids to wear winter hats! anton SIMPLY WILL NOT.

    • Kathryn says...

      Katherine, you are doing it right and doing a good job! I have found the trick to getting all of those things done is to ask someone else to do it. Preschool is great for getting jackets/hats on. Aunties/uncles and friends can get your child to do things (like putting on shows) so easily, it is like your wildest dreams coming true, until the next time you have to do it yourself.

      We had an amazing sitter who could get the kids to do almost anything by putting on her cheeriest voice, and then talking through the process, or somehow making it intersting, counting buttons, making choo, choo noises like the train was leaving. When I am at my most exasperated, I summon every ounce of strength I have and try and become that woman! Usually it makes everyone feel better. “How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen” provides some good ideas as well.

    • Erin says...

      Katherine — my trick for getting them to wear outerwear is to play with it inside first! When my son was two, he was strongly opposed to any “new” clothing that came with the change of seasons. But if I had it out a few days ahead of time and he played putting his hat on and off, etc., he was much more willing to wear it out!

    • MelTown says...

      For grocery shopping I give them jobs starting pretty young. My 17 month old will put veggies in a bag or I’ll hand her items and she’ll put them in the cart. They also like to pretend to scan items. The bigger kids read labels and do simple math with prices. I wish I had stroller advice, but that seems to depend on the kid. My youngest hates them! I try to give her snacks or something to do and then hope for the best. Generally I think the key is less about getting them to do things and more about letting go and letting them be themselves (when possible). As for winter hats, I moved to Texas so we don’t need them often. Worked great! Haha.

    • Jane says...

      Katherine, I’m sure you’re doing great!

      On the grocery store: my two year old loves these for two reasons – 1) samples (especially at Trader Joe’s, where they hand out animal crackers) and 2) the car grocery cart. Painful and almost impossible to steer but my kid will throw a tantrum when we LEAVE the store because he loves the car so much.

      On winter hats: We found that giving him an option of two hats helped make him feel in control of winter wear. Helps that one is a very cute animal hat that he likes to run around roaring in.

    • marie says...

      On grocery shopping: as soon as they can hold a pen they can make the list ! My daughter scribbled roundish tiny circels line after line and in the shop she remembered exactly which line was the eggs and which the potatoes and so on. It was making her a of the process and playing a game all at once. And she was totally focused and happy and even forgot about potential sweets – since those were not on the list : )

  78. Katie says...

    When our kids were younger, we always asked for the check as they brought out the food. Just get that out of the way so you can make a quick exit if needed.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes!!! love this tip.

    • Ruth says...

      Yes! We do this too! Knowing you can have a speedy exit if needed makes the whole meal more relaxing.

  79. Capucine says...

    We have traveled so much with our kids since infancy, restaurant eating wasn’t a thing we could avoid. Like being on planes, the four of us have learned how to do it well from the hard moments. Nowadays, my formula is second nature: I have a few fidget toys supposedly for autistic children in my purse, I look at the menu before we go in, I choose chairs over bench seats, I clean up any mess before we leave myself, and if we’re tired or jetlag exhausted I avoid tablecloth restaurants. We eat out once a month on a Friday evening for fun and now that it’s infrequent my kids are really excited. We eat together every night so table manners are a thing we sort of have addressed? maybe? Anyway, I vote for giving your kids the practice to excel.

    (I’ve since learned, families tend to either go out to eat with their kids or choose to wait until their kids are ten to do it. Ditto for travel. In my family, we practice coexisting peacefully with diners and fliers from birth!)

  80. Colleen says...

    My daughter is now 12 but in the olden days I always had a tiny doll, a matchbox car and a pad of paper and lots of colors of good crayons (not those crummy ones you get from the restaurant) in my bag. And I doled out activity at a time, keeping the other two in reserve in case things got crazy. We have never been fans of electronic distractions and swear my daughter’s incredible curiosity is fueled by all the imaginative play she used to do.

