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Dining Out with Children: How to Make It Easier

You've just had an exhausting day at work. You arrive home and discover you have nothing to fix for dinner. With the entire family impatient and hungry, there is no time to go to the store. What do you do?

According to the National Restaurant Association, a 36% increase occurred in the 1980's in preschoolers dining out in restaurants. The increase reflects all restaurants, not just fast-food establishments. When you just can't face another fast food meal, here are some ways parents and other experts suggest making a restaurant experience more pleasant for everyone.

  • Have realistic expectations of your child's behavior. A preschooler cannot sit perfectly still for an hour or more. Everyone will have a more pleasant meal if you do not expect your child to act like an adult.
  • Before you arrive at the restaurant give your child an idea of what to expect. You might talk about menus, how to select items and what the food will be like. Also, make sure they understand reasonable limits for behavior.
  • Pick a child-friendly eatery. Many family-style restaurants have informal atmospheres that both children and parents can enjoy, and food that's a step above fast food. Your service will typically be efficient, as these restaurants cater to families with young children.
  • Try an ethnic restaurant. Many of these eateries have built-in entertainment, such as chopsticks or tableside cooking. Besides serving good food, owners from different backgrounds may have a different cultural attitude about children. Don't be scared off by the list of spicy things on the menu. Almost any ethnic restaurant will also serve non-spicy things, such as quesadillias, noodle dishes, or pot stickers. Your server should be able to help you choose something appropriate for your child.
  • Look for a restaurant with a noise level just below boisterous. Quiet and intimate may be good when the kids aren't along, but peace and quiet is impossible with young children. Restaurants with jukeboxes are a good choice. Patios and sidewalk cafes allow the roar of the traffic to drown out the squeals of delight of your two year old.
  • Dine early in the evening. Not only will the restaurant be less crowded, the staff will have just started their shift, and may be more tolerant of the smashed up crackers surrounding your table. Your service from the kitchen also may be much faster.