Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tuesday Tip: Dining out with children

I have a confession.  I’m not a good cook.  Fortunately, I’m a decent meal planner and my husband Des is a great cook.  Put another way, if I plan it, he will cook it.  But sometimes, I just don’t have a plan.  Or groceries.  Or the willpower to plan the meal, serve it up, cut it up and clean it up.  Sometimes, I just want to go out for Mexican or a burger.  And like it or not, the kids are coming along for the ride.
When we show up at a restaurant, we are rarely met with a warm welcome.  Although we’ve just about outgrown the need for a table with three highchairs, we do require a table for seven, five of whom are under four feet tall and prefer a side of crayons with their nuggets.  I’ve grown accustomed to the raised eyebrows, skeptical glances and hushed tones as we amble along to a table that needs to be immediately scoured of extra glasses, knives and salt and pepper shakers.  People observe us with a sense of horror and humor as they wonder why we’ve dragged our entourage out to dinner. They say things like “Wow, you’re brave!” or “Wouldn’t it just be easier to have dinner at home?” 
Actually, I’m not so brave and while it might be easier in some regards to have dinner at home, it is delightful on occasion to have someone else play the role of chef, waitress and dishwasher.  The truth of the matter is that with five kids six and under, nothing is easy.  But that hasn’t stopped us from doing what we love and one of the things we love is eating out.  How do we make it manageable and even enjoyable with so many tots in tow?
1.     Mama’s Magic Bag of Tricks.  I never leave home without it.  It contains everything I need to keep little hands busy and little minds occupied pre and post dinner.  My staples include a few story books, sticker books, coloring books, crayons and perhaps a Ziploc bag full of Legos or blocks.  Like any good bag of tricks, I rotate the items so there’s always something fun and new to keep them entertained and out of trouble.
2.     Know their limits.  This rule applies to where we go, what we order and when we go.  We naturally avoid white tablecloth (really, any tablecloth!) restaurants and never order five meals for our five kids because we know they simply can’t/won’t eat a full-sized portion.  So, we usually order two to three meals for them to share and leave room for dessert.  We also know that if we’re actually going to enjoy our meal and each other’s company, we have to go on the early side.  I’m starting to think the early bird special was made for us. Sad, but true!
3.     Pack Snacks..  And sippy cups too.  Des thinks I’m kinda crazy for bringing snacks when we go out to eat but believe me when I tell you it’s a good idea.  You never know how the long the wait will be – especially when you need a table for seven!  You also don’t know how long it will take for dinner to arrive at the table after you order; if there’s a bottomless bread basket, you’re all set but if not, you’ll be glad you grabbed a snack-pack full of raisins and Goldfish to address the dramatic whines of “I’m STARVING”  that are likely to escalate if the wait is longer than a few minutes.  Which it usually is.
When we were up on the Cape for our annual summer vacation, we ate out frequently.  And,  we discovered that an added perk of taking the clan out to eat is that they actually learn how to behave in a restaurant.  While our kids certainly have their moments, more often than not, they rise to the occasion and stun the folks that gave us those wayward glances with their good manners and inside voices.  At The Outer Bar and Grille at The Wequasset in Chatham (a scenic spot that I’d highly recommend), we were commended for having the “best kids we’ve seen all summer.” And that, if you ask me, is not only a great compliment but, the perfect ending to a great meal. Bon appetit!


Shell said...

Such great tips! We go out my boys (3 six and under) and they do just fine, as long as we are prepared.

Tiny Blue Lines said...

I like that you rotate the bag of tricks, that's a good idea. I'm usually too tired to even do that, and I only have two little ones! I really prescribed to the belief that it's good to take your kids out once in a while, but since having my second, I cannot.contain.her. She's 15 months and has always been a holy terror at restaurants, literally jumping over booths, running down aisles, etc. Did you have such success when they were even younger?

jodi said...

Don't you ever feel like saying something really snarky to those folks who give you glances? Like, "What makes you thinking do the dishes at my house is easier than this?"

tripleZmom said...

We've actually taken our three (six and under) to a few restaurants with tablecloths and your tips work at those too. Personally I find it easier to go out to eat, but that's because I hate cooking. And dishes. :)

Kerry Lyons said...

Just wanted to say thanks for sharing your thoughts. And, we did take our whole crew out when they were at that run around/can't sit still stage... we just strapped them down in highchairs and supplied lots of snacks. Another good tip we got is to pack a bag full of spaghetti -- sound gross, right? But trust me, it can provide hours of entertainment and a bit of nutrition too. :)

britta said...

Kerry, I just love your Tuesday tips, and this one is fantastic. I look forward to next week! (PS Can you give us some hints on how you manage wardrobe planning? With fall coming up, I'd love to know your strategy.)