Eating out with a toddler: 5 things I’ve learned
There’s a strange period after having a baby when you can – sort of – carry on eating out as before. That period when your child is tiny, snuggly, doesn’t know day from night and can doze in a pram while you enjoy a leisurely brunch and a few smug thoughts (look at me with my eggs Benedict, I’ve LEFT THE HOUSE).
Sadly, this period doesn’t last. It is the calm before the storm, the phoney war of eating out with kids. Those snuggly infants become wriggly toddlers and, if you love restaurants as much as I do, you’re going to need a few tricks up your sleeves to keep frequenting them. My son is now 16 months so I’m still a rookie in this area, but here’s a few tips I’ve learned so far about how to have a relatively stress-free meal with toddler(s) in tow...
Let me entertain you
Never, ever set out for a restaurant without your entertainer’s kit. This will vary from family to family, but is likely to contain: iPad loaded with Octonauts or the CBeebies app, small toys (cars, cuddly things, nothing with a loud pre-recorded dog voice that will annoy other diners) and – in our case – a battered copy of Room on the Broom, to be read while trying to keep a hungry toddler from clambering out of the high chair. Oh, and stealth rice cakes for the dangerous time between ordering and eating.
Do your homework
I always read the menu online beforehand. This is because a) I’m greedy b) My son has several food allergies and the allergen menus are often printed online, too and c) It saves vital minutes. You can no longer afford to be that person who says ‘ooh I can’t decide, can you give us a few minutes’. Order like a ninja, eat like a starving hyena, and ask for the bill while your child is still hoovering their tomatoey pasta. Our current record is 34-minutes in and out for a Sunday lunch, including a nappy change.
Embrace the chains
I write about food for a living. There’s nothing better to me than discovering little bistros, late-night tapas bars or exciting new restaurants, and supporting local businesses. In the past I’ve been a bit sniffy about chains. But when I’m dining with nipper in tow, it’s time to be realistic. The chains do a fantastic job at keeping families happy. There are high-chairs a-plenty, crayon pots for days, and friendly staff used to dealing with squawking small people. They’re often really on it with the allergy training and free-from menus, too. Chains have their place in the eating out mix: find your favourite.
Check your exits
Scope out all the exits in advance, like an MI6 agent, just in case tantrum Armageddon starts and you need to make a run for it. Leave a pile of cash, swoop up the toddler and avoid eye-contact with your fellow diners. Remember: Your nearest exit may be behind you.
If you love eating out, keep doing it. Kids are a part of life and if you go somewhere they’re not welcome, don’t go back but find somewhere else that does. Luckily we have lots of family-friendly restaurants and pubs in the Tunbridge Wells area to spend that parental dollar. One final thing...always tip generously. A waiter who smiles while retrieving your child’s sippy cup and broken crayon shards from the floor deserves a big fat tip. They might even be pleased to see you next time.