  81. Emma says...

    My husband and I order our drinks without ice because our 23 month old LOVES ice so much in the way only toddlers can love things which is always to the point of tears when it’s gone, not able to be controlled by fumbling hands, or set aside to eat dinner. I love my little ice chewer! Lol

    • Sara says...

      No to offer unsolicited advice, but I used to be a huge ice chewer. After talking to my doctor, she said it can be a sign of lack of iron! Not sure if 23 month-olds can lack iron… but just thought I’d share. :)

  82. Lindsey says...

    I think it helps to remind kids how special it is to eat at restaurants. It’s truly a privilege, for both adults and kids, and should be treated that way. My 3 year old and 5 year old are always excited when we announce we’re going out to eat. When something is special, they do their best (as best they can) to stay calm and be polite.

    Also, French fries.

  83. Jenna says...

    Yes! My recommendation is just do it, even if it feels hard, even if you worry about other judgy people, even if its priceir than eating at home. Kids learn so much from going out to eat. They learn manners, how to speak to servers, how to try new foods, be out in public, observe other families. I could go on and on. Its like a mini vacation! And if people are judging you, you are not the problem, they are!

  84. Kate says...

    My parents were very big on dining out when I was a kid, and it’s something I have such fond memories of. It felt very big and important. In terms of tips for success, they definitely created a routine around the experience. (My mom was very big on routine in general!) We always went out on Sundays after church or on Fridays after my dad got home from work, and we usually went to the same places. This way, I knew the menu, I felt comfortable in the space, and I got to know the staff at the restaurants (shout out Pam, the nicest waitress at the little diner we went to for breakfast every Sunday!) As time went on, we tried different places, but Marketplace Diner and the Eagles Club was definitely a fixture of my childhood.

  85. Julie says...

    our secret weapon? an order of FRENCH FRIES. stat.

    • Bonnie says...

      AMEN!!

  86. April C says...

    I usually relish the comments section on Cup of Jo posts but found this one to be rather harsh and judgy.

    We dine out regularly with my 3 year old son, including at fine dining restaurants, and he almost always watches a show on my husband’s iPhone with his headphones. It is what works for us and allows my husband and I the opportunity to enjoy our meal and our conversation with a well behaved child. My son benefits from “eye contact, social interaction, and manners practice” the countless other hours of the week when we aren’t in a restaurant. I’d take my son being “glued” to the iPhone for an hour over the stress of a ruined dinner in public any day.

    I think what is important is allowing each family to find what works for them and avoiding judgment. Everyone is just trying to do their best for their kids and survive.

    • Marney says...

      You do you! My now ten-year old often watches or plays with his headphones on in restaurants. He is also totally capable of having a conversation, should he choose. I have full faith that he will be able to conduct himself properly in a restaurant when he is 30 regardless of how many YouTube videos we let him watch when we wanted to have a chill conversation while enjoying our dinner :)

    • Louise says...

      Agreed. My toddler is “glued” to Dora the Explorer so I, and others can enjoy their meals. Not every kid is willing to sit quietly and eat. Doesn’t make them a bad kid and doesn’t make the parent bad either.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      totally agree — if that’s what works best for your family at this stage, by all means, go for it! :)

    • Nina Nattiv says...

      My girls are 5 years old and, maybe a year ago, I finally got over other people’s judgments. Sometimes my kids are great and eat nicely and participate in conversation. Sometimes my kids are annoying and my husband and I just want to have a nice meal and I thank god for netflix on my phone. Sometimes they are just awful and I throw a wad of cash at the waiter, one kid under each arm, scream an apology and get out before someone gets hurt.

    • Ramona says...

      And anyway, who is to say that your son isn’t learning something from seeing you at restaurants, even if he is watching a show at the same time? Children absorb and notice EVERYTHING. You don’t have to actively participate in something to learn about it. Just being in the environment and watching what goes on is learning, too.

    • cgw says...

      I grew up before devices, and I remember very clearly having my head very deep in a book at the table at restaurants, even at wedding dinners. I was always asked to greet the people at my table, required to look up at the waiter when ordering, and answer questions if my name is called. But beyond that, i was free to eat and read while the “grown ups” had their own conversations. That’s really no different than a kid who is playing or watching on a device. Each family knows what works for them, no shame in that.

