My husband and I love to eat out at restaurants, and that didn't change when we had kids. But how often we eat at restaurants and the fact that we now have a game plan for eating out has changed. Prior to having kids, we just went to dinner wherever and whenever we please. With three kids under the age of five, we needed a game plan and after a few failed attempts over the years we finally figured out a formula for making eating out fun and far less stressful.
1. Plan to Eat at Your Normal Dinner Time.
We eat dinner at 6:00 every night unless I'm running behind. So we arrive at restaurants at 5:30 so our food is on the table by 6:00. Eating on time ensures that the kids aren't over hungry and cranky. Another bonus to this timing is that we never wait for a table anymore. It's really nice being able to sit down right away.
2. Set Your Expectations Prior to Entering the Restaurant!
This is so important and one that I think many parents overlook. The fact is that kids need to be reminded on your expectations over and over again. We tell the kids that they have to stay in their seats and use a quiet voice, failure to do so results in that child leaving the restaurant. Not the whole family, just the kid acting up. You may have different expectations but you need to set them. If they don't know how you expect them to act, how will they ever do it correctly? And if you say they will have to leave the restaurant then you must leave the restaurant. It sucks I know, but I've only had to do it twice. They understood that mommy and daddy weren't messing around after the second time which was almost two years ago.
3. Look at the Menu Ahead of Time
I like to look at the menu ahead of time online if possible. Even if we've been to the restaurant before, I like to know what I'm going to order or at least narrow it down so we can order our food with our drinks. There is nothing worse than having to wait 15 minutes to order your food when you have kids with you. Tip - I tend to order one adult meal for my kids to share instead of 3 kid's meals since it's cheaper and healthier.
4. Order an Appetizer
My kids love chips and salsa so I love restaurants that serve them! But if the restaurant doesn't serve anything before the meal, we order an appetizer. I know some parents who order the kids food to come out as fast as possible. I think this is a mistake since they're done eating by the time your food comes. And then their behavior is terrible while you eat since they are bored and don't have anything to do. Order something that the whole family can share to pass the time.
My kids ages 1, 1, and 3
5. Ask for the check when your food comes.
Once your food arrives ask the waiter for the check and a to-go box if you think you're going to need one. Why is this important? If your kids do meltdown and you need to leave you can just pick up and go. No need to wait for anything. But if everything goes well, you can stay as long as you want and enjoy your night off from cooking.
That's our formula for eating at restaurants now that we have kids. It has served us well over the years and we can actually enjoy a meal out. That being said, we do not spend time lingering after our meal talking like we once did. One day our kids will be old enough for that, but for now we get in and out quickly.