As a parent, do you ever wonder if there’s life after kids when it comes to dining out? Have you vowed never to set foot in another chain restaurant, especially the kind that provides toys with their meals, as long as you live? Granted, there can be a bit of trepidation when it comes to taking children to restaurants that cater to adults. And true, the issue of whether it is appropriate to take young kids out to eat at “nice” establishments has been a long and heated debate, with staunch supporters on both sides of the camp. But when families demonstrate respect and common courtesy to restaurateurs, food service employees and fellow patrons, it goes a long way towards repairing the oft portrayed image of self-indulgent parents who wine and dine the night away oblivious of their children, armed with sippy cups and drippy noses, running amuck.
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By Dina Brooks
The issue of whether it’s appropriate to take young kids out to eat, especially at “nice” restaurants, is up to debate. But when families show respect to restaurant staff and fellow diners, they help repair the image of self-indulgent parents who wine and dine while their children run amuck. Here are 10 simple tips to help you get your pre-kid dining groove back.
A seemingly never-ending wait to be seated can turn your chipper child into a whining, inconsolable mess. When you call, it's a good time to mention that you’ll need a high chair or booster seat if available. Many restaurants only have a few of them on hand, so they might agree to hold one for you.
Look for Special Deals
Plenty of restaurants run promotions where kids eat for free or nearly free on designated days and times. Not only does that put a dent in the bill, but it usually means other kids will be present, and you won’t be the only one bringing kids to the party. Always call ahead to verify that the deal is still in effect.
Order à la Carte
Oftentimes, individual items or side dishes are substantial enough to satiate your little foodie. Some restaurants will do half portions too; it doesn’t hurt to ask. If you like to dine out on a regular basis, these choices can add up to significant savings. And smaller meals can be crucial if you teach your kid to always finish what’s on his plate.
If you go before a restaurant’s peak hours, you can get in and out with minimal fuss and maximum attention from the kitchen and wait staff. This can also be a cost saver, as some restaurants offer early bird specials and bargain bites during happy hour.
Play it Safe
Kids don’t become adventurous eaters overnight. If he springs for spring rolls or clamors for clams, that’s great. But if he typically doesn’t eat a certain food at home, he won’t eat it just because he’s in a restaurant. Take baby steps with new items. For example, if he likes spaghetti with French bread, suggest Bolognese pasta with garlic bread.
If you’re bringing more than one child, at least in the early stages of dining out, keep them separate, with an adult between them. This reduces chances of your little guests being silly or picking a fight with one another.
Let Your Kid Order
Preschoolers are old enough to do this with a little coaching. This will give your child a sense of independence as well as a vested interest in the food he’s chosen. Plus, he will reap the added benefit of learning how to communicate what he wants in a clear, poised manner.
While this may be considered a faux pas, it can be the saving grace during long wait times, or if dishes fail to please the palate. Instead of having to drop everything and get the bill before your meal is half-eaten, buy yourself some time by bringing portable foods like raisins, granola bars, popcorn, string cheese and crackers.
Leave Toys at Home
Some parents supply quiet toys to keep kids entertained, and for young children that is okay. But once your pride and joy reaches preschool, steer clear of this habit. The major reason, apart from being cumbersome to tote around, is that kids come to expect these diversions. The one time you forget, your toy aficionado will be out of sorts and you will have a hard time finding other diversions to make him happy.
Pass the Time
Instead of bringing toys, find fun ways to pass the time using what’s right on the table. Have your little one count sugar packets and arrange them into shapes. Or, tear a paper napkin into pieces and have him pick them up with a utensil and put them in a pile without dropping them. Of course, collect and dispose of all the pieces once the game is over. For older kids, learn a couple of simple restaurant-style folds for linen napkins and show him how to create pretty table displays.
When it comes to taking kids to a nice night out, the rewards are worth the risks. It’s a chance for your child to conduct himself with proper etiquette, feel comfortable in adult settings and gain appreciation for a wider variety of foods. Bon appétit!
If your young foodie is inspired get in the kitchen himself, start off with these yummy homemade snacks.