How to eat out with children

When eating out, keep children happy with kid-friendly food.
When eating out, keep children happy with kid-friendly food.PHOTO: COURTESY OF DANIAL LEE

When you have young children, it can be easy to give up on going to restaurants altogether.

But there are plenty of outlets that roll out the welcome mat for families and many parents who enjoy eating out with their little ones without incident.

Of course, it does not always seem that way. Bad behaviour and its consequences typically make for better stories and lead to more heated debate.

Case in point: A "classy, intimate" Italian eatery in North Carolina in the United States recently made headlines when it banned kids younger than five.

Still, there is no need to stay at home with your child, especially if he has shown an inclination to try new things.

Wherever you choose to go, try to consult your kids. If they are invested in the decision, they will be more likely to cooperate and have a good time.

Here are more tips on how to make eating out a great experience for everyone.

IT DOES NOT HURT TO CALL AHEAD

The fact that restaurants are in the hospitality business means they should do their best to make all diners, regardless of age, feel comfortable.

But there are certain times when you should alert a place that you are bringing children.

One is if you need equipment such as a high chair or booster seat because restaurants often have a limited number of them. Plus, the staff are ready when you arrive, rather than having to scramble.

It is also advisable to alert the restaurant if your child has any serious allergies so the kitchen can be prepared or let you know whether it can handle dietary restrictions.

DO NOT ASSUME YOU CAN BRING YOUR STROLLER INSIDE

Here is another instance when calling ahead is useful because not all restaurants have room to store your large stroller and not all places make it easy (steps, narrow entryways) to even get one through the door.

NOISY RESTAURANTS CAN BE BETTER FOR CHILDREN

Parents can use the din of a high-decibel spot to their advantage: At one recent dinner, the two-year-old daughter of Ms Tina Smith, who uses her Do DC With Kids blog to share her family's restaurant adventures, decided to scream loudly.

But the place was buzzing loud enough that "no one noticed", she said.

Despite best efforts, outbursts do happen. Just try not to be in a place where the commotion really dampens the mood of other diners.

HAVE AN ESCAPE PLAN IF YOUR KID THROWS A FIT

Be ready to act fast if things start going downhill. Take a fussy child outside. You can also pivot and have your food packed to go.

Most people understand that even the best-behaved children can be unpredictable. You just have to know when to cut your losses.

LOOK FOR FOOD THAT WILL APPEAL TO KIDS

You are likely to find an environment conducive to families at a restaurant that specialises in such crowd-pleasing fare as burgers, pizza and all-day breakfast.

But do not limit yourself to places with traditional kids' menus.

"We learnt that kids will eat a lot more than we give them credit for," said Ms Victoria Trummer, co-owner of Trummer's On Main, a fine-dining restaurant in Clifton, Virginia.

The restaurant she runs with her husband has offered a five-course "petit gourmand" menu, with such dishes as a plate of prosciutto, grapes and cheese, horseradishcrusted salmon and build-your- own sundaes.

As parents become more interested in healthy food, "the trick these days for operators is writing a kids' menu that still has appeal to kids", said Mr Fred Herrmann, father of a nine-year-old boy and vice-president of operations for kid-friendly restaurant chain Ted's Bulletin.

Mr Gareth Croke, who owns the kid-friendly D.C. pub Boundary Stone, for example, had his wife circulate drafts of the new kids' menu to neighbourhood mums, which is one reason sweet potato fries are a side option rather than traditional fries.

Other more wholesome items on the menu include hummus with celery and carrots and an almond butter-and-honey toastie.

FIND PLACES WHERE FOOD IS INTERACTIVE

After all, what is more fun than playing with your food? Korean barbecue, Chinese hot pots and Japanese shabu shabu get kids involved in cooking their own food but make sure they are at an appropriate age and temperament to listen to you and your nagging safety rules.

BE PREPARED WITH DISTRACTIONS

Some restaurants have their own stash of distractions such as crayons and toys .

If you feel the need to give your kid an electronic device, make sure the volume is off, very low or audible only to the child wearing headphones.

DINING OUT TAKES PRACTICE

And if you find a restaurant to frequent, the repeat visits can also make for a more relaxing experience. Employees who are especially attentive may get your kids' favourite dish ready as soon as you walk in the door or greet you personally.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 30, 2017, with the headline 'How to eat out with children'. Print Edition | Subscribe