    • Sara says...

      I throw major stinkface when the kid isn’t wearing headphones. I don’t come to a restaurant to hear cartoons and games being blasted, and unfortunately its a very common and very rude practice of letting the phone blare wacky noises without any regard to people around, and huge distraction to my own children. I will judge that all day. Otherwise, yes you do you, children have to learn, and we are all just doing our best.

  87. Kristin says...

    Thank you for this. How are children supposed to learn how to behave in restaurants (or theaters or church or wherever) if we never take them and help them?

    • Tracie M. says...

      YES! We have taken ours everywhere with us, church, museums, restaurants, the symphony, etc and used those places to teach them about proper audience etiquette, how to order from a menu, all of those very important skills. They are 12 and 14 and are so adaptable. Keep taking them and keep teaching them!

    • emily d says...

      another yes!! i took my almost 4-year-old to a little kid-friendly nutcracker this weekend and we went through some guidelines before we went. later that day, i overheard my daughter telling her friend about the ballet rules: “you stay in your seat, clap when other people do, and no yelling until the end when they bow!”

  88. I love these. When I first became a mom and my mom and sister (who was not yet a mom) wanted to go out to eat…I was like, are you crazy! As my son got older, it got much easier. I haven’t hesitated going out to eat for several years. In the beginning years, especially when they are eating baby food, it’s difficult.

  89. Carrington says...

    We have eaten out weekly or more with our two year old since he was born. Guess what? Sometimes it’s great! He chills, he eats! We chill, we eat! Other times, it’s TURN ON TOY STORY! Who cares? Judge me while my child watches a show so I can enjoy the meal I’m paying for. But also, remember you’re enjoying yours, too as he’s no longer flipping his shit. :)

    • Mandy says...

      Single person here. Speaking as someone who loves eating out I absolutely do not care if parents utilize devices to distract their kids during a meal. In fact bravo to them — if that’s what’s needed to keep the child occupied, more power to them! I reserve harsh judgement only for those parents who do not care and do not do a thing if/when their kids are screaming the place down, running around the place unchaperoned and harassing other diners, and/or getting underfoot and putting themselves and the waitstaff carrying hot food around at risk. I’ve had the bad luck of coming across such blase disengaged parents more than once and it simply ruins everyone’s night.

  90. Andrea says...

    We have European friends who would wedge the baby and then kid between them in the booth. It ensured that the kid couldn’t get out and was close at hand if they got out of order. Their kids learned very quickly about how one behaves when out to eat.

    • Mikaela says...

      Except when they escape by suddenly sliding under the table and proceeding to lick everyone’s shoes like a dog…..so I’ve heard….

    • Andrea says...

      It was literally a body wedge on the kid.

  91. Casey says...

    My 4- and 5-year-olds love to rile each other up, especially when I take them out to eat without my husband. On a whim one particularly crazy day, I told them it’s a state law that they have to sit in high chairs or booster seats with buckles until they turn 6. Maybe not the best parenting technique, but it’s working beautifully! They remain seated throughout the entire meal – they’re way better behaved than at home.

    Although I’m really enjoying dining out with the kids, I should have thought more about this in advance. My son might not fit when he’s 5, so I might need to develop an amendment to the imaginary law. They ask about other kids running around, not in high chairs, and my first reaction was to tell them, “ooh, that’s against the law. They might get a ticket.” I feel slightly guilty about inferring the other children are law offenders, so I do not recommend that.

    • Rachel says...

      Lol. This is awesome.

  92. Andrea says...

    My friend told me she once took her six year old son to dinner and he ordered for her (asked her what she wanted and then told the waiter both of their orders) so sweet! She said she doesn’t know where he got that from but it was cute.

  93. Anna says...

    I worked in restaurants for years and I will say the one thing about letting your kids order for themselves is make sure they know what they want/what to say. There’s nothing worse than when you’re in a rush and a parent forces you to stand there while you read the menu to their child and ask them to choose/or when a child is distracted and the parent is trying to get them to say their order. Make sure your child is ready to go and knows what they want !

