You might not want to give up eating out now that you have children, but you don't want to spend an hour or more in misery or on pins-and-needles over your child's behavior, either. The easiest way to have a decent time eating out with children is to choose your restaurants wisely. That doesn't mean limiting yourself to fast food or restaurants with plastic booths for the next few years; children can learn to behave in restaurants, if you help them a little.
Restaurants that sound more like libraries aren't the best choice for babies and children, who are naturally quite loud. Pick a restaurant that has a noise level that will render your child less noticeable. Noisier restaurants also often have more going on, like flambeing dishes at the table and other exciting events that might hold your child's attention for longer. An open kitchen -- with flames rising to the ceiling -- can also wow your child and help keep him occupied during dinner.
Most restaurants offer at least some type of child menu. If they don't, your little one will have to brown-bag it or you'll have to share your food with him, which might limit your food choices. If the restaurant doesn't offer a kid's meal, stick to simple dishes that they can cook quickly. Sometimes it's better to order off the appetizer menu for children; the food tends to be more kid friendly, it's often bite-sized, it's cheaper and it comes out first.
Speedy doesn't have to mean instantaneously delivery of your meal in a bag. Speedy does mean that your meal won't last more than an hour from start to finish. Expecting a baby or small child to sit still in a restaurant for longer than that is asking for trouble. Going to a popular restaurant early helps ensure that you'll get a seat without waiting; any time spent in the restaurant, even if it's standing at the fish tank, decreases the amount of time your child will stay in his seat without a meltdown.Order immediately; don't let the waiter leave the table after getting your drink order or you might not see him for another 15 minutes.
Most fine dining establishments don't offer paper placemats with a limited set of crayons -- three is about average -- but many family-type restaurants do, which makes them a good choice for children. Your child will be more excited about going back to a restaurant that offered him something to do than one that gave him little choice beyond sitting in his chair with his hands folded. If the restaurant doesn't supply drawing material or other attention-holders, bring your own -- but don't let him draw on the tablecloth.
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