Eating out with Young Children
It's a very British thing that we feel self conscious and uncomfortable eating out in restaurants with our children. In central Europe attitudes towards children in restaurants has always been laissez faire with a greater acceptance of young children in this environment. This may be why many Italian and French restaurants I have taken my children to have been more welcoming and accommodating than some typically English establishments.
If you are the kind of person who enjoys eating out, then you really should not let it stop just because you have a child. We started taking our first child to restaurants from birth and in doing so he is very good at sitting quietly even though he is the kind of child who likes to be moving all the time.
Here are some tips to help dining out a more enjoyable and relaxing experience -
1. Avoid Long Waits
Avoid restaurants where you know there is a long wait for your meal.
2. Be Prepared for Unexpected Waits
Go prepared with some healthy snacks, in case there is a wait. They will stop your child from becoming too hungry.
3. Go When Your Children Are Likely to be Hungry
Go early; don't wait until your child is really hungry. I have found sometimes that by the time the meal arrives they are passed eating.
4. Prevent Boredom
Take quiet toys and/or books to keep them occupied whilst waiting.
5. Buffet Style Restaurants Work Well
Often buffet style restaurants are better as the food is ready and therefore no waiting.
6. Make Your Visit Short and Sweet
Think about your child and how long they might be able to sit for. Perhaps at first, don't order starters in addition to a main meal as you may find this is just too long, and you might end up having to leave before finishing your meal.
7. Consider Eating Outside
Restaurants where you can eat outside or where children are able to play close to you while waiting will make the experience more enjoyable and relaxing.
8. High Chairs Can Help
Even if your child is at an age where they can manage in an adult seat, don't be shy about asking for a high chair. They are difficult for your child to get out of and so make your job of keeping them sat still with you much easier.
9. Check Before You Go
Sometimes it is good to mention you are bringing children when ringing the restaurant. You can check they have a high chair and they will be better prepared for you. Perhaps selecting you an appropriate table. If they don't have any high chairs take your own.
10. Get Toilet Trips Out The Way
When dining alone with my children I have found it much easier to take my child to the toilet before getting settled in the restaurant, as he will always want to go as soon as the meal arrives.
11. Avoid Possible Tantrum Times
Probably goes without saying but try to avoid times when your child is very tired, poorly or really hungry as tantrums are more likely.
12. Plan Ahead
Plan ahead as much as possible and think about places that are not too busy and you can tuck the pram/pushchair somewhere out of the way if you have one.
13. Ask for Child Sized Portions
Some restaurants will serve child size portions of adult meals if there is nothing on the children's menu you like. Italian restaurants seem to be good for this.
14. Set a Good Example
If you want your child to eat healthily and not have chips for instance, don't order them for yourself as they will only want to eat yours and not eat their own meal.
15. Take Your Own Cutlery
It is a good idea to take along children's cutlery as not many restaurants have this. Also take your own bowl to decanter piping hot food into so it cools quicker and you can keep the hot dish/plate away from your child.
16. Find Favourite Restaurants
You will have your favourite restaurant(s) and I have found this really helps as it becomes familiar to your child. My son is only three, but he knows exactly what he likes from the menu at our local branch of Prezzo. He also really enjoys talking to the waiting staff.
17. Help Them to Behave Well
As your child grows talk to them about table manners and how they should behave in a restaurant. For instance no shouting, and no running around in the restaurant as this interferes with other diners. Encourage them to order for themselves saying "please" and "thank you". This also endears your children to the waiting staff!
18. A Bit of Noise is O.K.
If your children are making a bit of noise remember that this is OK, they are children and they don't have to be completely silent. Remember they have a right to be there as much as anyone else. If people are looking at you, they are probably not thinking what you think they are thinking. They are probably being amazed by your wonderful parenting skills, educating your young children how to eat out.
19. Keep Calm and Relaxed
Stay calm and relaxed and then your children are more likely to be relaxed and well behaved.
20. Recommended Places to Eat
I live on the South Coast and in my experience I can highly recommend the following restaurants for their warm welcome, and excellent accommodation of children:
Prezzo. Italian. Romsey, Hampshire 01794 517353 (This is a chain and I have found all Prezzo restaurants excellent).
La Parisienne. French. Romsey, Hampshire 01794 512067
"Place to Eat" John Lewis. Various Buffet style. West Quay, Southampton, Hampshire