The 12 secrets of dining out with kids
There's a war on bringing kids to restaurants, and parents are losing the battle. Last month, Grant Central Pizza, in Atlanta, printed a note on its menu banning crying children from the restaurant. In July, a Pennsylvania restaurant banned children under 6, crying or no crying. Even many restaurants with no bans don't exactly roll out the welcome mat for families. Taking your kids out to eat can be a fraught experience, but it doesn't have to be. You just have to know how to do it properly.
You can bring kids to any restaurant, so long as you will have paid and left by 8 p.m. After that you're trespassing on grown-ups-only time. Turns out 5 p.m. can be a happy hour for families, too.
When you bring your progeny out to eat, you're asking more than usual of wait staff (See: WAITER) – replacing spilled juices, picking up dropped toys, bringing you crayons, speeding things up just enough so that you can still make it home in time for bedtime. Such service deserves an added reward. Leave a gratuity of at least 20 per cent. And if there's salmon mashed into upholstery or peas all over the floor, consider throwing in a little extra.
The best ally you have. Make friends immediately. Be very courteous and grateful. And ask for something to nibble on as soon as you're seated.
Do it quickly. It's best to call ahead to see if the restaurant has a kid's menu. If it doesn't, consider ordering a meal for yourself that your kids might opt to eat if their meal isn't to their liking. And if your kid is a picky eater, now is not the time to force porcinis on them.
Babies cry at restaurants, because babies cry everywhere. You have one minute to soothe them at the table. After that, take them outside (See: OUTSIDE) or to the bathroom as a courtesy to other patrons.
Your refuge when problems – crying, hyperactivity, garden-variety fits and full-blown tantrums – cannot be quickly solved inside.
MAKING A BREAK FOR IT
Lasso that toddler immediately. This is a restaurant, not a playground. Provide distractions. (See: DISTRACTIONS)
Never leave home without packing essential diversionary objects, be they colouring books, a favourite toy or an abridged Anna Karenina. You will need to keep your children occupied. It's not the bartender's job to supply you with markers.
TEENS AND CELLPHONE USE
Absolutely forbidden. Use this outing as a chance to instruct your teens on proper dining etiquette. (But be sure to make this clear before you arrive.)
Not a given. Dangle dessert as a reward for good behaviour. (Remember: You may need to make a break for it.)
Other diners may give you the dreaded stink eye for bringing your children along. Offer them a smile and then ignore them. Unless your kids commit an actual restaurant offence it's the stink-eye givers who are in the wrong.
Ask for one close to the bathroom. You'll be glad you did.