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Just because your party of two is now a party of three (or more), that doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on eating out. Alright, so you may have to say goodbye to those late night suppers at the coolest new bistro in town, but restaurants can—and should—still be enjoyed. All you need is a game plan (and a bag full of tricks snacks). Here, eight clever tips for eating out with children.

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Young girl eating pizza at restaurant
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Pick the right restaurant
That hot new sushi spot that just opened up across town? Probably not a good idea. White tablecloths and jackets required? Oh, hell no. But you don't need to go to Chuck E. Cheese either. Do some preliminary research (ask like-minded pals or check out Yelp’s family-friendly filter) and find a restaurant that won’t mind any potential noisiness, spills or other mishaps. Make sure to ask about high chairs and stroller space if necessary.

Mom eating with her child at a restaurant
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Book an early seating
And then call and change your reservation to an hour earlier. That 5:00 p.m. slot that even your 90-year-old nana would balk at? Perfect.

Bring distractions
Toys, games, books—you know the drill. Going out to eat as a family is a nice opportunity to spend quality time together and teach your kids important skills, but you can’t expect little ones to sit quietly and make polite conversation for over an hour. But try to keep smartphones off the table (a good rule for parents, too)—other diners might not appreciate the noise from a game or video, plus you don’t want children to get used to having phones at dinner.

Crayons and paper for kids

Scope out the menu beforehand
Restaurants can be a great opportunity to try new foods, but a hangry toddler is not someone you want to mess with. Make sure the restaurant has at least one or two things that your kid will want to eat—even if it’s food that you would normally discourage at home. Oh hello, French fries.

Order something as soon as you sit down
If you already know what to get for your little one, order her food ASAP. Otherwise, ask for some chips, bread rolls or anything else to snack on as soon as you sit down. (See note above about hangry toddlers.)

Young boy eating spaghetti at restaurant
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But also bring your own food
Crackers, veggie sticks, string cheese—keep some back-up foods in your bag just in case your little munchkin decides that today is the first day of her whole life that grilled cheese is "yucky." 

Get the check ASAP
As soon as your food arrives, order the check in case you need to make a quick exit. Another top tip? The promise of dessert at home can be a great motivator for good behavior (bribing to avoid a breakdown is A-OK in our book).  

Practice, practice, practice
For toddlers and up, set expectations by practicing manners and restaurant etiquette at home. It’ll make the experience less overwhelming for them and you can even turn it into a fun game. And if you do happen to have a bad experience eating out with children, don’t give up. Practice makes perfect after all.

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