Mama in the City since 2008 and blogging since 2009!

Mom Hack: Dining Out With Kids

January 6, 2019 // Parenting

Three kids and city living means that we do our share of dining out with kids and supporting the restaurant industry. I’ve got zero mom guilt over that one! It’s just so simple for us to head out the door, walk a few blocks to a restaurant and have lunch or an early dinner. This also means that my kids are all pretty familiar with dining out and restaurant manners have been instilled into them from the very start.

I’ve taken my trio out for meals by myself many times. In fact, I can remember this sense of total accomplishment the first time I took the two big kids and my tiny newborn out to a chain restaurant for dinner. We were one mama and three kids and I didn’t sweat it at all. We’ve been dining out as a family since the first was little and I find it really fun to go out to eat with my kids.

I always choose wisely when we go out for a meal. If someone is overly grumpy or tired, we won’t be going to a sit down restaurant. However, sometimes you make lunch plans to meet up with someone and you have to take your crew no matter what. I can be go with the flow on this one, however, we never waiver from our restaurant manners.

The Game Plan

Before we even get to the restaurant we talk about what the kids are going to order, all the way to what drinks they’ll have. I find this makes things simpler and avoids potential meltdowns once we are at the table. As soon as the kids could speak in sentences I’ve gotten them to order their own meal, the younger they are the more help they get from me. Before we give our order we talk about how it will sound and I gently remind them about using their manners and the importance of saying thank you and making eye contact with the server.

We always pack a long a bunch of table friendly activities to keep my people occupied while we wait at the table.  I have a strict zero tolerance for making loud sounds, walking around the restaurant or general kid flopping that can happen to the best of us. My very favourite time passer is books for big kids and the reusable Water Wow colouring books by Melissa & Doug for the littles. Seriously, the latter is so great and portable and genuinely loved by our family.

We also play a variety of games to pass the time with hangman being a popular table top game with my kids. If my crew starts getting antsy for their food we play a game of eye spy and the golden prize is the one who spies the food coming. These things are so simple but seriously keeps the kids focused while we wait.

The Expectations

Over the years the kids have grown to know what it means when we gently remind them about using their, ‘restaurant manners‘. They know that we expect them to sit at the table, use please and thank you and not use playground behaviour (loud and big).

If there are two adults at the table we will most definitely take the antsy one for a walk around but I don’t let my kids walk off on their own by other tables or stand up on the seats. Same goes with the tiny peepers who peer over the back of the booth to the next table. That’s a big no. I might be the ‘strict one’ when it comes to kids and restaurant manners but we’ve so many successful meals out together that I’m going to keep rolling with it.

Dining Out Success!

It’s a successful meal out at a restaurant when we only have one spill. I feel like every meal out there is usually the inevitable spill, especially with the under three crowd but sometimes even with the older kids. Either  random sauce or ketchup splats across the table or the contents of their water glass accidentally splashes out.

The last meal out my two year old was served a glass of water and she spilt half of it all over herself and the table during the two seconds I looked away. Live and learn. Water cleans up easier than chocolate milk or other beverages and half filled glasses make less mess.

If someone has a ridiculous meltdown we will leave. This is not used as an empty threat at all, we will pack up our food and leave. I am pretty relaxed in my daily life but I will not tolerate poor behaviour in a restaurant. I’m not the only person that came to enjoy a meal out and I’m very aware of that. I’d rather eat my food cold back at home then tolerate crazy behaviour. Luckily, I’ve only had to pack up our entire meal once.

The Fine Print

I totally get it if your kid has sensory issues or autism or there’s something else happening that this style of parenting just might not fit with your family. I feel like as long as you’re actively parenting your child, you are doing an amazing job! You are your kids best expert and if you think your kids won’t be able to handle eating out in a restaurant then you make that choice.

Quick Tips To Dining Out With Kids

  • Dining out with kids is best done early! Don’t go at peak meal times if you don’t need to. Have lunch at 11:30 AM and dinner just before 5 PM. There will be less people around and the place will be quieter. Meaning your table service will be speedier too and you won’t have starving kids melting down.
  • Always have an exit plan. If you are dining with your partner take turns being the one that hauls the noisy one out for a quiet little reminder about restaurant manners.
  • Mama says relax. Truly take this one into consideration. If you’re feeling anxious about your kids being all kinds of crazy they will 100% pick up on it and be even crazier than you imagined. Soften your shoulders, make yourself smile and enjoy being out with your family (and not having to cook!).

If you are currently working on your kids restaurant manners always regroup with them once you leave the restaurant. Let them know what was awesome, they sat at the table and used please and thank you, and what did not work.

Remember, dining out with kids is meant to be enjoyable for everyone, even for the mamas! If your kids aren’t quite ready to do a sit down dining out experience start small and get take away to enjoy at a park.



About the author

Hi! I'm Andrea, a 30 something girl who loves living the downtown lifestyle and didn't want to give it up once I started a family. Mama in the City since 2008 and blogging since 2009!


  1. Sherrie says:

    I love these hacks! Thanks so much for sharing. I take my 2 year old son out and i feel like a total gong show. Nice to have some clear ideas how to move forward.

  2. Lisa Favre says:

    I am all about dining as early as possible to avoid any lunch-rush or dinner-rush… so yes, I totally agree with you there! We’ve been dining out with my son for a long time so he’s quite used to it.

  3. Gingermommy says:

    This is fantastic. Dining out with kids does NOT need to be frustrating. In fact it can be rather enjoyable. I totally love the tips you listed! Keeping your cool is so important because as you said the kids can definitely pick up on that.

  4. Holy macaroni… yes! There is totally always at least one spill when eating out. It doesn’t matter how careful you or your kids are, someone is going to make a mess. The tips you gave are amazing. I love that you said to go early. Going before the rush is the best idea ever!