- Talk about the restaurant in advance: The world is a playground to young children, and a restaurant is no different. Even if your child is not very verbal yet, it’s still a good idea to talk to your little one ahead of time and set some expectations. You want to let your child know you’ll be eating out, and explain what behaviors are okay and which ones are not. Toddlers simply won’t know what’s socially acceptable at a restaurant without some guidance!
- Go to restaurants at off-peak times: If you can, try to go to a restaurant before or after the usual busy times. If you do, you’ll often get your meal faster and your child won’t have to wait as long!
- Bring a quiet activity: Children are busy by nature, so bring something for your toddler to do. Many toddlers lose interest in the coloring activity page a restaurant may offer for small children. Bring something quiet and hands on for your toddler to do while waiting to eat. Check out this page on making clingy sticks. Once done, these sticks are a perfect activity at a restaurant. Also, see our page on adding a suction cup to a book. This is especially helpful if your tot is prone to throw things at restaurants!
- Sit in a booth: This is particularly helpful for a “terrible twos” tot who does not want to sit in the highchair. A booth provides a little space for the child to stretch and wiggle a little without disturbing other restaurant patrons. If your little one hates the highchair but still needs it, try waiting until the food comes before seating your child in it.
- Place your toddler’s food order with the drink order: By doing this, your tot won’t have to wait so long before eating. This can be helpful if s/he is a slow eater. You may not want to do this if your toddler eats quickly and will just end up restless before your food order comes.
- Ask for the check to come with the food: It’s hard to keep a toddler happy and calm if s/he has already sat for quite some time to wait for dinner and eat dinner. Avoid making your child wait again as the restaurant staff brings the check and you pay by asking for the check with your food. Then pay before you are finished eating. When your group is done eating you can simply leave.
- Play “I Spy” the Toddler Way: Most restaurants have neat decor. Take the time to point out some of the interesting things at the restaurant to your tot. You can also take this time to look for certain colors, shapes, or letters in the restaurant. After showing your tot something fun, ask your toddler what he or she sees! Young children love showing mom or dad something new!
- Include Your Child in the Conversation: What parent doesn’t love getting the chance to eat out and enjoy some adult conversation? Toddlers love being a part of the conversation too! Try to include your little one in parts of the conversation as much as you can. This will keep your toddler’s attention, and you’ll find that you can enjoy your meal better because you won’t have to be constantly reminding your little one about appropriate behavior.
- Take a Break: If all else fails, and your toddler is throwing a temper tantrum, take your toddler somewhere calm like the restaurant’s restroom or outside for a little walk. Stay calm yourself, and help your toddler work through it, then come back to finish up. Praise your toddler when he/she finally calms down, and tranquilly remind your toddler of your expectations while eating out.
Eating out with your toddler at a restaurant doesn’t have to be a nightmare! By following some of these tip and tricks, dining out with your toddler can be a much more fun and enjoyable experience for everyone!