Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How to dine out with kids

While we've dined out a lot less in the last 15 months, it's still something I love to do. Most of the time these days I have a toddler in tow, though, which changes things a bit. I've been gradually refining my strategy over the past year and would like to think we've got a system, which I thought I'd share in case it helps other parents get out a bit more.

Of course, just by posting this I have doomed our next excursion - be warned if you invite me out for lunch. ;-)

Little Monkey's first cafe visit. The service was a bit flat, har har. 

1. Choose your venue well
The first step is making sure the place you're going is kid-friendly. Depending on the age and personality of your kids, the definition of this will vary. I know Logan Brown do great kids menus at certain times, but it's still not somewhere we'd take our Little Monkey - perhaps when he's 10 or so but not yet.

If you need a high chair check if they have them; if you know your little one won't sit still for the whole time choose somewhere with a play area or a safe outdoor space so they can burn off some steam.
If you bring a blanket little
babies might even go to
sleep under the table

2. Make sure you're well-equipped
Generally we let our little one roam free, but that's not really appropriate at our favourite cafe. They are very accommodating and have high chairs but are not really a kid cafe, so there's no play area. That means a longer-than-normal stint in the high chair for the small person, so I always make sure I have a couple of not-often-seen toys in my bag, along with a small snack (I finally understand the appeal of mini boxes of raisins!).

3. Be strategic with the food
Depending on the occasion you can shorten the wait time for little people - if we go for brunch we'll often order right when we arrive, rather than waiting for table service. Sure, we don't get to linger as long, but nicer to have a happy family meal than having to scoff the food as quickly as possible to avoid a meltdown (or worse, when the meltdown has already occurred).

Food, entertainment, same thing. 

It can also work well, if the small person is eating (and especially if you know they will linger over the food) to buy them something from the counter that they can have straight away, while you wait for yours.

4. Be willing to jump ship if everything falls apart
Hopefully this won't be necessary... But sometimes things just don't go to plan. We haven't had this happen yet (though on one occasion we came close, and I spent quite a while pacing outside in an effort to calm the Little Monkey down) but it's always at the back of my mind. I figure if everything goes wrong I'm going to be too stressed to enjoy my meal anyway, so I might as well get it packed up to take away and save everyone else the drama.

5. Clean up
You don't have to vacuum or anything, but just because you're not at home doesn't mean you don't have to pick up the floor food. Sure, the wait staff are there to serve, but they're not really paid to be picking raisins you didn't even buy there off the floor. I reckon it's proper to do a quick sweep for detritus strewn by the little one before you scarper.

(hopefully the need for this will abate with age...)

6. Leave them behind sometimes
I'm all for bringing Little Monkey out and about and teaching him what good food is, but sometimes it's nice to go somewhere on your own, whether it's coffee for one while the small one is at daycare or a degustation at a high end restaurant for a special occasion. Revel in the freedom!

All of these things should hopefully combine to permit a relaxed dining experience, at least as much as that's possible with kids in tow.

Do you have any tips that I've left out?

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