Eating Out with Kids: Survival Strategies

~By Amy Wruble, Carriage Before Marriage

Every time my daughter and I go out to eat, we leave behind a disaster area. I haven’t had the balls to photograph the crime scene yet, mostly because I’m too busy running out the door while shielding my face, so just imagine if the food fight in Animal House took place in a landfill.

What can I say? Viv’s a generous girl. She shares her food. With the floor. And not just the floor beneath her high chair. The girl’s got an arm. If the shot put was a food, Viv could totally be a decathlete.

The other day, we met a friend and her 3-year-old daughter for lunch. I chose a restaurant that provides crayons, a sure sign of family friendliness. And we went at 11:00 a.m., well before the rush. But that didn’t stop a mean old biddy at the next table from giving us the stink eye the whole time. I don’t know which was dirtier, the looks she gave me or my child’s eat-by-numbers face.

I was annoyed. Lady, do you really not remember what it was like having small children? Were you not a baby once yourself? Yes, I’m sure you wanted to sip your hot water with lemon in peace, but when you choose a place that has chicken nuggets on the menu, aren’t you kind of asking for it?

OK, so we’re a little disruptive and sure, Viv and I could eat all our meals at home, but that would be so boring and labor intensive. While dining out with a toddler will never be neat and tidy, I believe it can still be a pleasant experience. You just have to plan ahead a little. Here’s what (usually) works for me:

Food First – Memorize the kids menu and order the moment you walk in the door. It’s like you’re trying to score a dimebag off the busboy, only the dimebag is macaroni and cheese.

Bring Snacks – I know, bringing snacks to a restaurant is like bringing a teen babysitter to grandma’s house: inferior and redundant. But there’s a lot of waiting time in restaurants (that’s why they have waiters) and your toddler should never have a mouth empty enough for screaming.

Dine Al Fresco – Given the choice, sit outside. Not only is it less offensive to leave clumps of food all over the sidewalk, but chances are the birds, squirrels, and dogs will help you clean up.

PDA (Public Display of Awesomeness) – Since you can’t always control the mess or the shrieking, be sure to make a big show of being an otherwise awesome mom. Don’t be shy – teach that kid the words for all the foods he’s eating (preferably in English, Spanish, and Mandarin) and if there’s time, work on state capitals. Hostile diners will have no choice but to give you their begrudging respect.

Date Down – Whenever possible, dine with another child who is younger and more difficult so that your child looks good by comparison. Trust me, my friend’s 3-year-old was the Queen of England compared to my babe.

Tip Well – Nothing says “I’m sorry we were so gross and we really appreciate you not throwing us out” like a nice fat tip. Think 10% above the norm. If we all do it, we can retrain the wait staff of America to be super excited to see us coming with our loud, messy kids.

So there you have it, my Rules O’ the Restaurant. Please tell me yours!

Amy Wruble is a freelance writer and mom to a delicious toddler. She has written for Babytalk, Parenting Early Years, The Huffington Post, What to Expect, and Yahoo. Her blog, Carriage Before Marriage, was named a 2012 Top 25 Funny Mom Blog by Circle of Moms.

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