tips for bringing your toddler to a restaurant

During the first year of our daughter Zoe’s life we made many attempts to enjoy a meal out with her. We found that lunches tended to be a bigger success than dinners because she would get so tired at night and since she wasn’t really eating too many solids at this time she would generally be cranky. We would then spend the entire meal passing her back and forth and taking turns eating while the other one of us walked around the restaurant with her trying to entertain her until we had settled the bill and could finally leave. Hardly an enjoyable experience!

As she got older and started to eat more herself we found that Zoe started to really enjoy eating out and now actually gets excited when we tell her we’re going to a restaurant. Now, at 20 months Zoe is a regular restaurant patron and as long as we go when she’s hungry and bring some stickers or crayons she’s happy to sit through the entire meal. Since we live in New York City and hardly ever eat out mid-week because my husband gets home too late we love that we can now enjoy weekend dinners out without paying a sitter. Also we really enjoy Zoe’s company in restaurants and we feel that eating out is an important thing for her to get used to. Here are some tips that we have learned for taking a toddler to a restaurant:

1) We no longer bring any food for Zoe. We have found that she prefers to eat something different than what she’d usually have –so the bread in the restaurant is more appealing to her than her snack trap filled with bunny crackers or o’s.
2) We try not to make walking around the restaurant even an option –we find this only encourages her to want to get up and walk whenever we go out. Of course if she’s really fussy or the meal is taking a long time we will take a walk with her but for the most part we try to encourage her to sit and it usually works.
3) We’ve found that if we are very enthusiastic about the fact that we’ll be eating in a restaurant she is excited for it and more likely to sit and eat quietly.
4) I try to stash away special toys and other distracters that she doesn’t usually get to play with so that they are exciting to her when we pull them out in a restaurant. Stickers, sticker books, different types of “neat” art projects such as those pens that draw with water, new books with flaps or textures or pop-ups have all been good distracters for us.
5) Finally, eat out often! I think this is the most important thing for getting your toddler used to eating in a restaurant.

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12 years ago

My mother and father recently took my cousin and her two little boys to breakfast at a neighborhood cafe. They said the toddlers were wonderful, and behaved cheerfully and quietly. My cousin said this was because when she arrived with her toddlers, my parents had crayons and two fruit cups waiting at the table. This way, the boys didn’t have to wait for food or entertainment at the cafe. I hope this tip works for somebody else!

12 years ago

Here are my tips:
1) Go early and order quickly. There’s nothing that sets off a time bomb more easily than waiting around for a table and waiting for food.

2) Ask for the check after your entrees arrive. This way, there’s no sitting around waiting for the check. Leave whenever you need to.

3) We ask for the kids’ food to arrive at the SAME time the adult food arrives. There’s nothing worse than the kids finishing their food before the adults’ food arrives and then you spend the rest of your meal managing your kids.

4) Take a trip to the bathroom to wash hands after you order.

12 years ago

I think your #5 is the key! We have a 3 year old and a 1 year old and we try to eat in a restaurant weekly. Our 3 year old does great at restaurants, we believe, because we’ve made it part of his life. We set and reinforced our expectations very early on in his life and are consistent in enforcement of our rules, which are similar to yours.

We also generally aim for kid-friendly places that offer some healthy choices. Although our kids are generally very well-behaved, they are still a toddler and a baby. And we feel it is important to respect other diners and the staff. I generally try to pick up our mess for the wait staff, too, and we tip really well!

I do always bring a snack. It seems the food never comes quite soon enough for our kids!

katie moe
katie moe
12 years ago

We have twin daughters who are 21 months old. Eating out is something we do and enjoy, so when we had children we wanted to be sure that they learned their manners and that that learned to enjoy eating out as well!

Many of your suggestions work for us as well. The other thing that I try to do is order their food almost right as we sit down, so that they are not sitting very long before the food arrives. One of their favorite parts about sitting at a restaurant is sipping water out of a cup with a straw that the restaurant provides. There is something unique and novel about using a straw cup at the restaurant!

And I can not agree more about not letting them get up and run around. We don’t do that and neither should they, lead by example.