    • Cait says...

      THIS. It’s cute to hear your kid say their order, but if they aren’t quick about it the waitress who has multiple other tables needing things from her will not find it cute.

      Also love Jenny’s tip about going early. Yes, you are paying for your meal, but so are the other people who did not expect to find a wailing infant at a quiet, romantic bistro at 8 pm. (I have encountered this.)

    • Kim says...

      Ha ha ha. “Make sure.”
      Kids have their our time tables and agendas.
      We’re all doing our best.

    • Kim says...

      If you can’t deal with wailing children, perhaps you shouldn’t be out in public? Everyone has been a wailing child at one point or another.

    • Liz says...

      I’m with Caitlin on this one. Re: Kim’s comment: yes, we all understand kids are apart of life and society and are unavoidable — but not every time/place is appropriate. You have to keep in mind that if you’re kid might be screaming the whole meal, they might be ruining the mood for the romantic celebration your neighbors had been looking forward to/saving up for for weeks. I’m not saying don’t take your kids to restaurants at night, but it’s not a bad idea to be a little choosy about the location and considerate of other’s ears in certain situations. we didn’t all decide to have children.

    • Ryal says...

      Re Kim’s comments – if you’re kids are wailing, then maybe you shouldn’t be out in public. Be considerate of others. Very simple.

    • Kim says...

      I have never been anywhere where a child was crying nonstop and a parent or care giver wasn’t trying to soothe them and eventually left. Consideration and respect should go both ways, but clearly for you few, they do not.

      “We didn’t all choose to have children.” That’s great, so if children bother you so very much, perhaps you should frequent blogs not about parenting? Go to restaurants with a prize fixe menu? Only order takeout? Children exist, so unfortunately for you, you’ll have to encounter them occasionally.

  94. Ramona says...

    The secret to dining out (and going to church, and riding on airplanes, and driving in the car, and perhaps even life itself) is WATER WOW. I just wish they came in more designs! Melissa, Doug, are you listening? Toddler moms need more Water Wow!!!

    Also, I love the idea of getting a few things for the table in order to expand picky palates.

    • Emily says...

      Haha, yes. Water Wow is the absolute best.

    • Kelly says...

      sigh. i feel like my kids outwit every genius toy that others find to be lifesavers…we tried water wow…my two year old figured out she could suck water out of the brush and then that was all she wanted to do, and she would cry when the water ran out (which is in like 2 seconds when someone sucks vigorously on it!). managing this was more work than not having any toys!

    • Jen says...

      Haha yes to water wow!!

    • Jenny says...

      Kelly- try water wow again when she’s a little older and maybe it’ll work then! We brought one on a plane when my daughter was just 2 on the advice of 1,000 people…and it occupied her for all of 2.5 minutes. She’s 3 now and will water wow for like 15 solid minutes if the mood strikes! That and those Melissa & Doug puffy reusable stickers.

  95. Babs says...

    When I was young, my parents would pre-order before we arrived at our small town’s most popular pizza joint. I still remember what we’d have: two garden salads (one with French dressing, one with 1000 Island) and two large pizzas (Hawaiian and Shrimp & Mushroom). The food would arrive at our table immediately after we sat down, leaving all other diners aghast at the rapid service we received as well as how my brother and I stayed pretty quiet (or at least that’s how I remember it!)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that memory babs :)

    • Emily says...

      I just found out (at age 34) that my parents used to do this too!

    • Sarah Murray says...

      When we travel, my husband and I take turns going to the restaurant first, alone. We order ourselves a nice drink and food for the family. When the other parent arrives with the kids about 15 mins later, the first parent is totally relaxed, the food is already there, and everyone is happy.

    • Jenny says...

      Sarah, that is GENIUS.

