Before having children, my husband and I used to go to the restaurant every week. Eating out was for us a great way to enjoy/ discover new food and to catch up with one another.
When the children came along I did wonder if we could continue to do this and yet … less than two years down the line and we eat out together as a family at least every other week, if not every week :-))) and we have a lovely time.
I have dissected our way to proceed and structured it in five keys to success: prep, timing, place, kit, relax! I hope this can help you out as well. I wish I found something this complete when we ventured to the cafés/restaurants with our boys! It would have saved us the usual trial and error phase :-)
We started early and I am now convinced that the sooner you start going to the restaurant with them the more familiar they will be with the all experience and the less daunting it will be for everybody. Our first time out must have been at Gourmet Burger Kitchen (minimum stress) they had their milk we had our burgers :-)))
Eating together at home as a family every evening: setting the table, nurturing good table manners, taking the time to enjoy our meals seems to be paying off as well when we go to the restaurant.
Getting to the restaurant before they are hungry is key for us (e.g. 11.45am when they are usually eating at noon).
Making sure they had a proper opportunity to burn some energy beforehand is a must, especially with two boys!!!
The shorter the meal the easier. We usually only order a main. Once we went to a French posh restaurant where we stayed at the table for hours we took them to the toilets/another room for a walk in between courses.
When they were too young to eat by themselves we would order our dish, feed them first and then eat whilst they were nibbling on their dessert. We would make them try what we were eating at the same time.
Going for a child-friendly place helps of course. Phoning ahead to know if they have highchairs is a good way to know.
We avoid as well tables in the middle of the restaurant where you are the centre of attention/passage.
If you go for a long meal a place where they can have a play, walk, discover things (e.g. a garden) is ideal.
In our bag we always have:
– their eating tools (bibs, cups, wipes…),
– healthy snacks to nibble on in case the meal takes a bit of time to come (dry apple, raisins…)- or we ask for bread to be brought swiftly it is in a way their “aperitif”,
– healthy desserts alternatives (e.g. compotes) – just in case,
– games (books, stickers, coloring, puzzles, cards…) in case everything new on the table or conversation becomes an insufficient distraction
When we started to relax more so did the children. Now that they are confident with their cutlery we let them eat their meal at the same time as us and we seize this opportunity to make them try new food from their plates and ours. We don’t spend our meal trying to feed them, if they eat a few French fries, use their hands we know that this is not an everyday thing… we take it easy and enjoy the experience all together :-) And yes children can make a little bit of noise sometimes but we have all been children ourselves one day haven’t we?
Ah… and as well… don’t feel like you need to order from the kids menus! They often offer unhealthy alternatives. Set your rules…you can go for an adult main in a smaller size. In our case we often order an adult main with two small plates.