I recently saw news coverage of a restaurant owner in Pennsylvania who banned children younger than six from his restaurant. Apparently, he was fed up with unruly toddlers disturbing the peace of his customers who were dining sans kiddos.
As a mother of two-year-old twins who enjoys the occasional childless dinner, I could argue both sides of this issue. I’ll admit the last thing I want to do when I’m out on a rare adults-only date with my husband is sit next to the family whose toddler is wreaking havoc on the restaurant. That’s what I’m trying to escape, hence the date.
But, most of the time, I’m sitting at the table everyone is avoiding. They get one glimpse of my two toddlers and whisper to the hostess to not sit them within 10 feet of our table.
It doesn’t have to be that way. I eat out with my children all the time and, more times than not, we finish the meal and leave with our dignity intact. At least I think we do. Or, are all of those whispering diners talking about how disgusting it is watching Nathan dip his French fries into his yogurt followed by his ketchup? Are they appalled at Caden licking the last bit of queso from the bowl and it somehow ending up in his hair? Perhaps I’ll never know. (That’s code for I don’t want to know!)
I love eating out, even with my two toddlers in tow, so I’ve developed some strategies for avoiding dining disasters. If you’re brave, pack up the kids, head to your favorite restaurant and give them a try.
- Never take tired, cranky tots to a restaurant. When we go out as a family, we never do it during nap time or close to bed time. Taking tired kids out to eat is a recipe for disaster.
- Pack lots of snacks like crackers, fruit cups, etc. This keeps a hungry kid from total meltdown while you wait for your food. I also take what I call our “DEFCON 1” snack. It’s that special treat that will make your toddler stand at attention even when, as the Joint Chiefs of Staff put it, “war is imminent.” For my two toddlers, it’s those candied coated chocolate morsels they like to call “emmies.” I admit this borders on bribery, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
- Most family friendly restaurants give kids crayons and a coloring page, which is a great way to keep their little hands busy. Take a few small toys like matchbox cars your little tike can entertain himself with at the table while waiting for everyone to finish. I don’t have girls, but if I did I would probably bring good old Barbie. Is she still cool?
- Speaking of family friendly restaurants, not every dining establishment is appropriate for children, and that’s okay. If it doesn’t have a kid’s menu, it’s probably not a good place for eating out on family fun night.
- Be consistent with meal-time rules. Practice them at home so that it won’t be a new concept when you get to the restaurant.
- Tip really well. Toddlers are messy. The nice thing about eating out is you don’t have to clean up the mess, so give a good tip to those who do and you’ll be welcomed back time and time again.
Ashley Antle spends her days managing the adventures of her two-year-old twin boys Nathan and Caden, and feels blessed to have the constant support of her husband Sean.