Eating Out with a Toddler

Yesterday I wrote about eating dinner out as a family.  As soon as I posted it I realized that it might be handy to write about how to eat out with a toddler.

Let me start by reminding you that I work in a restaurant.  While we are a casual restaurant and we certainly welcome families, we don’t see a ton of children.  Probably 2 or 3 tables in any given day might have kids with them.  Hey, I live in a retirement town, what can I say.  That does not, however, mean that I haven’t seen my fair share of misbehaved kiddos “dining” at my establishment.  We’re going to work this as a How-to Guide to keep both your child and the restaurant you are patronizing happy.  (Side note… patronize is a strange word… it has both a negative and a positive meaning.  Weird.)

1. What to Bring.  I don’t bring a full fledged diaper bag many places anymore, because I don’t really need it.  Bug is almost 2, so the essentials are pretty much down to diapers & wipes these days.  However, when we’re going out to eat, I do like to pack a bag.  We use a backpack more often than a diaper bag packed with:

  • A spill-proof sippy cup.  Bug can drink out of a cup, but this is less mess when we’re out & about.
  • Wipes.  Obviously we have some on hand for diaper changes, but I use them to clean Bug’s hands and face and sometimes the table after he eats.
  • Snacks.  I know we’re talking about going out to eat here, but snacks come in handy if dinner is taking a long time.
  • Toys.  Books, crayons, little cars… things that don’t make noise.
  • Placemats.  Okay, I don’t pack these anymore, but I used to bring these disposable mats that stick to the table.  Great for when Bug couldn’t/wouldn’t keep food on his plate.

2.  What to Order.  And When.  Depending on where we go, we usually order Bug his own food.  He doesn’t eat much for dinner, but he’s not an adventurous eater either.  I’d rather order him a hamburger or hot dog knowing that he’ll eat part of it than give him some of my blackened fish tacos knowing that he won’t even try it.  What I’m saying is… order something tried and true, unless you have a mini-chef on your hands.  No fun paying for food that kiddo isn’t going to touch.  We usually order Bug’s food when we order ours.  Like I just said, he doesn’t eat much for dinner… which means it doesn’t take him long to eat.  I don’t want his food earlier than mine because then I don’t get to enjoy my meal.  However, if your toddler takes forever to eat (Bug takes like 30-40 minutes to eat breakfast), then you might want to order their food before yours.

3.  Entertainment.  Half of the time, when we’re out to eat, Bug won’t touch the toys we brought for him.  BORING, MOM.  He would rather play with what is on the table.  Menus are fun, so are straws.  Bread is awesome, as are crackers.  Pointing out decorations and talking about them is a great activity.  We aren’t afraid to sing silly songs in public if need be.  That being said, there are things I absolutely will not let him play with or do, because it drives me nuts when I am working.  Sugar packets = no way.  They get crumpled and wrinkled and torn.  At work, I end up having to throw them away after some toddler has destroyed them.  Salt & pepper = no way.  Nobody wants to clean that up.  Screaming = no way.  If he’s going to be loud while we’re waiting for dinner, we go outside.  Walking around the restaurant = no way.  We sit when we eat dinner at home.  Same goes for when we are out.  Not to mention, a thigh-high toddler moseying around is dangerous.  A server might not see him and walk right into him.  And, super annoying… guests meandering around the dining room are in the way of those trying to work.  (Side note:  I definitely can’t let Bug walk around other restaurants because he would try to walk into the kitchen… he doesn’t get that he can walk into my restaurant’s kitchen but not others!)

4.  After Dinner.  Once everyone is all done (“aww done”) eating, pay as quickly as you can and get out of there.  But, not before cleaning up.  We’re fortunate that Bug has never been a big food thrower… maybe because we curtailed that early on, or maybe just because he would rather eat it than throw it.  That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t drop stuff and make a mess, though.  I do my best to clean up any major Bug-caused messes in restaurants.  I don’t mind leaving the minor stuff to the staff, but it’s not hard to pick up that cracker on the floor.  Too often do I spend 5 full minutes on a busy night trying to clean up after a toddler who has smashed mac-n-cheese into a booth seat or obliterated 12 saltines right onto the floor.  Bug isn’t allowed to make messes like that to begin with, but if he did I’d be cleaning as much up as I could and then tipping extra for the staff to finish up.

Well, that’s all I can think of… do you have any tips for eating out with toddlers?

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