When I had toddlers, I remember feeling nervous to go out to eat with them. (Would we be too loud? Could they sit still? Would we ruin everyone’s meal?) But we rolled up our sleeves, and while we had a few disasters, we mostly fell into a fun rhythm at restaurants. Now that they’re older, I asked 11-year-old Toby and 8-year-old Anton to share their tried-and-true tips for little dudes…
1. Go early. What’s the best time for a family dinner out? “6 o’clock,” says Toby. “Because it’s not too crowded and you’ve just finished your screen time.”
2. Consider a quiet restaurant. Weirdly, we’ve had the worst luck at casual family spots. They’re loud and bustling, and my kids get hyped up. Instead, we prefer quieter places. “Chill, grown-up restaurants are more fun,” says Toby. “They’re not hectic. You won’t see like 25 kids.” (Our current favorites are Frankies Spuntino and Indian Table.)
3. Everyone’s allowed a special drink. “You can ask, ‘Do you have any kids’ drinks?’” suggests Toby. “I like to order Shirley Temples. When it’s cold, you can order hot chocolate.” Anton recommends Diet Coke* or Orange Crush, which “is rare but really good.”
4. Encourage kids to order for themselves. “I like ordering my own food because I get my answers more correct,” says Anton. “I say, ‘May I please have…?’” But, of course, it depends on the kids’ age and personality and mood that day and astrological sign and whether they need to pee and which way the wind blows, so step in if you need to.
5. While the food is cooking, play games. While waiting for the food, our kids stay chill while playing games like Would You Rather or M.A.S.H. or Tic-Tac-Toe or Uno. If all else fails? “Just wait it out and chat,” says Anton.
6. When the entrées come, adults can talk together. We’ve found that once the food arrives, our kids generally zone out, and Alex and I can have more grown-up conversation. “I focus on my meal,” explains Toby. “Sometimes I get tired after dinner, and I just sit back in my chair. One time, I was eating a chicken sandwich and fell asleep while I was STILL EATING. My mom took a video.”
7. Roll the dice and ask for dessert. “At home, you never have good options,” laments Toby. “Our parents don’t usually let us get dessert, but if there’s ice cream, sometimes they’ll say, you can get ice cream!”
8. Smile at the restaurant team and fellow diners. You never know what people are going through — struggling through the pandemic, raising a sweet kid with sensory issues or food allergies, needing a parenting break but not being able to hire childcare, having a rough day overall — so go gentle on those around you. Even if someone rolls their eyes at your kids being there, let it go. As my mom once told me: “People are embedded in a complete world of their own. They have their own reasons and stresses for doing things which may be completely unconnected to you — and usually are! Forgive others and let their little crazinesses go unpunished. Maybe they actually need your compassion.”
9. Tip generously, if possible. When the boys were little, they’d accidentally drop crusts of bread or napkins on the floor, or knock over a drink, so I’d always try to clean up the table and add a thank-you into the tip.
What would you — or the kids in your life — add to this list? I’d love to hear… xoxo
* Anton has never been allowed to order Diet Coke, haha.