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Our Favourite Ways to Take the Stress out of Dining Out with Children

You don't have to give up eating in restaurants just because you've become a parent. With a little planning and discipline, dining out can be fun for the whole family

 

When you're single, dating, or part of a couple, dining at restaurants is a treat. We get to eat food we wouldn't make at home, and we don't have to clean up afterwards. When you add children to the mix, the process can become a lot more stressful - but taking a few things into consideration first can make the experience more enjoyable for everyone.

The routine at home

If your children can get up from the table at home, you'll find that keeping bums on seats at a restaurant is near to impossible. If the children can eat with their hands at home but expected to eat with a knife and fork while out, protests are likely to happen. If the children can bring toys or electronics to the table at home, but then not allowed to when you're out, it's hard for them to know what the rules are and why they exist in some places but not in others.

Having one set of expectations for meal times is the easiest way to make dining out a simpler experience. The children will know what is expected of them and when you ask the question - would you behave like that at home - the answer will be categorically NO.

Choose the location carefully

The choice of restaurant can be paramount to the experience. Start with restaurants where it's OK for children to make a little noise, and where it's not going to cause a fuss if something spills on the floor or furniture. Once your children have had a few dinners out they'll start to understand that it's a treat and that they need to be on their best behaviour.

As they get older and have more experience you'll be able to introduce them to different dining experiences, such as afternoon tea. Make these experiences into events, dress up and make a fuss - if it feels special everyone will want it to continue.

Check out the menu in advance

Getting there and finding there is nothing your child will eat means a bigger chance of the "hangries" getting the better of them. If the location is out of your control and the menu is a little on the adult side, see if they can do a plainer version of something, or ask in advance if you can bring food for the littlest ones.

Ask about portion sizes; if you have two little ones you may find that sharing will save you money and you won't feel like you are force feeding everyone. If they are fussy, give them a few choices you're happy with, and feel free to remind them that the choice of dinner was theirs.

Activities

We don't suggest a tablet from minute one - or anything that removes them from the experience - but having a few distractions can be important if they have short attention spans and you want to enjoy the meal for more than a few minutes. Quiet activities that they can do on their own or together, such as colouring or sticker books, can provide several short term distractions.

Keep the activities age appropriate and, where possible, have the children choose their own activities to take. You never know when their interest in Peppa Pig will suddenly turn into disdain - their input is invaluable.

Know when to bow out

Sometimes when children are tired they can get cranky, which often leads to misbehaving. However, there must be a threshold, and if a child continues to scream or run-around, there needs to be a consequence. And it might mean leaving the restaurant and heading home to bed. If you put this forward, you must be willing to do it.  If there is more than one responsible adult, one of you can leave with the misbehaving child, while everyone else can continue to enjoy, or you may find that everyone has to go home. If this is the case, you may want to exclude them from the next treat. This exclusion should be temporary, and there should be clear steps they need to take in order to be invited again.

Here are a few places the parents in our office find cater to little ones in the UK:

Where are your family favourite places to dine out?

 
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