We are VERY careful when choosing a restaurant to take both kids to. We never want to disrupt anyone’s meal, as I know very well what it’s like to walk into a restaurant and immediately feel eyes on you & your babies as people think “oh no…please, PLEASE don’t sit next to me”. There was a time period, from around 12 months – 20 months when we couldn’t take Kai out to eat… at all. It just wasn’t worth it. He was just starting to talk but couldn’t communicate his feelings properly and would easily (& understandably) get frustrated. This would result in instant and repetitive screaming, Chris & I frantically trying to get our servers attention to box up the food and get the bill, followed by a very desperate run for the door. I’d feel so bad leaving knowing we just paid restaurant prices to go back home to reheat our food.

Now that Kai is 2 years old we go out to eat maybe once or twice a week and it’s a world of difference. I realize this may change as he continues to grow, but right now I’m basking in the pure GLORY of being able to have a meal outside of the apartment where I currently spend 80% of my time like an old shut in hermit crab. Mama-bear gets cabin fever sometimes.

Toddler tips for when you go out?

Pick the right place

  • Do: Go to a restaurant that is kid friendly.
  • Don’t: Go to your quiet and fancy date night spot… Unless you enjoy setting your money on fire and getting dirty looks that burn a judgmental hole in your head for the duration of your meal.
  • Do: Request a corner table away from people or a table near the door in case you need an escape plan.
  • Don’t: Go to a small restaurant where you can hear everyone’s conversation. If you can hear them, they can DEFINITELY hear you and your toddler telling you “NOPE” when you ask him if he’d like some chicken for the 100th time. I can literally hear myself grinding my teeth saying “Eat the chicken” under my breath right now.
  • Do: Pick a restaurant with either a kid’s menu or simple kid-friendly options like chicken fingers.
  • Don’t: Be ambitious and think “Yeah.. he/she might like to try this new farm to table restaurant that only serves organic green food”. Be ambitious in the privacy of your own home when there isn’t a possibility that your waiter will end up wearing the food you’re being served curtesy of your toddler.

^^These photos were taken at a German restaurant & beer garden near us & we’ve become addicted. I’m talking REALLY good $5 German beers on draft, tasty traditional German food, kid friendly with a HUGE open space with big picnic tables PERFECT for us as a family. We usually have a pretty big area for Kai to walk around near us when he gets antsy.

*Stick to what you know. If there is a kid friendly restaurant that you go to that has a kid’s menu, is usually loud, where you know the waiters, and more importantly the waiters know you & are friendly, then stick to it. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been to Olive Garden or Bahama Breeze these past 2 years. The food is the same, & while I’d much rather try that new restaurant that opened down the street that has RAVE reviews, we save that for a date night or when the boys are a little older. Hey, I’ll take what I can get right now!

*Go early. There is a small window of time between being too active to want to sit still & too sleepy with a 1 way ticket to cranky-town. We try to aim for a 5 pm dinner out. Yes, that’s right, we are officially early birdies. A dramatic difference from 3 little years ago, when we were having dinner out at 9-10 pm. I’m now lucky if I’m awake past 10 pm on a weekend. We are now that family waiting in their car for the restaurant to open at 5 pm. Pro: We usually get to pick any table we want. Cha-Ching!

Distractions.. Distractions.. Distractions

I asked Chris if he had any immediate tips on how we survive a restaurant outing with Kai and his response was “distractions, distractions, distractions… that can be your title.” This is so true. I always pack a bag of little snacks, small toys and a book or two to keep him occupied at the table. Kai hasn’t perfected the cup and straw yet (he tips the whole cup towards him ending in a wet disaster) so I also bring our own sippy cup for him to use instead. I bring at least 2 different activity options for him because I never know what kind of mood he will be in once we sit down. One day he might be in love with coloring and the next, crayons are the devil and they must all be destroyed.

  • Make up fun games to play at the table. Kai is still a little too young for a full-blown game of eye-spy but we’ve started asking him things like “Kai… where’s the green truck?” and he’ll look around for a minute until he spots the green truck parked outside.
  • Distractions also include picking a table near a window so your baby/toddler can have constant entertainment in the background. Kai is obsessed with cars & trucks so sitting next to a window and having his own car show for his amusement is like cat nip to him.
  • When all else fails & he gets REALLY antsy, we let him watch videos of himself with his brother on our phones. I was always the parent who said “I’d never let my kid use my phone at the table” but when you have a 2-year-old yelling directly at your face, and people around you start staring & whispering to each other, a back-up plan (aka sound the trumpets and bring in the phone) may be necessary from time to time.

Split Responsibilities Equally

  • Be on the same team as your partner. It’s easy to get frustrated with your husband/wife when your baby throws a fit in public. You both get flustered and can take it out on each other instead of working with each other to defuse the situation. There have been plenty of times I’ve gotten worked up over Kai throwing a tantrum in public & quickly lost sight of things, getting angry with Chris. I usually just take a deep breath once Kai’s settled back down, apologize, reach over the table to give Chris a kiss and hold his hand to let him know I sincerely didn’t mean to get mad at him.
  • Being on the same team also means taking turns to eat. It’s unlikely that Kai & Rowan will let us both eat at the same time. And when I say unlikely I mean it absolutely never happens. Whoever gets the food item that is just as good to eat warm 15 minutes after it’s been at the table, as it hot-right out of the oven holds the baby/keeps Kai entertained first.

Create, teach and practice manners at home before enforcing while you’re out. A restaurant isn’t the best place to start teaching your toddler table manners, they should already have an idea of how to behave before going out. Be consistent with your rules, children are creatures of habit and sending mixed signals on what is ok vs. not ok just makes things a mess for everyone and SO much harder to enforce ground-rules.

Order appetizers and a kid’s meal when the waiter first comes over asking if you’d like anything to drink & skip dessert. Every minute is precious and your toddler is a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. Once your child’s meal arrives, you’ll be ready to order your own food, and once that arrives your toddler will most likely start getting anxious to leave so you only have enough time to eat your meal. Dessert is a dish best served cold… at home… 10x cheaper than ordering at a restaurant… & preferably by two wonderful men called Ben & Jerry.

An important thing that I’ve learned through taking Kai out whether it be out to eat, on public transportation or just out for errands is to have realistic expectations. Your toddler would much rather be at home surrounded by his toys or running wild and free on a playground than sitting still & polite having a conversation about what movie you’re going to rent with your husband on demand tonight. Engage with him/her to make going out a fun experience for them. Talk, play, distract, & don’t be afraid to be a little silly.

Now, what are you waiting for?

Go enjoy a family night out! 🙂

Do you have any tips or tricks for taking a toddler out to eat without giving yourself a mental breakdown?

Please comment below!