Restaurant Essentials for Kids

Dad Life! Four Ways to Improve your Restaurant Experience

Curt here. I’m the token guest blogger who gets to talk about DAD LIFE.

When your kids are less than five years old, going out to eat is a nightmare. Your sanity and your pocketbook suffer. Restaurants often become a broken record of “Stop doing that,” “Put that down” and “Get down from there!” Plus, I’m the type of parent who lets their kid wander around the restaurant uninhibited. Which means I also get a lot of “That’s a terrible parent” looks.

Going out to eat is inevitable though. It’s often the only way you get to hang out with your non-parent friends and to see extended family. For parties and celebrations, eating out is in your future and you will find yourself dragging your kids to a restaurant and dreading the mere thought of it.

Here’s a few ideas we’ve embraced that have made our restaurant experience less dreadful.

1) Order food, then take the kids outside

No shame: I usually find the back-parking lot area (or the delivery entrance) and let my kids run wild. There is no way I’m going to try to keep their attention on crayons and a placemat for twenty minutes until the food arrives. Two-year-olds are more interested in eating the crayons than drawing with them. Plus, there is a direct relationship to the amount of time a toddler is sitting in front of a glass of water and the chance of that water being spilled.

I, the dad, usually take the burden of ushering the kids to a “safe enough,” somewhat open area for them to run around in. When the food arrives, my wife texts me and I usher them back in to eat. It at least alleviates the pre-meal drama.

2) Bring something else to do

Crayons and a placemat are nice for kids with the finger control, but are worthless on three and younger. For an eighteen-month-old who still thinks every corner brings a whole new world, good luck keeping her strapped into a high chair for twenty minutes. After several iterations and experimenting with various toys, we have settled on the best toys to bring to a restaurant. They have to be easy to carry in and out, easy to clean up and nothing we’re attached to. The solution: A couple of matchbox cars and washi tape. That’s it!

Essentials Restaurant Bag for Kids
Essentials Restaurant Bag for Kids

Why the washi tape? So, they can build roads on the restaurant table! It’s great! Not only do they spend time building the roads with the cool thing they only get at restaurants, but when their attention wanes, they can drive on the roads they built. And then go back to building more roads, and then more driving. Round and round they go… it’s glorious. The fun usually lasts just long enough to order food, which is when we step outside for running around (see tip #1).

This cleanup is easy. Washi tape comes off without leaving a residue and if they built their roads consecutively you start at the beginning and all the individual pieces come up together. Don’t leave the tape for your server. Your kids left a big enough mess under the table. 

Essentials Restaurant Bag for Kids
Essentials Restaurant Bag for Kids

3) Move the condiments

If you have little kids, you’ll know restaurants have all the things that are on a top shelf in your kitchen made accessible to your kids’ ten-inch-long arms: salt, pepper, creamer, sugar, ketchup, napkins, silverware (knives)…

I have never asked a waitress if this is ok, but I’ve never been corrected for it. I move the entire condiments contraption to another table, or I kindly ask the waitress to take it away from us. I don’t care whose kids they are: any child between 1 and 3 will grab for those items and create a catastrophe that only increases your pity tip! Just remove them from the picture, and you don’t have to worry about it anymore.

4) Bring in the baby wipes

It must be a cost-saving move, but restaurants never seem to offer those alcohol wipes. They usually have them, but they’re never offered, no matter how disastrous your kids turn out after dinner. I’ve always been given some if I ask, but 1) I hate asking and 2) holding my kid at arms-length until I can flag down a waitress and wait for them to return with the wipes which could be seconds or minutes or lots of minutes isn’t pleasant.

You have baby wipes if you have small children – use them! My wife has a backpack that functions as our everything-kids-need bag. It goes everywhere with us, especially into restaurants! Sometimes, my wife just pre-stages the wipes on the table before the meal starts. We know we’re going to need them.

However, I do tend to ask the waitress for extra napkins when we order our food, because wipes don’t work well with spilled fluids. Bring in the baby wipes and ask for extra napkins.

Maybe you’re a mom reading these tips, great! I hope they’re helpful, and you make them work!

If you’re a dad, take the initiative on these tips. Going out, even with kids, is always a chance to treat your wife. You should strive for it to be enjoyable for her first, which is why I usually take the burden of relieving her of the kids until the food comes! If you can make less stress for her, then you will be, too. Happy wife…

Essentials Restaurant Bag for Kids. Dad Life!
Essentials Restaurant Bag for Kids

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