There’s something special about eating out. For one, food always seems to taste better when I don’t make it – perhaps it is the surprise factor, or maybe the fact that I didn’t see everything that went into it. Whatever it is, we like to eat out on occasion and we also like to bring the kids. Now, bringing four children into a restaurant setting seems a little crazy, and there have definitely been moments when we have seriously questioned our judgment, but on the whole it is a practice that we enjoy and savour… in spite of the craziness.
I’m a person who cares what people think. I’m constantly looking at the behaviour of my children in public and trying to make sure we are not being obnoxious or interrupting the enjoyment of those around us. Sometimes this hyper-vigilance can interfere with the overall mood of the outing, but on the whole it has helped me to develop strategies to make the experience go as smoothly as possible.
Here are my tips for eating out with kids in the least painful way possible:
1. Practice makes Perfect (or at least Possible)
Whether it is just at the dinner table every evening, or whether you venture out to places like the food court or our particular favourite – IKEA, there are always opportunities to practice the realities of what eating at a restaurant entails. This is totally not a sponsored post, but IKEA is a great place to practice the basics like staying in seats, choosing meals and using table manners without the killer problem of having to wait for food to arrive. Plus IKEA breakfasts are incredibly affordable – our entire family can have a sizeable hot breakfast for under $25. Always a winner. If ever I get the opportunity to take out a kid one on one, I use the opportunity to speak to them about etiquette and good manners. Gradually it seems to be seeping in.
2. Order Less Than You Think
We have made the mistake in the past of ordering a meal per child. It almost always ends up being wasted as the kids end up being too distracted to properly enjoy the food because there are so many interesting things to watch instead. I’m sure as they grow up we will need to adjust this one, but for now, ordering a couple of options and sharing between them works a treat. As a bonus, you are less likely to get frustrated at them when you feel like you have just paid all this money for food that they were never going to eat anyway. You can always order more if they polish off the plate.
3. Bring activities
It doesn’t have to be an iPad (though hey, that always helps!), but having games or colouring books does seem to make a big difference in passing that difficult window of time that feels like forever to an energetic kid (and the increasingly agitated adult). We have also chosen places that either have a playroom inside or a playground nearby so that one of the adults can take the troops to burn off energy and spend the time well, instead of just being hissed at to stay quietly in their seats.
4. Know When to Call it
Let’s be honest. This isn’t always going to go well. Even the best laid plans can go seriously awry if the kids are bouncing off the walls, overtired or bored. On our recent trip to Sorrento we ended up walking out from Morgan’s Beach Shack before ordering because it just wasn’t working. We had attempted to seize the stunning day by going out for ice-cream when it all fell apart due to a stressful toilet incident and constant attempts by Hudson to rearrange the outdoor furniture. I have an inkling that the frustration we felt at the foiled experience was far less than it would have been had we attempted to grit our teeth and do it anyway.
5. Make it Quick (or Takeaway)
Time is a premium when you bring kids into a setting like a restaurant, and stretching out the experience is almost always guaranteed to bite you. If you can, figure out your order in advance or maybe go for a takeaway phone order that you take to the playground instead. We did this at the House of Burgers in Berwick over the weekend and it worked so well – a drive by jumping out of the car and we had the food in hand ready to go and enjoy at a picnic table nearby.
6. Laugh instead of Cry
I’m not great at this one yet… When it all goes awry I am far more likely to crack it or hiss sternly at the culprit under my breath, but the times when we have chosen humour have been far more enjoyable. Things will go wrong – flying elbows will clumsily knock over a glass of water, kids will be impatient and ask you a million times when the food is going to arrive, the butter/sugar packets might be stolen and consumed… whatever it is, try to laugh. But give yourself grace if you can’t. At least you will have a good story in hindsight.
7. Be Kind to the Staff
I have no doubt that there are internal groans or eye rolls when the waiting staff see our family rock up sometimes. We go out of our way to be thankful, gracious and kind to the people who look after us. If we make a mess, we try our best to clean it up and apologise if things go wrong. Even if things don’t go smoothly, we at least don’t need to feel guilty about our own response making it worse.
8. Pick Places that are Kid-Friendly
Unless I’m taking one of the kids out for a special one-on-one date, there is no way I would risk going to a fancy place at this stage of our lives. The anxiety that comes with needing your kids to be more perfect than they know how to be is simply not worth it. That said, we have taken them to wedding receptions (when they have been invited, of course) and it hasn’t been a complete disaster. I guess it helps when the overarching occasion is a meaningful, don’t-want-to-miss-it one.
More hands are always welcome and (in our experience) Grandparents make life so much easier. Whether it is in patiently rocking the pram back and forth, helping cut up the kids’ food or just keeping that veneer of civility in place when it all gets difficult, having extra hands can make all the difference. We had a lovely experience at the Queenscliff Brewhouse over the holidays in which everyone got to enjoy their meals, the kids sat nicely at the table and we even squeezed in a game of Connect 4. The fact that they shouted the meal made it even better!
Now, over to you – what tips and tricks do you use when taking kids along to a restaurant? I would love to learn from your experiences!