  96. Jennie says...

    Jo your tip about the calm. formal restaurant translates to hosting at home too. If I am hosting a party and there is a “kids table” I DO IT UP: linens, candles, flowers, a fancy carafe to serve themselves milk, etc and the kids actually LOVE IT. Then they bring their best manners. I discovered this by accident when I had to cover an ugly table for them with a table cloth and then just kept adding to it. Plus, it is so cute to see the kids being so formal with one another.

    • Megan says...

      love this! as a little kid I remember thinking the grownups didn’t know how sophisticated we were, so I’m sure they appreciate it.

  97. Melissa says...

    These are awesome tips. My children are 6 and 3 and we often bring a pack of Go-Fish cards which we all enjoy quietly playing together before the dinner arrives. If our little one gets distracted we’ll do a few rounds of “I spy”. The kids each bring a coloring book which is also a classic way to keep them occupied! Once they’ve had a bit of attention and the food arrives they are happy eating quietly while the adults chat.

  98. Ruth Lee says...

    Thank you for this advice, I agree with everything! When I eat out with my family I see so many children glued to their iPads the entire time:( I completely understand the temptation, but what better place to encourage children to interact with other people, explore new tastes, and like you said, learn the importance of eye contact and manners.

  99. Whitney says...

    I am firmly against letting kids play on an ipad or phone while eating out. Restaurant dining is an opportunity to teach them how to carry on a conversation, try new food and rise to the occasion of using their manners. If they need to be entertained, crayons and coloring pages are the way to go! Here’s to teaching our kids how to interact with others and (sometimes) be patient while waiting for their meals, rather than being passive on a phone or ipad.

    • Capucine says...

      Ah, that was me you saw, with my kids checked out on screens. You’ll be surprised to know I’m with you in general on screens. However…in my family, generally we eat out at restaurants because something came off the rails. This year, it was death mixed with jetlag. We went out to eat a lot. My body hurt, I was near tears, home was far away, my kids hadn’t gone to bed before eleven in weeks of hospitals – giving them a screen until the food came instead of asking them to cope with manners was an act of kindness. I always look at the parents when kids are glued to screens; are they a demoralized wreck staring glumly out the window? Are they two parents who haven’t spoken without kid ears around in weeks? My kids had more screen time this year than all the years before, and it was the best I could do for them in a awful situation totally out of my hands.

      Just a reminder to be kind. Screens are often a mother coping with a day, a week, a lifestyle that isn’t sustainable.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh, capucine, thank you so much for sharing. it sounds like an incredible hard year. thinking of you. xoxo

    • Kim says...

      Bravo for writing this. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    • Jennifer Rollins says...

      Why do people get so judgy about kids using screens? Don’t like them? Don’t let your kids use them. Sheesh. I prefer to minimize them myself, but to each their own.

    • claudia says...

      Maybe you saw me too at the restaurant with my kiddo “glued” to a screen…but guess what my son has autism and sometimes when we have the courage to go to public places like a restaurant (because we also want to enjoy an ordinary life) he can get overwhelmed with his environnement. So we offer him alternatives so he can cope with it… and yes sometimes it will be screen time, we prefer it to a meltdown (and I’m not talking about a child’s tantrum) that will annoy the people surrounding us.
      Please do believe that parents act the way they do because they have a good reason to do it and not just because they are lazy and or negligent to their kids’ well being.
      Please be kind and reminded that you never know the full story.

  100. Erica says...

    I would add: go out when you know it’s your kid(s) “good” time of day. Our daughter has always been an early riser and is much better behaved during the first half of the day. Going out to breakfast or lunch works SO much better for our family than going out to dinner. (Bonus, it’s usually cheaper too!)

  101. Laura says...

    I love that there is no mention of bringing an IPad!

  102. One thing that saves us eating out with a 5 and 2 year old is to order their meals and our drinks as soon as we sit down. Then we order our food when our drinks come. Their food generally comes out about 15 minutes before ours (and then we sneak a dessert order in with the server at that time), so by the time they’re done with their dinner and we’re starting to enjoy ours, their dessert magically appears. It buys us another 15 minutes to enjoy our meals (and drinks) without any whining about when we’re leaving.

