How to Survive a Restaraunt with Your Kids

by MyDadBlog on March 28, 2009

in Advice

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One of the rites of passage for new parents is the dreaded restaurant outing with the kids.  We have a two boys, 2 and 4, who range from arch enemies to best friends in eternal silliness, neither of which bodes well for the dining experience.  While they’re not perfect angels now, the scowls and nasty looks from other adults who either never had children or have conveniently blocked that part of their life from their memory have declined dramatically.  I’m amazed that even in a Friendly’s or a Friday’s where it’s pretty loud and meant to be family-friendly, you have these old codgers who stare you down with each noise from the table.  It’s not a 4-star French cuisine and it’s pretty annoying that they treat it as such, but I digress…  At 1, each of our kids used to be into screaming.  Granted, it’s pretty annoying, but when they go through that phase, there’s limited recourse and we eventually learned a few tricks to divert their attention and keep them in line.  Now, as you read this, you may think “These parents just don’t have control of their kids”.  To that, I’d say, “Don’t judge”.  We both pretty strict disciplinarians on the things that are important to us – respect for others, empathy for animals and other people, listening to the teacher, etc.  Also, each kid’s different, and regardless of what you learn about “gender-equality” in HR training, as kids, boys and girls are 180 degrees different at young ages – whole different article on that topic.


We think about which restaurants have long waits, optimal times to go and plan other activities around that.  For instance, with a 1 hour wait expected at Cheesecake Factory virtually any time you go (Recession?  What Recession?), we’ll go put our names in first, then head elsewhere in the mall, pick up whatever we have to, let the kids go on a ride or whatever and come back.  Sitting around waiting for an hour for a table with small children is asking for trouble.  We also find which restaurants take call-ahead seating.  As far as keeping the little one from climbing around on seats and bothering other diners (and us!), we use the high chair for him.  Early on, he’d start screaming and yelling when we put him in since he sees his big brother with more freedom.  Now, we prep him in advance, tell him in the car, “He gets to sit in the big chair”, etc., so it’s not a surprise to him and he thinks it’s a good thing rather than a punishment.

Bring the Right Toys

We don’t just walk into a restaurant now and expect a pleasant experience.  We pack plenty of toys, things to draw and color with, convenient small diversions and more, into a small bag and bring it with us. The sheet of paper and box of 4 crayons most places provide upon entry is insufficient, at least for our children.  We focus on what our kids are into at the moment.  For the 2 year old, there’s a pop-up matchbox car set with little ramps, a car wash, etc.  With just that little box and a few cars, the first 10 minutes spent waiting for drinks/orders are much less painful than they used to be.  Our 4 year old is real into coloring these intricate designs.  The pages come with hundreds of sections of overlapping shapes and he needs to color each section separately, so 1 sheet lasts him hours with colored pencils.


Of course, you can always hold the threat of “No Dessert” over their heads.  The caveat is that with a threat, there needs to be follow-through.  Many parents lack the conviction to follow through on threats, as do we occasionally.  If you do this often though, your children figure it out rather quickly and you lose that tool.  We have walked out of restaurants, friends’ houses, and other venues more than once when the older one didn’t take us seriously.

What Tools and Tips do You Employ for Enjoying a Dining Experience?

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