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Avoiding the Restaurant Ban: Tips for Eating Out With Young Children

It’s hard to watch TV or read the news online without hearing about the Pennsylvania restaurant that placed a blanket ban on kids under six years of age.  Defending his position, the owner stated:  “I think it’s the height of being impolite and selfish…And therefore, I instituted a policy…You know, their child—maybe as it should be—is the center of their universe. But they don’t realize it’s not the center of the universe.” Time Magazine.

I have to admit reading about this is frustrating.  First it’s airplanes, now it’s restaurants.  I feel like society wants to banish families with young children to its own colony – what are we lepers?  As a mom, and as someone who has pre-mom memory, I can see both sides of the issue.  On one hand, adults want to go out and enjoy themselves without the distraction of yelling, crying kids that are running amok.  I get that.  No one likes screaming, crying kids – not even their parents.  On the other hand, as a mother, I would like to go out to eat once in a while.  Does that mean I should ruin everyone’s dinner around me? No.  But should I be banned from eating at restaurants?

When I see poorly behaved children in public I don’t blame the kids – I blame the parents.  If a child is acting out in public it’s the parent’s responsibility to handle it.  If the child won’t quite down then they should be removed.  It’s common courtesy.

Our family actually eats out quite often and we haven’t had many issues.  When the baby was a few months old she would sleep through dinner.  Now that she’s older, she sits at the table with us and eats with us.  She’s always been well behaved and I can only count two incidents when she acted out.  Did we let her scream and ruin everyone’s dinner? No.  One of us promptly brought her outside while the other paid the bill and got our dinner to-go.

I think that parents need to use common sense – and most do.  But there are a few that don’t and they are giving the rest of us a bad rap.  So, I thought I’d give you some tips on eating out with young children and avoiding the restaurant ban.

1.  Select the Restaurant Wisely – If you are bringing young children, don’t select the new restaurant in town with a celebrity chef where it takes two weeks to get a reservation.  Save that for date night.  For nights when you have the family with you select family restaurants:  places that are casual, where your child won’t be the only one present, and aren’t strictly known for being quite or romantic.

2.  Bring Entertainment – Kids need to be entertained.  Don’t rely on a kids menu and crayons because lots of mom-n-pop restaurants won’t have them.  Even if they do, they will tire of them so bring some of your kids favorite toys.  Don’t bring anything too big, loud or clunky.  I usually have some small plush animals or something she can chew on like teething toys.

3.  Bring Snacks – First things first, I’m not a proponent of bringing food from outside into restaurants.  But when a child is so young that they can’t eat off the menu then bringing along kid friendly snacks is a must.  At any given time I have puffed rice snacks, rice husk crackers and teething biscuits.  Lately, the Tiny Dancer has taken a liking to blueberries so I pack a tiny tupperware full of blueberries.  I know that with blueberries she will be happy, quiet (and eat a nutritious snack).

4.  Order Something the Kids Can Eat – Now that the Tiny Dancer can eat table food, I’m always sure that either her dad or me order something that she can partake in as well.  If not, then I order a side of mashed potatoes or something that she can enjoy.  She likes eating what the adults are eating.  By doing this, your child is learning how to eat socially and how to behave.

5.  Be Prepared – I tend to over-think things and try to be prepared for any given situation.  As a result, I have an “eating out” kit which I keep in the trunk of my car.  It includes a high chair cover (because I am a germ freak), a travel placemat, and travel utensils.  My high chair cover comes in a bag so I stow the placemat and utensils in the bag so I always have it with me.  In my diaper bag I always have plenty of wipes and a sippy cup.  With those five things (high chair cover optional) you’ll be ready to eat out anywhere.

6.  Clean Up – Kids make a mess. There’s no way around this.  But you don’t need to LEAVE a mess.  As I pack up all of our gear, I survey the floor and table and clean up what I can.  Big hunks of bread and other food that fell to the floor get picked up and I wipe up any mess on the table that the Tiny Dancer made.

7.  Know When to Leave – So you followed tips 1-6 and you think everything will go smoothly.  By now you know that meltdowns happen any time, any where and unfortunately, they are not scheduled in advance.  If your kid has a meltdown in the restaurant and cannot be calmed down, made quite or controlled then it’s time to pack it up and go.  You may want to first try taking the child outside.  If they calm down try going back in.  But if they don’t let up then it’s time to get the check and get the food to-go.

8. Tip Well – Kids or no kids, I like to leave a 20% tip.  Working as a waitress in college I know that it’s hard work and the only real money you make is through tips.  If you have kids, then the reality is that it may be more work for the waitstaff so tip well to offset that.

Look, you know your child best.  If you think they can handle themselves in public and you can handle yourself in public then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t eat out.  If your child is a terror and there’s no controlling them then you may want to find some good take-out restaurants and make a list of the restaurants you want to go to on date night.

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2 Responses to “Avoiding the Restaurant Ban: Tips for Eating Out With Young Children”

  1. Alexis says:

    These are great tips and I’m glad that my husband and I pretty much do this at any restaurant we take our daughter to. Since my mini-cupcake has turned 3 she now exudes full-on ‘Terrible 3′s’ attitude. We may have to put the lid on eating out or I can see us taking her to the car for timeouts for the next 2 yrs. Nevertheless, I do try to mindfull of the patrons around us.

    The whole restaurant ban is total BS and an insult!

    • GDK says:

      Hi Alexis,
      Yeah, I think it might change as the Tiny Dancer gets older – we’re just going to take it day by day and hopefully we won’t get stuck eating in for the next 3 years! :)


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