Your blissfully child-free friends looked upon you with pity when you told them that you were expecting. “I guess you won’t be going out to dinner anymore” was a popular phrase that was echoed once you told them the news of your expanding family.
As a matter of fact, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that your life as you knew it would ride off into the sunset, never to be seen again. Apparently dining out and small children are mutually exclusive. Wait, let me rephrase that–one can dine out, but there is a certain calibre of restaurant... um... how shall we say... a “family” restaurant that one seems to be relegated to once they have kids.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. As a parent of young-uns, there is a quiet comfort in knowing that your child’s screaming fit or similar meltdown will be tolerated — even accepted, in some instances — by the other restaurant patrons, almost all of whom are in the same parental trenches as yourself. What's that old saying? That there's safety in numbers? Or perhaps misery loves company? This is fine and dandy if we're talking about eating establishments that are geared towards families. You know the ones–they often have oversized mascots who entertain the children while eating and... can we say “buffet?”
If you’re like myself, you love food. The food that I love extends well beyond the realm of these types of restaurants or the usual child-friendly fare that's made at home, consisting mainly of chicken fingers, pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches. Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s nice to have a real meal — one that doesn’t consist of carbs soaked in butter (read plain pasta without “stuff” on it) or apple juice. Every so often you may want to go to a restaurant where none of the entrees include “orange” cheese or "nuggets" of any kind.
To that end, following is a list of tips for parents who dare to venture into uncharted and sometimes hostile territories.
Bring whatever you need to to soothe the savage beast. That could be a favourite blanket, a stuffed animal, a special toy, or my personal fave — candy to be used as bribes! Whatever it takes to keep them quiet while you enjoy that gourmet dish that you’ve been craving.
Feed ‘Em First
I’m not kidding. Really, feed them something before you get to the restaurant. Most of us parents know that young kids have a penchant for not liking practically everything that is put before them, and complaining about it when you try to get them to eat. In the worst case scenarios, the meltdowns occur, with full-out tantrums and screaming fits being experienced by not only your family, but the whole restaurant. You will not be looked upon positively in these situations, so spare yourself and feed Johnny before you step out on the town. You can always get them a dessert or something when you’re there, if they start acting up and demanding food.
Be a Family of Early Birds
Go early. You will have less traffic in the restaurant, more attention from the staff, and less of an opportunity to annoy a large group of people. If you can coordinate an early evening dinner or early lunch, do so and you will feel a lot less stressed.
Bribery, Negotiation and (Sometimes) Threats
I wrote about these tactics before. I use them often. I use them in restaurants. You should too.
Plan Your Getaway
Similar to when travelling on an aeroplane, you should always know the locations of the emergency exits. Having small children and red wine in very close proximity may necessitate an emergency exit. Accordingly, plan your course of action and hope, like being on a plane, that you won’t have to use it. But be assured that you can if you have to. And quickly.
Can you say iPhone? OK, how about any similar device that will keep your kids occupied and rapt while you dine in peace? I’m all about TV-watching (or smart-phone watching in this case) if it will keep the kids quiet for a little while. Load up some of little Johnny’s favourite programs on your device and make sure the battery is charged.
Whether you're going with your child’s father, your mother, a favourite aunt, or close friend, you should use the “team” philosophy and plan ahead what the play-by-play strategy should be. Huddle before the big event, make a game plan, delegate who’s doing what, and be ready to rumble…if need be (the rumbling might be with a three-year-old, mind you, but be ready nonetheless).
Wait Staff Allies
Be very friendly with your wait staff. Very friendly. They can be your allies or your adversaries while you attempt to have a bit of a life by eating at a decent restaurant. They may even help you entertain your kids — your choice. You set the tone as soon as you get there, so you might as well make it a positive one since you’ve taken the jump and brought along the family. Oh, and be prepared to leave a very substantial tip — one that will compensate for the crème brûlée that’s ground into the floor.
Bring Restraints Seating
If your kids are small enough, do not forget the stroller or booster seat. When the going gets tough, the tough sit down... and make their kids sit down as well.
Ask for your bill as soon as you order. That way, if you have to make a speedy escape (see tip #5), you can do so more quickly.
So, you see, dining out with kids can be done. You just need a clear plan of action and a few deep breaths to get you on your way.
How to Dine Out With Kids [Multiple Mayhem Mama]
Samantha Kemp-Jackson is a writer, blogger and mother of four, including identical twin boys. Located in Toronto, Canada, she chronicles the inanities of parenting through her humorous blog, www.MultipleMayhemMamma.com, where she also provides simple and easy to follow tips and advice for parents.