Top 10 Tips for Eating Out with Little Ones
Posted on September 8th, 2017
We might not all like to admit it. But let’s be honest. We can say with absolute certainty that we all have “been there”, haven’t we? After going for days with your only daytime company being that of a two year old and your family poodle named Noodle, you’re finally getting out of the house for some adult interaction, and a coffee served in an actual ceramic cup. But it may end in tears. Literally.
We all know how it goes. You finally make it out to meet your bestie for coffee, along with your little one and their bundle of joy, at a cafe of mutual convenience. But it turns into a nightmare. You are only 20 minutes in and you’ve already had ‘very loud requests’ (also known as ‘screaming’ to non-parents), dropped cutlery (also loud), maybe broken crockery, and there has been at least one major tantrum, if not more from one or all of the children, and possibly from one of you, too. Your once friendly barista, is now on the phone requesting assistance from the federal riot police and you’re being stared down by hipsters quietly sipping their turmeric latte doing their sudoku.
Now we can’t claim to be experts on parenting or child behaviour, but as parents of a toddler and self-proclaimed foodies, we do have lots of experience eating out with a child and with other families as well. We have also spoken to a number members of the Kid Friendly Cafes community, to find out the top tips for helping make your dining experience with kids, a pleasant one.
1. Don’t go when they’re tired
Imagine you have a very limited understanding of your own body and needs such as sleep and rest were simply at odds with your overwhelming desire to experience and explore the world, have fun and push boundaries. Now all you need to do is imagine that you’re two and half years old and you probably have a sense of what it’s like to be a toddler or young child. If you’re planning an outing to a cafe or restaurant and they’re already in one of those ‘funny moods’, then our advice is to re-think it. Could you reschedule a day or two, or make it later in the day? The call or text to your lunch-date will be less painful than eating out with an overtired child. We can guarantee that much!
2. Don’t go when they’re hungry
This may seem counter-intuitive, but don’t take them when they’re hungry. By the time you arrive, get settled and order – their little tummies will be well and truly grumbling. The anticipation of the food or treats that have been promised can become too much! This can a challenge as a fully grown human, so for little ones still developing awareness of their own bodies and their emotions, well you already know how it might end up. Add to this the excitement at being out and about, probably somewhere new and possibly with other kids they may or may not know, there really can be quite a lot going on for our little ones. Removing or managing one or two of the things we can help them with, such as hunger, will probably help.
3. Tell them what’s going to happen
Like us, children and toddlers react better to situations (for the most part) if they have a rough idea about what is going to happen. Especially if they’re just not naturally highly social. Depending on their age and development, some more information can really help them to be mentally (and emotionally) prepared for what’s about to happen. Information like where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, who else is going to be there, what are you going to do there, and where else you might go afterwards, could help. Also see our point on checking out the menu beforehand.
4. Do your research – are they kid friendly?
This means different things to different people. Whether it’s kid friendly staff, kids menu, playground, or change tables, it means different things to different families. But we have surveyed parents from across Australia to better understand what families with young children are looking for. We have used this information to help build our online directory of kid and family friendly dining venues. So of course we recommend you check it out and research your venue of choice before you go.
5. Check out the menu before you go
While you’re doing your research, we recommend checking out their menu online. Kid friendly menu options vary widely. Many have dedicated kids menus, including healthy options. Some will adapt items from their menu to kids sized meals, other don’t. We recommend calling ahead to find out if it’s not online. If your child has dietary needs or allergies many venues are happy to help if you explain your needs. In our experience, venues are very happy to accommodate your needs and adapt or create a meal option, especially if they know ahead. You know your child and what they are likely to eat or likely to throw onto the floor, better than anyone. There is no shame in taking a packed lunch or morning tea for your little one, particularly if that makes for a more enjoyable family experience.
6. Ask your friends for a recommendation
Like many things in life, it’s always good to check with those who have come before you. Recommendations from friends and family are another great way to find your best local Kid Friendly Cafes, particularly from those with kids around the same age as yours or a little older. Don’t forget if it’s not in our database and you would like to recommend it to others, be a part of the Kid Friendly Cafes community and take 2 minutes to send us some basic information so that we can do the work and get a full-listing up online.
7. Have something special in your bag
Sometimes we let our little man choose one or two special toys or books to pack for our cafe trip. Sometimes we keep packed away until we arrive there and explain this to him as we’re packing. We have also found that packing a special item that he didn’t know about such as a snack or a toy (sometimes one that’s been hidden at the bottom of the toybox for a few months) can help to keep him occupied at the table. The usual old favourites like colouring-in books and crayons can be good. We used an iPhone for the first time when we were dining out with our little guy recently due to one particularly horrible instance of overtired toddler tantrum dining and it certainly helped us out of a bind. As they get older, it’s easy to forget to pack some extra things to keep them engaged.
8. Let them explore
If there’s toybox, activity corner, playground, garden or other interactive activities let them explore. Even something as simple as a couch or bench seat, can provide something new for them to explore when they’re little. Playground and other activities are fantastic of course as they grow. You’ll be able to see how comfortable the cafe owner or staff are with kids making their way around the space. In our database we aim to capture venues that are known for being family and kid friendly, so checking it out will help choose the right place.
9. Take help if it’s offered
Whether it’s a friendly waitperson offering a box toys, or telling you about the hidden courtyard out the back. Or a kind couple in their 80s trying to talk to your little one. I remember feeling totally judged as a couple kept looking at us as my toddler refused to eat anything I had purchased for him from the venue we were at, and had walked next door to a fruit and vegetable shop to buy an avocado, which he also refused. Turns out they just wanted to tell us how lovely they thought he was, and how patient we had been. Not what I expected, and all my anxieties faded immediately. As I relaxed, he did too. It could be as direct as the cafe owner asking if they can do anything to help. It is ok to accept help. The vast majority of people are not taking an underhanded swipe at your parenting with their offer of help, and in our experience, everyone wants the best customer experience for you and the other people dining out, too.
10. If all else fails…
Cut your losses! Above everything, if you and your little one are simply not having an enjoyable time (and that is what matters most!) then it might be time to call it quits and head home. Grab a takeaway coffee, put them in the car and find your 5 minutes me time at the traffic lights. Sure, they may have a 2o minute nap in the car and who knows what that might mean for bedtime tonight, but if life isn’t about making the time you spend with family and friends enjoyable, then what is!
Don’t forget to share your dining experiences by rating the venue in our directory. By plugging in a brief review you can help us to make sure we can offer you Australia’s largest and most reliable source of information on kid and family friendly dining venues.
If you have other hints or tips on how you make your family dining experiences as positive and fun as they should be, then please let us know! We are all about creating a sense of community amongst family diners and the Kid Friendly Cafes that welcome them. Connect with us on Facebook or Instagram or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: Whilst we have personal experience in eating out with kids and in parenting our little one, we are not experts in child psychology and by no means claim to provide such advice. We encourage everyone to seek support if they feel that they could benefit from it. We hope that these hints and tips make it easier to have a good time next time you venture out to a kid friendly venue near you!