How To Dine Out With Children And Not Die

Since our family, and several of our friends are battling some insurance battles, a few of us decided to dine out with children after Mass on Sunday for a “feel better feast” where we could drown our sorrow in good food, good drinks, loud conversation and hot fudge. Besides, our parish wrapped up 40 Hours, it was the feast of St. Jerome and the day after the feast of St. Michael the Archangel. Nothing says “commemorating a feast day” like a spontaneous trip to Applebee’s.

The whole trip was worth it just to see the look on the hosts face when he asked “How many?” and we answered, “Six adults, twelve children please.” Thankfully, they had enough packs of cheap crayons to distract the kids for the two minutes it took me to order a jumbo sangria. (Which was mostly ice and fruit juice by the way. There’s a photo out there that makes it look like more of a party drink that it really was.)

And it was a good time. I was hesitant to go since Teddy was way overdo for a nap, and it was going to cost money I knew I’d want for an emergency pizza dinner later in the week, but I relented. We don’t dine out with children all that much, and maybe it was the sangria, but in hindsight it was totally worth it.

Based on this rare sighting of my whole family outside Mass, I thought I’d share some tips on what makes this sort of thing even possible without  tearing your garments, Biblical style, or numerous bribes (candy, a puppy, a new sibling, etc.)

1. Go to a loud restaurant, preferably with TVs.

When Teddy started screaming because he wanted to eat the ketchup (or dip dip as he calls it) right from the grubby Heinz container before we even ordered, no one cared because no one could hear him. ¬†All the kids generally entertained themselves or watched the football games on around us. It didn’t matter if Addie and Byron were violently arguing over who would win in a fight to the death of team mascots; I couldn’t hear them. Ignorance is bliss!

2. Go at off-peak times.

We took up a whole section and because not a lot of other people were coming in, they didn’t need to fill the seats right next to us. I think that helped when our kids decided to trot to the bathroom, walk down the length of the table to tell us the scores, or my trips down the table to remove any stray knives, etc. If it’s packed there’s more chance the waiter/waitress will be stressed by your party’s size and needs. And at peak meal times, you’re¬†guaranteed¬†seating near people who think a baby’s cry is their que to act like God Himself is punishing them. Keep rolling ¬†your eyes lady; give me one more reason to pinch the baby.

3. Don’t dine out with children a lot, so when you do, it’s a big honking deal.

My kids understand it’s a rare treat and if they muck it up, another year will pass before we go anywhere besides a rest stop on a family vacation. They act like royalty when we go out. I look like the best mom ever.

4. Don’t stress on the food.

Let them get what they want, and if they don’t eat, take it home. Usually, because my kids want that scoop of restaurant vanilla ice cream or splat of pudding, they clean their plates. If not, I¬†don’t argue with them. My food battles are not fought in public. But when tomorrows breakfast “magically” appears on the table in an Applebee’s doggie bag, it’s on.

5. Let your kid go to the bathroom him/herself.

Statistically, the worst thing that could happen is he or she won’t wash his/her hands. (It helps to bring hand¬†sanitizer¬†and wet wipes for this reason alone.)

6.  See if you can get the kids food delivered first.

One thing that helps with this is figuring out what the kids are eating and drinking as soon as you’re seated, and placing that order, than taking your time with your own drink and dinner selection.

I didn’t do this on Sunday, but typically I don’t want to see my husband’s pasta and my chicken¬†delivered¬†while being told, “The hot dogs are on the way.” What?! Are you trying to kill me? Guess who’s going to have to choke down that over boiled hotdog now that my toddler is screaming for food and all I have is crab alfredo and chicken Marsala?

What tricks do you rely on to keep your kids happy in a restaurant? And if it’s crayons up the nose, please keep it to yourself.


  1. One person places everyone’s order. Sorry, 10 year old, I’m still placing it, I don’t care how much independence you think this violates. It’s less confusing for the wait staff, it’s quicker, and I’ve already fielded bizarre requests for “mustard soup” or “extra no pickles”. When we’re with another family with more kids, I’ll write the order on a slip and just hand it to the poor person.

    1. You’re completely right. On Sunday, I did write down all the kids orders on one menu then slowly read it to the waitress. And I told her, the kids can order water and napkins. Ignore everything else they ask for.

  2. These are good ideas. If we ever take our brood anywhere fancier than McDonald’s I will remember them. Currently we’re still in the McDonald’s/Costco-is-eating-out-so-shaddup-and-eat-your-hotdog stage, with all children under five. Maybe when some of them are old enough not to throw their food on the floor all the time…

  3. Love these! I would add that going out to dinner is the one time that I strictly enforce a NO SNACKS rule beforehand. When kids are actually hungry they’ll focus on their food once it arrives. I’ve found that it makes a *huge* difference.

    1. I agree. I think it helped that all my kids were coming off a two hour Mass with only a few stale Cheerios to sustain the younger ones. I’m pretty sure they would have silently eaten cardboard if that’s all that was offered.

  4. Great post left out how the waiter said that considering how many children there were that everyone was very good LOL…you know CONSIDERING! And to make up for my lame answer to the “So what are you reading now?” question I started a book called Lily Pond yesterday. A woman lived by and studied a family of beavers for 4 years and documented it. It is shockingly interesting!

  5. I think you covered the bases on that one! My kids always make us look awesome when we eat out, in spite of the looks of horror when we announce 5 kids, 2 adults, and do you have chocolate milk RIGHT NOW? My kids love restaurant food and eat like there is no tomorrow. One of my hard and fast rules is to not let them bring the free bread out, or if it is already there to not refill it. OR, just let the kids eat all the free bread they want, and then you only have to get them a drink and dessert. That’s always an option.

    1. Yes, if they fill up on free bread, dessert is usually out. However, I like the fact that a doggie bag means I have less work for tomorrow’s lunch so I’m not always against the bread.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.