Pre-child, eating out can be a relaxing experience, with people available to wait on you and cater to your every whim. Post-child, dining at restaurants can often be an exercise in frustration and disappointment. There are ways to survive eating at restaurants with preschoolers, however, and taking time to be prepared with help considerably, both in terms of saving your own sanity and keeping your fellow diners happy.
First of all, it will make your life easier if you choose a restaurant that is known for being family-friendly. If you choose a restaurant that is usually very quiet, the other patrons will quickly become annoyed. If you select a restaurant that is known for its ambiance and service, the staff may become irritated with children who are throwing themselves on the floor or pounding their silverware on the table. If you are not sure of a restaurant’s child-friendliness, call and ask if they have a kids’ menu, as this is usually a good measure of how much they’re willing to accommodate young children. Many restaurants make their menus, including kids’ menus, available online, so you can check and see if the restaurant offers anything that your child will be happy with.
When eating at restaurants with a preschooler, choosing buffet style restaurants will help you and your children in a number of ways. This gives young children more of an excuse to get up and walk around with a parent if they simply cannot sit still any longer. Buffets are also good for parents who aren’t totally sure what their children will eat, as they can serve small portions of various items and go back for more later. The variety might also be fun for your young child, as they tend to have a short attention span for most things, including food. If a buffet is not an option, order your child’s food first. Making sure that your hungry child is fed will help you make sure you get to eat.
Making clear guidelines for your children’s behavior will also help greatly when it comes to eating out. While preschoolers are very often unpredictable, it can help to talk through what you expect. Parents can pretend their kitchen or dining room is a restaurant and help them practice being on their best public behavior. Teach them to use “please” and “thank you,” indoor voices, and how to appropriately use utensils if possible. Remind them that they are not to throw food on the ground or yell, but to calmly ask for something if they need it. Young children will have various levels of success in this, but the earlier you start getting them used to these expectations – while keeping them age-appropriate and understanding that children have a lot of energy at most times. Don’t forget to let your child know where you are going for your meal, what foods they will have to chose from and what your expectations are before arriving at the restaurant. When children know what to expect, they can better react to any situation.
Another tip that parents find very helpful is to come prepared to any restaurant outing. Small yoys, activities, coloring books (some restaurants will provide coloring books and crayons to children), books, or stuffed animals can all help children survive a restaurant trip without embarrassing their parents. If your preschoolers have favorite utensils or still need bibs, these are also good things to bring along, as simply using a familiar fork can often prevent a serious meltdown.