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Don’t Take Your Kids Out to Restaurants Until You Master These 4 Tips

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There’s one truth to dining out with young kids: they have a knack for making a simple burger-and-fries meal into a Hindenburg-style disaster. Even if parents wanted to, they couldn’t hire a sitter every time they wanted to eat out unless their last name is Trump or Buffett.

Spilled 7-up. Impromptu meltdowns. Uneaten meals destined for doggie bags. And the whining, oh, the whining.

It’s enough to make a dad swear off restaurants until the kids are old enough to cut their own steak… or drive. That’s tempting, but families can enjoy the restaurant experience despite the potential for catastrophe. It’s also a good way for children to learn socialization skills needed both now and later.

Consider these 4 tips to help you dine in (relative) peace:

1. Choose Your Restaurant Wisely
Some restaurants offer crayons, puzzles, and other welcome freebies. Others provide booths that work better for children than standard tables (and if these restaurants are naturally noisy–think T.G.I. Friday’s–all the better). The servers themselves can be a factor, too. Find a restaurant with a cheery wait staff able to smile away the occasional meltdown. And tip heavily if things go awry.

2. BYOD (Bring Your Own Distractions)
Is your son going through a dinosaur phase? Bring a toy T-rex along. Does your lil’ darling fixate on nature? Pack an over-sized picture book and read it to her between servings. Those connections will keep your children happy and make the dining experience pleasurable for everyone.

3. Use Restaurant Resources Wisely
When my son was very young we could entertain him by using cloth napkins for a vigorous round of “peek-a-Boo.” Older children can play tabletop coin football or get creative with the condiments (without making a mess). Consider the resources all around you and put them to good use. Even those cardboard drink coasters can be folded into neat little airplanes. Just keep them grounded until you pay the check.

4. Don’t Expect Perfection
Even perfectly prepared parents may need to pull the ripcord on the restaurant experience now and then. That’s the price you pay for dining with children. No parent will bat 1.000. Always have an exit strategy in place and choose restaurants with “kids eat free” deals to cushion the financial blow.

Photo by Christian Toto

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