4 Survival Tips for Eating Out with Toddlers in Restaurants
Before Beau entered our lives, my partner and I used to eat out a LOT. Going to restaurants and ordering a bottle of wine was one of our most favourite things to do.
So I learnt a lot, in the summer of 2016 when we went travelling around Cornwall, moving from an Airbnb (always look for a toddler friendly one), to a B&B; from a yurt to a hotel. We ate out every day, at least twice. And I wanted to share with you what I learnt along the way. What worked for us. My memories of eating out in restaurants with Beau are always lovely, it is funny how I don’t remember what it is actually like at the time, the ‘NEVER AGAIN’ moments, the nervous looks across the table, the tears (myself included), tantrums and total chaos. So here a few tips…I apologise if some are blindingly obvious and I would absolutely love to hear your ideas and thoughts as well.
Choose where you will be eating with your toddler wisely!
Now this is a big one. And something that usually takes a bit of forward prep. Do your research. Use TripAdvisor. Peer through the windows. How many high chairs do they have? Is it busy? Is there enough room to squeeze a pram in? Are there other kids in there? Is the menu kid friendly?
It is absolutely fine to walk into a restaurant, sit down and walk straight out again if you find it isn’t suitable. We tend to do this often. Some great kid-friendly chains that we tend to go to are Nando’s, Pizza Express and Jamie’s Italian, as the latter two do great kid-friendly packs including stickers and crayons. However, if you want something a little more under the radar, then you need to have a good look around.
If you don’t feel comfortable or particularly welcomed then find somewhere else. If it looks stressful, move on. If it is too busy, often I find the noise drowns out any noise Beau makes anyway and if I can see other children (plus parents) in the restaurant then I know it is probably a child friendly one (with some potential playmates readily available). Disclaimer; obviously no relaxing/romanticising/unwinding can be done here.
Timing is crucial when eating out with toddlers
I realised quite early on into our Cornwall holiday that we get hungry at very different times. Beau is used to having his dinner at 6pm, the grown-ups at 8pm so we would either pacify him with snacks or go somewhere a bit before.
A little bit of compromise is key here. I really admire the Italians taking their kids out to eat at 9pm…as why should having a kid stop you from having fun and living life to the fullest? However, for the time being at least, I mainly stick to off-peak hours. But at least it means you can take advantage of the early-bird menu!
What you should always bring to your meals
On the off-chance that we’ve decided to just pop somewhere quickly to get some food, because ‘He’s in such a great mood! It’ll be fine! WE’LL be fine!’…it has always ended in disaster.
I often pack a disposable changing mat just in case I have to change Beau on a dirty bathroom floor, but forgetting all the boring essentials, there are a few more interesting bits that you can include to ensure a better dining experience for all concerned.
DON’T GO ANYWHERE WITHOUT THE IPAD. Preferably backed up with Postman Pat and Twirlywoos downloads on the iPlayer app, or CBeebies Playtime. I don’t feel guilty in the slightest for letting my son watch cartoons at the table, as I am still interacting with him whilst eating and talking. And we are sure to limit his screen time when he’s at home.
Toys. But not the really noisy or loud ones; we tend to bring small Brio trains and trucks. Pack some crayons and pens. Books are always a good thing to bring (but in our case) don’t often work, however sticker books are guaranteed to attract attention. Beau had lots of fun in a restaurant recently sticking bug stickers all over Daddy’s head – I think I enjoyed this more than Beau!
There is always generally a pound shop lurking nearby as well – these are great places to grab a few bits (as kids love new toys for all of five minutes). We’ve got some great things from Poundland when we’ve been caught short – helicopters, trucks (obvs), dinosaur dominoes and trains. Tiger Stores are also great for picking up some quirky and inexpensive entertainment ideas also. Basically, bribes work. A few extra pounds spent but a meal made a little easier to wolf down in all of five minutes. Thus; potential disaster averted.
For the main meal itself, keep your toddler occupied with activities!
The reason why I mentioned about wolfing down my meal in all of five minutes is because unfortunately, this is often the case. Sometimes, Beau is an absolute angel when we are out and about, other times – THE TOTAL OPPOSITE. (And you just can’t call it). Here are a few tips as we’ve learnt the hard…(and often naive) way;
- As soon as you sit down in the restaurant (preferably near the door to make a swift exit), move everything out-of-the-way. Knives (those make great weapons), forks, spoons, flowers, menus, salt and pepper shakers, phones, bottles of wine…the lot. If they can’t see it, they won’t want to play with it. (Excluding sugar packets – which can be used in the putting-them-in-taking-them-out-again game).
- Order their food first. Preferably with the drink order. Before you have even looked at the starters. Beau loves chippies (chips)…which are often served hot. Grab them before the waitress gets to him and hide them…quick, because if he finds one, chucks it in his mouth and it is too hot, ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE. I’ve lost count of the number of chip meltdowns I’ve witnessed.
- Toddlers have a time limit. They are like a ticking time bomb. More often than not, one of us will have to take him outside to have a run around when he has reached that limit whilst the other one relaxes on their own. We often take it in turns. Having a restaurant next to a park, beach, arcade, or anywhere child friendly is a bonus.
- Beau likes to flit between a chair and my lap, and either steal my food or try to drive trains through it. I am basically Joey from Friends when it comes to food. Advisable not to get your kid used to sitting on your lap whilst eating here; I’ve learnt the hard way.
- Don’t wear white. I made the mistake recently when I witnessed the devastating impact of smeared tomato ketchup all over my pretty white (and rather expensive) new top.
- Tip. Generously. If there is a load of mess under the table (which there nearly always is) I often clear it up as well, otherwise I feel really guilty. (View a previous blog post about mama guilt here: 5 things I feel guilty about (and really shouldn’t) ).
- Beau helps us greatly with the fact that he is a total flirt. And he always gets a smile (and sometimes a stroke on the head) back. We had one waitress recently who took him away and looked after him and I often find that if I look stressed enough (that damn old twitchy eye again) they will nearly always come over with pens or crayons and colouring pads. After all, they could quite easily get a tip. Plus a TripAdvisor review. It’s a win win situation for both parties concerned. Unless they hate kids.
- Talking about people hating kids…until we find ourselves in Italy, taking Beau out for a fancy dinner post 6pm (excluding the month of December) is a no-go. Unless it’s just your regular kid friendly Pizza Express etc, I really don’t want to interrupt a nice romantic date night dinner with my toddler tearing through the restaurant…I am all too aware of this from my child free days. I’ve always found London eateries a bit trickier, plus most pubs in central London won’t let children in after a certain time. Places in the countryside; Yorkshire, Milton Keynes and Cornwall are pretty child friendly however.
So there you have it…my top tips for eating out with toddlers! I would love to hear any ideas you have, as we’re finding it particularly hard taking Beau out for food at the moment as its so cold outside and there is always the wasting-money-on-a-restaurant-when-you’re-not-actually-having-fun-or-enjoying-the-food age old debate. Sometimes, it may just be best to call the babysitter in. And order that bottle of champagne…