When our daughter was three months old, my husband and I attempted to go out for dinner with baby in tow. We ended up taking turns eating while the other walked with the screaming infant in the parking lot. That experience led to a few years of the only restaurant food being delivery or to-go.
Now that our children are a bit older, going to restaurants is once again a treat rather than a nightmare. However, there are some learned tips and tricks to get you through a dinner outing that will keep you from wishing you had ordered in. Here are a few things I've learned through trial and error:
- Do not try to go out for dinner when the rest of Northern Virginia is as well. Friday and Saturday night restaurant outings in this area are, and will forever be, insane. If trying to do a weekend dinner out, I might go ahead and feed the kids at home because once you get to a restaurant, it will be a 45 minute wait before you are seated.
- Always, call to see if you can get on the call ahead list if they do not take reservations.
- Arriving at the restaurant between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. greatly increases your chances of a pleasant dining experience.
- Have a snack in your bag, always.
- Let the kids draw with the restaurant-provided crayons, but do not let them leave the restaurant with them! Just a cautionary tale: I've had too many car upholstery disasters with melted crayons on the car seats because I didn't know the crayons came home with us.
- If you're looking for healthy meal choices for your kids, consider sharing your meal, or splitting an adult entree between the kids to avoid the chicken fingers, fries and mac-n-cheese debate with your children.
- Ask if the kids' meals can be served right away, rather than waiting under a warmer for the other entrees to be ready.
- Always go for a booth over a table: You can trap your kid, and there's more room for wiggling, or falling asleep. Your kids will inevitably stand up to peek over the seat back and your fellow diners. Don't stress about it, but make sure they keep their hands to themselves and not on the head of your neighbor.
- Keep them off the floor: There's used gum and food down there, and of course what they find goes right in their little mouths! There goes your appetite.
- Get it for free: Many family-friendly restaurants offer free kids meals with purchase of an adult entree. Usually, you will find these offers early in the week, when the restaurant isn't too crowded. Enjoy a family meal out, with low stress, or concern that your child only ate four bites of his meal.
Here is a list of some local restaurants that offer "Kids Eat Free" days. Bon appetit!
Applebee's: Tuesday, all day, kids eat for 99 cents
Bob Evans: Tuesday, 4 p.m.-close, kids eat free
Chilis: Look for a coupon in your newspaper, one weekend a month kids eat free
Denny's: Everyday, 4-10 p.m., kids eat free
Hard Times Cafe: Sunday, all day, kids eat free
IHOP: Tuesday, 4-10 p.m., kids eat free
IKEA: Monday, 99 cent organic pasta and sauce, Tuesday-kids eat free
Ledo Pizza: Wednesday, all day, kids eat free
Moe's Southwest Grill: Tuesday, 5 p.m.- close, kids eat free
Qdoba: Saturday and Sunday, kids eat free
Quiznos: Starting May 7, 2012- Saturday, all day, kids eat free
Silver Diner: Tuesday, 5-8 p.m., Kids Club members get a free shake
Uno: Tuesday, all day, kids eat free