In the years B.C., restaurant dining was a civilized event—delicious food, engaging conversation, relaxing ambiance. And by B.C. of course, we mean "before children." Because with kids, dining out can be an exhausting affair. Never would you have imagined that a meal that costs more than $50 would take all of seven minutes to consume and yet leave you feeling as wrung out as the waitress's table rag. Here, then, are six ways to try to have fun again—which starts with shifting your expectations.
Embrace the Early Bird
There was a time when you'd be finishing up brunch at 5 o'clock. These days, you and the brood are ready for dinner—and getting there before the rush means you're not pushing your kids' patience with a 30-minute wait for a table. Spend just one night watching them watch that little buzzer, hungrily whining, "When is it our turn for food?" and you will have no further qualms about bringing your junior citizens to dine at the same time as the local senior citizens.
Scan for Peanut Shells
If the floor of the restaurant resembles barn, take a seat. Is the place louder than an airport tarmac? Table for four, two booster seats, please. Part of what robs the relaxation from restaurant meals is having to do umpteen squats picking up projectiled penne noodles and shushing your screeching 3-year-old every, oh, 12.3 seconds. But when food on the floor counts as ambiance, and no one can single out your kid from the general din, you can sit back and almost enjoy yourself.
Truck Right Past Any Waiter in a Tux
Tables with water glasses already set on the table? Tables with stemware set for red or white wine? (Come to think of it, you could kill for a little of each right now.) If a place looks precious and self-serious and appealing to foodies, keep on looking. There's a good chance your kids' chewing (let alone their actual talking) will be the loudest sound in the place. Consider coming back for a family celebration—like when the baby graduates college. Or law school.
Keep Them Busy, Busy, Busy
Smuggle in art supplies—like some slightly messy, sparkly marker you wouldn't dream of letting them use at home. Let them play tic-tac-toe to their hearts content all over the paper placemats. Or hand over your iPhone, loaded with age-appropriate apps (try Cupcakes for kids under 3). Any place that puts crayons on the table, it can't be considered rude for a kid to tune out on the phone. Just make sure that this allowance you're offering is a rare treat, and not an everyday event.
Play it Like Vegas
Anything that tests a kid's patience in a restaurant—when are we sitting down? When is the waitress getting here? When will my food be here? —can be turned into a Vegas-style game of sorts. Everyone at the table guesses how many people will be served before you do, and then Junior keeps track. (Whoever gets closest without going over wins. The prize? Paying for dinner.)
Toss in Pretty Sweet Incentives
Make them earn dessert. Rather than threaten to take it away—care for an empty threat with your empty calories? —set up the assumption that there is no such thing as dessert unless they behave, wait patiently, keep their voices down, use a fork...whichever low standard of civilization you decide to adopt as your standard. And then when they do behave, bring on the chocolaty-ist thing on the menu!report abuse