Here is the answer you wanted… YES! A local store asked this question and I was quick to respond with an answer. I decided to elaborate with a full post on the topic!
The key to a perfectly lovely meal in public with your toddler is to set your child up for success in a restaurant environment.
Munchkin is 3 1/2 (how did this happen!) and she has only been removed (by us) from a restaurant one time (we found out the next day she was SUPER sick- double ear infections/bronchitis ugh!). I think it is VERY important to set your child up for success out in public. Set the boundaries early and you won’t have to do much to have a well behaved child in public. I have taken the girls a bunch by myself and they both behave well (most of the time!).
Here are my tips that have worked over the last almost 4 years!
Do Not Attempt a Meal when your Child is Tired
I don’t care how hungry everyone is… this is why some one invented the drive thru. No kiddo is going to happily sit through a meal if they are overtired. I would also NEVER attempt a full shopping trip at the grocery store when they are that tired either. This can happen at nap time or bedtime.
Do your best to get to the restaurant before you child believes he/she is starving!
Is your child actually starving.. no! But haven’t we all been there… believing there was no way the waitress was going to make it to our table before we ate our arms off! Now explain to a toddler who has limited verbal skills that the sweet guy or gal is doing their best to get the food out. We try and get to a restaurant around 11/11:30 or right around 5pm to avoid the busy times too.
See above… It is quite possible you have a starving child on your hands. Having your own provisions to avoid this is key. Cherrios, squeeze apple sauce, anything will do. This should give the waitress/waiter time to find some bread to entertain your kiddo for a minute or two!
Order your Kids Meals ASAP
We always order the girls’ meals with our drink order. This gives them a start on it in the kitchen. Also, tell the wait staff to please bring out their meals first!
Entertainment is Crucial to Success
You can’t expect idle chatter to entertain your toddler. Nor can you expect 3 crayons and paper menu to be the golden ticket. We had a bag of quiet toys that could be easily wiped clean ready to go in the car at all times. Some favorite toys are- puzzles, links with toys attached, color wonder markers, little plastic figurines (any character your kid likes), some little matchbox cars, extra crayons and paper , stickers, mini Slinkies, and some books. These toys may seem run of the mill but… they are special because they are only in the bag! A dollar store/bin is a great place to find most of these items. Let’s face it they will be near food and it is highly likely they will end up in ketchup. Plus, if you forget one at a restaurant it isn’t a huge deal.
Smart Phones, Tablets, and iPads OH MY!
I am going to start this by saying I have a smart phone and a tablet, Munchkin has an Innotab kid’s tablet. So I am in NO way against kids using technology! But there is a time and place for everything! I have had the occasional meal where things moved slower than molasses. However, a typical meal is on the table within 15-20 Minutes. So if you pack a bag of toys there should be plenty for your kiddo to stay occupied during the wait time. Munchkin rarely gets to use my phone. However, she enjoys a puzzle app and some matching games from time to time. This usually happens when I am finishing up a conversation or my meal. She doesn’t watch movies on it because I want her to be part of the family… kids should be able to talk and communicate during the meals too!
What do I do if all of the above fails…
Nothing is fool proof… there I said it! Now before you start mumbling “I thought she said we could have a successful meal out with our toddler”… give me a second to explain. There will be a time or two your child will test you… even if you have set him/her up for success. This is when you provide the Exit Strategy. Yup I said it… EXIT! There is no point tainting someone else’s dining experience. Let’s be honest you aren’t enjoying your food either if your kiddo is acting this way.
The way I see it… You have two options:
1. Get everyone’s food to go. If you are with your spouse/or a friend remove the child, while boxes are packaged and the bill is paid. You will feel much less stressed eating your burger reheated at home instead of fighting off glares from the booth next to you.
2. This works great if you have multiple children… Have one parent take the offending child to the car. They can eat there. While the other parent is in the restaurant with the other children. Now my parents did this with us when we were little (I ate in the car at Friendly’s and my sister had to at the Coach Diner- Left a LASTING impression on me over 20 years later I can vividly remember it!). My parents then rewarded the behaving child with a dessert! They didn’t say you earned this… but guess what?!? When we got into the car we were soo excited to share. Made the other sibling think twice about misbehaving in the restaurant. Never know what you are going to miss out on… when you are eating in the car!
What are some of your tips or tricks for eating out at a restaurant with kids?