  103. Lizzie Baird says...

    I’ve created “restaurant boxes” for my 3-year old twins…the boxes are just plastic pencil boxes filled with stickers, scraps of paper, a few plastic dinosaurs, pens, crayons, whatever. Keeps the kids entertained during meals out! They have been a lifesaver!

  104. Karen says...

    How old would you suggest starting to dine out? I have an 18 month old and swore I wouldn’t bring her in public again until she was 5 based on our last dining experience!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      we’ve taken them since they were pretty little, but when anton turned 3, that felt like the sweet spot! then they could sit still for longer, not need as many distractions, talk a little more, etc. :)

    • Courtney says...

      I took my 14 month old on a cruise and he went to the main dining room for formal dinner every night. Since it was a cruise and we were in the middle of the ocean, we also didn’t have cell phones to fall back on in case of emergency (nothing like a YouTube video in VERY desperate times) and I still can’t believe it as I type it, he was great. Now, we didn’t linger after dinner and we ordered his food immediately when we sat down (which is the biggest tip of all!). I think the more we did it, the better he became.

      I remember telling my husband that we can’t expect him to do something wonderfully that he has never done! If he want him to be good in restaurants and go out to eat with us-we have to actually DO THAT THING. Practice makes perfect!

    • Emily says...

      I think that age is the hardest because they’re mobile but they can’t carry on a conversation and don’t tend to pay attention to toys very long. Maybe go out somewhere at an off time, like 5 pm for dinner, to test it out. Find a day when she’s fairly well rested, not super hungry, etc. and order as soon as you sit down. Good luck!

    • Emily says...

      Same! My 19 month old is a tornado in public places!

    • Lisa says...

      I think it also depends on the kid (and how experienced the parents are). I remember when my son was 6 months old we went to NYC and it was a nightmare to go to restaurants, partly because he hadn’t started on solids and was very active. We went away with just our daughter (son at home with his grandparents) at the same age, but she’d started on solids and going to restaurants was so easy. We’d give her something to chew on and eat early. She’s also a calmer baby than he was. He’s slowly getting better at nearly 3 but if for eg there’s an issue (like on Sunday his food never actually arrived) it’s a nightmare, we mostly rely on their being a busy street so he can watch cars and buses go by.

    • Kelly says...

      I think no matter what the toddler years are just tough for eating out…this age is driven to be on the move and exploring and that is kind of at odds with a relaxing restaurant experience for parents!

      Agree that the kid’s personality matters – my older daughter is high strung and at about 5 she became lovely to eat out with…able to have conversations, keep herself busy with crayons, etc.

      My younger daughter is currently 2.5…dining out with her can be hit or miss (from ‘tolerable’ to ‘total trainwreck’) but i’m seeing glimmers of hope that perhaps in a year or so she will be better company for eating out.

    • Annie says...

      Our kids are 7 and 3 and we’ve taken both out to restaurants since they were infants. It’s not even something we thought about! I didn’t realize so many people don’t go out to eat for so many years. How do you do it?? Restaurant nights are our easy nights! We live in a city, so we walk to a restaurant for dinner usually once/week. We bring distractions (paper, pens, hot wheels, uno, spot it) in case the wait is long, but in general it’s just part of life. So my advice is to just do it, early and often! :-)

    • Inge says...

      We’ve started from 6 months on. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t. Go to low key places, where they have a corner for kids to play in, or there’s a lot of noise like a restaurant in a shopping mall, or to a really small restaurant. Order everything together, main course only. Go early, and make sure you are eating (not ordering) at your usual hour, so you have finished when they get tired. Usually this goes well. But when all else fails, having a digital puzzle for toddlers app on your mobile can be a lifesaver.

    • Sarah says...

      Karen-restaurants with a patio or sidewalk next to it are great for that age. Order food and if she gets bored, someone can walk with her for a while until food arrives. Then ply her with French fries while you scarf your food. We don’t go out to eat much with our kids but when we do, outdoor dining is our friend!

