Once every couple of months my husband and I decide it is time to attempt “eating out” with our children. With hopeful anticipation we venture out with the best intentions of having a relaxing Sunday dinner as a family in a cosy little eatery somewhere. All previous experiences seem to have disappeared from our memories as we arrive brimming with confidence that this will be the time we crack it and have a peaceful meal out as a family. Dressed in our Sunday best clothes, miraculously with not a hair out of place we enter the building. The children, currently on best behavior after being read the riot act in the car, appear like miniature angels at our sides. Other customers may coo and remark on what well turned out children we have. The Front of House arrives and you begin to see their eyes widen in what can only be described as fear, when we politely ask for a table of 4 and room for a high chair. An hour later (maximum) we are seen leaving in a disheveled state, perhaps with strands of spaghetti glued to our hair, outfits covered in ketchup, ironically symbolizing the blood of the full blown warfare that we have endured. The baby is shoeless, sockless and waving his nappy in pride above his head in victory like the mini anarchist that he is, whilst the elder two walk out unperturbed and victorious that even though they behaved diabolically, they were still rewarded with ice cream! Join me on my survival guide to the soul destroying venture of Eating Out with Children.
One of the main ingredients in this already conclusive recipe for disaster, is timing. Think carefully about waiting times. Realistically a meal out with children can only last an hour at most. Long gone are the days where you could casually browse the menus, begin with a starter and then eat your meal followed by a few alcoholic beverages. Therefore no matter how hungry you are, combined with your reluctance to find another restaurant, if the Front of House staff tell you there is going to be a 45 minute wait for a table…leave. Leave immediately. 45 minutes waiting with hungry children in a place full of so many possibilities such as creating table dens, making “snow” from salt pots or simply just running around the mazes of tables, is not going to end well.
Top Tip: Pre – Book a table online or by phone.
Menus and Ordering
No matter how appetising that prawn cocktail or sharing platter may be for starters, keep it as a distant dream for that heavenly time you will have a baby sitter and can eat out as an “adult” not “parent.” Even if you kindly request your children’s meals to arrive with your starter you are entering dangerous territory as the time your main arrives, your children will have finished theirs and are now fueled with chicken nugget energy to create ultimate devastation at your table. The children will be presented with a wonderful, colourful children’s menu which may capture their attention for a whole 45 seconds before it has been folded into an aeroplane and aimed at the poor old dear’s head on the opposite table and the crayon set has been digested by the baby.
Top Tip: Order your children something they will genuinely enjoy no matter what your views on “healthy eating” are at home. Let them know it is a treat, no child wants to sit eating a plate of grilled salmon fillet accompanied with spring greens when little Jimmy on table 4 is eating hot dog smothered in ketchup.
If your children are anything like mine the allure of their very own bottle of tomato sauce accompanying their meal will be the fixation of the whole afternoon. “Can I have a little bit more sauce?” will be repeated at least a million times as your little cherub, high on tomatory added sugar, will know it is there on tap throughout the meal. Salt and pepper pots will be cast as leading roles in any games to be created at the tables, frequently being toppled over dusting the table with a salt and pepper sneeze-athon.
Top Tip: Remove all condiments immediately when being seated and hide them. Allocate the carefully judged amount of sauce when meals arrive and ask the waiting staff to hide them until the children are safely strapped into their car chairs on the way home.
As mentioned above…one minute into proceedings and those carefully designed menu/activity booklets, possibly created by somebody never having encountered a child, are now shredded into a million pieces littering your table. Images on the website illustrate the “child friendly” ambience of the restaurant with a family smiling and laughing in conversation. The difference being between your family and the picture perfect family on the website, they were paid to be jubilant and yours is a real life scenario. As riveting as my 5 and 6 year olds conversations are about bums, poo, wee and bogeys (number one topics of all ks1 conversations) I am fully aware we will not be engaging in indepth conversation. Therefore take supplies. Ask you children to bring one toy each and assess the toy before leaving. Toys to rule out are; those that are ridiculously cumbersome in size, toys that make any type of repetitive sound (the ones you “accidentally” smash with a hammer after hearing them still singing 3 hours after the kids are in bed) or a toy that they actually never play with at home. Tablets and iPads are always going to be a winner if your children enjoy a bit of screen time.
Top Tip: If you are going to take a tablet/iPad ensure that it is fully charged and also that the restaurant has WIFI. Nothing causes an emotional breakdown more with my children, than a buffering slow internet during those excitingly tense moments of another toy being unboxed on YouTube. (Whatever did we do as children, without the thrill of unboxing videos?)
The ultimate bribe. Even as an adult I ask to see the dessert menu along with the main menu. Who doesn’t want to know what type of ice cream, chocolate, amazingness awaits on the other side of dinner!? Also this acts as the perfect bribery for your children to behave (unless they are feral like mine) “Oh well you will have to behave or you wont be getting the rocky road, super duper, marshmallow, chocolate, candy floss, popcorn sundae you see on the menu.”
Other Tips to Consider:
- Research the clientele of the restaurant before hand. It may boast to be “child friendly” on the website but I have worked in a pub claiming to be child friendly which was regularly subjected to police raids…do your research!
- Be confident to ask for another table, if as being presented with your table, you spy the diners nearby to be child haters or a family with similarly aged children; yours will either combine forces with or declare war against them.
- Positive mental attitude. Children smell fear a mile off. They will sense your trepidation and seize all control of the situation. Be strong and fearless in approach. Confident that this is the meal whereby you will transform your much loved, wild, creatures into civilized human beings.
If you are planning to venture into the minefield that is eating out with children I hope you find my survival guide useful. I would love to hear stories of survivors of meals out with children and any tips you may also like to add!