Dining out with kids is a dangerous proposition. Spills, tantrums, shrieks, and other assorted disturbances to fellow diners lurk around every corner, and many parents have come to expect a few evil eyes to be turned their way when they merely walk into their favorite restaurant with a kid in tow. But not every meal with the little ones needs to be a struggle; keeping some handy tips in mind can result in a meal that’s a joy for both you and the rest of the guests.
There was once a time when fancy restaurants, like bars, were the domain of adults only: you got the kids a babysitter and a TV dinner and enjoyed your fine meal in peace and quiet. If you wanted to go out to dinner as a family, you went to the pizzeria, the Chinese restaurant, or the Applebee’s — places that allow for a higher level of boisterousness than a nice restaurant. But times are changing, and the boundaries are falling by the wayside. Now parents are starting to bring their children to all kinds of places; chef Grant Achatz recently made news when he spoke out against bringing tots to fine dining restaurants after a screaming child made lots of enemies at his super-expensive flagship, Alinea.
It goes without saying that anyone under the age of 13 or so should most likely stay away from endless modernist meals featuring dishes that may be challenging even for grown-ups. But if the restaurant is kid-friendly — that is, a little bit loud, exciting, and boisterous — and if a trip there is used as a way to expand culinary horizons, a serious dinner out could be a memorable experience for a kid. “It’s important for parents to educate on how to eat, because [the kids will] grow up understanding and respecting food more,” Andreas Schreiner, founding partner and managing director of Miami’s Pubbelly Group, told us. “It makes me happy to see kids eating their parents’ food. But if it’s a four-hour long dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant, that’s just not cool for the kid.”
There are good times and bad times to bring kids to restaurants, but if you must bring the little ones along, there are some important tips to keep in mind. Some kid-related restaurant disturbances are unavoidable, but there are definitely ways to at least limit the chance that your kids will earn you dirty glances, and to assure that a nuisance-free meal will be had by you, your kids, and your fellow diners.
Bring Coloring Books or iPads
Distraction is key. A coloring book, a pad and crayons, Legos, or something they can read will be a welcome distraction for them from the tedium of waiting for food to arrive, and will help to keep them quiet and occupied. An iPad loaded with their favorite games can work, too, but make sure to turn the sound off!
Don’t Stay for Long
After you’re done eating, don’t dawdle; it’s time to pack up and head out. The quicker you can get settled, eat, and leave, the less amount of time there will be for kids to get antsy. And if you’re sitting near others who find it impossible to enjoy a meal with a child present, you’ll be out of each other’s hair sooner.