A mother and daughter seated at a table in a restaurant, smiling at each other as they eat


Dining Out With Kids Doesn’t Have To Suck

Aug 9, 2017

My husband and I returned to our favourite pre-parenthood habit of exploring Toronto's amazing culinary scene before our first born was even three weeks old. We discovered that dining out actually provides invaluable family time, and because our family loves to travel, I want to expose my kids to as many cultures and tastes as possible. We love to lug our little ones all over town in search of that perfect dish.

We dine at fancy restaurants and hole-in-the-wall joints alike, and we've learned that bringing kids to restaurants doesn’t have to suck. Parents don't even need to banish themselves to chain eateries since many non-chain restaurants also cater to kids these days. Parents just need to remember their own manners so that everyone can enjoy their meal.

Over the years, we’ve had many amazing experiences and some cringe-worthy ones too. So we’ve picked up a few tips on maintaining sanity with kids in tow while still keeping tabs on your city's most happening spots.

Get the timing right

Know when your kids are usually awake and calm. With a newborn, we could dine out anytime because the baby would sleep while we ate. As our kids grew older, on the other hand, we learned that a reservation after 8 p.m. is just disastrous.

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Be resourceful

While some restaurants are amazingly kid-focused, others welcome little ones without being fully equipped. No change table? Scope out an alternate area to handle the situation. We’ve mastered the art of the stand-up diaper change. If the kids needed high chairs, we always had our foldable, fabric, travel high chair with us — along with bibs and a dinner mat (to avoid dishes being flung off the table).

Prepare the restaurant

Always make a reservation at a nicer place. Mention that you will have a child and ask for the corner booth or a table by the kitchen (where it’s noisy anyway). Let them know that you can’t sit at high-top tables. The last thing you need is for the entire restaurant to watch your kid topple over while you’re sipping a cocktail!

Bring snacks

Some restaurants offer fresh baked bread, but not all. Go prepared with snacks that the kids can enjoy while they wait for their meal.

Don't forget entertainment

Our backpack always contains washable markers, mess-free colouring sheets and small figurines. Let the naysayers preach, but we will gladly pull out a tablet for late-night meals. But don’t take play dough to a restaurant (or anywhere) as it leaves oil stains and a good, old mess.

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Walk out the moment your child starts crying or whining loudly

This is my biggest piece of advice. Other diners don't need to be subjected to the wailing. And taking kids out to calm them down can be a teachable moment. My kids now know that if they misbehave, they’ll be walked out. And if they can’t calm down, one parent will take them home. After just one such episode, our oldest, who loves restaurants, learned that she can’t throw tantrums while eating out.

Skip classic mealtimes

Want to visit that new trendy spot that’s not accepting reservations? Forget lunch and dinner and go for the in-between session. Trust me, you’ll be able to boast about dining there well before your kid-free friends have.

We’ve only had a handful of negative experiences during more than 200 restaurant visits in the past five years. Whether you want to dine out regularly or venture out occasionally, know that dining out with young kids actually helps them to expand their palate and improve their etiquette. Don’t wait until they are teenagers to start teaching them the finer things in life.

Article Author Yashy Murphy
Yashy Murphy

Read more from Yashy here.

Yashy Murphy is a Toronto-based travel writer for Baby & Life. She and her husband focus on maintaining their pre-baby lifestyle with two young kids. Yashy has visited 42 countries in her lifetime, and she and her family continue to travel the world in search of good food, fine wine and rich cultural experiences. Her five-year-old daughter has visited 11 countries and 48 cities, which has been an entertaining, enlightening and exciting journey. You can find Yashy on Twitter and Instagram, lusting after the next travel adventure and sharing her culinary and travel pursuits.

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