  105. Emily says...

    Tip really well, especially for places you go to frequently with the kids.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      definitely :) and also, i usually wipe up the table and sometimes underneath the table before we leave, since we always make more of a mess with kids than without kids! :)

  106. Jennie says...

    Jo your comment about the calm formal restaurant even extends to when you are hosting at home. If I am hosting a party and there is a “kids table”, I DO IT UP: tablecloth, linens, flowers, candles, carfare of milk they can pour themselves, basically whatever I am doing for the adults and the kids go nuts for it (I discovered this by accident). Then they amp up the good behavior all on their own! Plus, it’s adorable watching them use their best party manners.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s so, so sweet, jennie!

  107. Eliza says...

    In line with expanding palates, we mostly turned down the offer of a kids menu from the waitstaff. Our daughters would share dishes with us or order something to split off of the “adult” menu. By not offering them the kids menu, they wouldn’t immediately default to buttered noodles but instead they would consider a larger variety of food. Of course, this didn’t always hold true but we tried to do it most of the time. From a young age this led to more adventurous eating and allowed them to go with the flow regardless of what was being served. It also led to some pretty wonderful order. Such as one daughter who sweetly asked if she could have God’s poncho (gazpacho) from the waiter.

    • Julie says...

      Best comment :) God’s poncho makes me smile

    • Kelly says...

      i agree with this concept but the only bummer is that my kids generally can’t eat a full size entree and the kids menu prices are significantly cheaper, so it seems so wasteful to get the full entree! I wish more restaurants offered kids’ sizes of the regular entrees so the portion and price was more appropriate while encouraging more adventurous eating!

  108. Rae says...

    I agree with all of this advice, especially the counterintuitive part about quiet restaurants = quiet(er) kids. So true in my experience. My advice to add is have a grab and go activity bag. I have a little canvas pouch filled with mini notebooks, crayons (more than 4 colors), stickers, and washi tape. We have used the same pouch for years! It is a big help when the food takes its sweet time coming out.

    I’m so used to the 5 o’clock reservation that I just made reservations for dinner out with adult friends and made it for…5:30. By the time I called back they only had 8:30 available so we ate at 5:30. I guess we are all used to it!

  109. katie says...

    My nieces are vocal and love to feel grown up. They’ve ordered for themselves the moment they started talking. A few years ago while out to dinner for my parents 35th wedding anniversary, my niece, age 4, made the entire table laugh with delight. The waitress is walking around the table taking drink orders. It’s my niece’s turn and I’m sitting next to her.

    Niece: “I’ll have a Bloody Mary”
    Me: “Umm, I think you mean Shirley Temple?”
    Niece: “Yes, I’ll have a Shirley Temple”

    She’s a girl after my own heart.

  110. Sophia F. says...

    Love these tips. I’d also say, when they’re little (our ladies are three and five), the most important factor is how fast the food comes out after ordering. We try to pick restaurants that are efficient, and to order things that are relatively fast (my kids love sushi, which helps!), because the pre-food waiting is the hardest part.

  111. Amy P says...

    Priming them by asking one of the kids to remind everyone else of our “restaurant rules” before entering the restaurant seriously helps! Especially that they get to take turns reminding the family – when you have to “teach” someone else, it really cements it in your own brain and you feel more responsible for following through.

    • Amy says...

      Great tip!

    • Our major restaurant rule was: do you see anyone else in the restaurant doing [forbidden act]? If no, you can’t either. No one else is using their utensils as drumsticks? Playing hide-and-seek under the tablecloth? Singing at full, tuneless volume? Oh, man. I guess that’s out.

      (Note: this only works in restaurants that don’t have a bunch of little kids in them. But restaurants that DO have a bunch of little kids in them usually have seen it all before, so you can just tip really well, apologize to your server, and relax a bit.)

    • Such a clever tip!

  112. Sarah says...

    Whatever you do, do not fall victim to the server asking if you want to order the kids’ food first. We fell for this and quickly realized that the kids were done eating and spent long before we ever even got one bite in. Always, always have all your food come out at the same time.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes!!!!!!! TOTALLY agree!