Do you have highchairs?

13 Oct

Or how to take small children to restaurants without losing your mind and emptying your wallet.

 

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When Eve was really little absolutely the only food she would eat away from our house was raisins.  That fact, combined with my obsessive adherence to nap times, meant that we didn’t often venture to restaurants and never had picnics.

Pre-children, we really enjoyed eating out and trying new foods, and when you are travelling it’s often your only option, so we’ve been practising with the children for a while now.  After a great deal of trial and error, mostly error, I like to think we’ve cracked it.  I don’t want to give the mistaken impression that every time we visit a restaurant, our children are beautifully behaved and eat everything on their plates, because we live in the real world and obviously that doesn’t happen, but we have reached a stage where eating out isn’t an anxiety ridden ordeal to be avoided at all costs.  So here are my tips: 

  1. Small children are not known for their patience, and expect food to arrive the minute they sit down, so bring food with you.  I watching ice cream being madeknow it seems counter intuitive to take food to a restaurant, but it really works.  You can peruse the menu in peace while they fiddle with their cheerios, which hopefully will last until the food arrives.  Alternatively, ask for breadsticks, prawn crackers or juice the second you enter the door, before your order is taken.
  2. In case the cheerios don’t last through the ordering and cooking process, bring books, pens and paper, or other low-key distractions.  I’m not a fan of bringing electronic entertainment to restaurants as I think that one of the great pleasures of eating out is the chance to talk without the normal distractions of home.
  3. We avoid restaurants which Arosa restaurantmarket themselves to families.  They seem to assume that children should be herded together with other children, which makes for horrendous noise levels, and bad behaviour.  We find that our children behave better in quieter restaurants without tons of children running around screaming, and prefer to choose a venue for it’s food, not for the free balloons.
  4. Take advantage of the fact that children like to eat early and go as soon as places open when they are quiet and you get served quickly.  We try to avoid eating out in the evening with the children, but when we have to, we go as early as possible, otherwise they get too tired and hungry to behave nicely.  I fish and chips in Whitbywouldn’t want small children intruding on my romantic evening out, however well behaved they were.
  5. We have finally got our children used to the idea of sharing their food, which saves a lot of money as they never finish a whole portion, even a children’s one.  Far too often we’ve wasted food and money by ordering too much, and while doggy bags are a nice idea, if they didn’t wolf it down in the restaurant, they are unlikely to eat it at home.  We also share drinks, asking for one adult juice and a couple of extra glasses, or drink tap water like at home.  In Asian restaurants, we order lots of small dishes and share, and in Western restaurants, we tend to order one extra main course and ask for spare plates.  Dim sum or tapas are ideal as children love the little plates and wide variety.  
  6. We don’t Mickey Mouse pizzausually order from the children’s menu as it’s often inferior to the adult menu, although there are some exceptions like Pizza Express.  In my opinion, there is very little point in going to a restaurant to eat chicken nuggets (unless you’re in Disneyland and have no choice) and I’ve only ever been to one fish and chip place that offers real fish in the children’s meal.  We always make sure that we’ve ordered at least one thing that the children will eat, such as a portion of rice, then we use the opportunity to try new foods.  They constantly surprise me and have chosen and tried food I would never have predicted.  Our fussiest eater loves miso soup and Ned regularly asks for food like chicken’s feet and jelly fish.  He even eats it sometimes.
  7. Although we don’t go to ‘family’ restaurants, we do like places with an element of interactivity.  Some of our favourites include conveyor belt sushi, a dim sum restaurant where you watch  towers of steaming bamboo baskets being stacked, a fish restaurant where you choose your raw fish and watch it being cooked, a Vietnamese cafe where you roll your own spring rolls or anywhere with a window into the kitchen.  Anything which holds their attention and therefore gains us an extra 10 minutes at the table has to be good.
  8. We find anywhere that serves noodles is popular, whether they DSC01607be Japanese, Malaysian, Chinese, Vietnamese or Italian.  There is something about them that is inherently funny and child friendly.
  9. Once children have finished eating, they always want to get down STRAIGHT AWAY, so it’s wise to have an exit strategy to avoid them running around the restaurant like mad things.  Generally one of us takes them outside to play when they get restless, while the other one stays and pays.
  10. Be prepared to tip heavily if you ever want to revisit the restaurant, as inevitably the children will make a huge amount of mess.  As a toddler, Dickon went through a phase of choking on his food and projectile vomiting.  It’s very embarrassing when your toddler is sick all over the table, highchair and floor, and even more embarrassing when the child at the next door table wanders over to investigate, and slips in the sick.  Most waiters have been lovely and long suffering, but I think we’ll leave it another couple of years before we venture back to that particular place.

We’ve had plenty of hilarious-after-the-event experiences in restaurants and I’m sure we’ll have many more as we travel around the world.  It may not be as cheap as a picnic, or as easy as eating at home, but taking children to restaurants can be really fun.  And you don’t have to do the washing up.

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11 Responses to “Do you have highchairs?”

  1. amy 13/10/2009 at 5:41 pm #

    great tips i agree with all of them. when i take my 4 to a restaurant i always go fully prepaired and it makes everything go more smoothly x

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily 14/10/2009 at 11:15 am #

      Managing to get out of the house with four children is an achievement alone. I’m very impressed to actually take them to restaurants!

  2. MTJAM 13/10/2009 at 6:28 pm #

    This is a great article – really useful and beautifully written. We eat out a lot with our three toddlers; mostly lunches, but occasionally an early supper, and I agree with all your points. Mine are all under three so I prefer to go somewhere with sufficient highchairs for them all, and that’s not always easy to find, so I tend to call ahead. Generally mine are so excited by the prospect of ‘juice!” (only water at home!) that it keeps them quiet till their meal arrives. We like to order starters, to eat at the same time as their main course, then we have our main course as they devour a bowl of ice-cream. The timing seems to work perfectly when we do that!

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily 14/10/2009 at 11:14 am #

      I really like the idea of ordering their ice cream when you are eating your main course. Nothing like ice cream for keeping them quiet!

  3. Linda 14/10/2009 at 9:16 am #

    Thanks for another great post! I have just linked to you here: http://www.havealovelytime.com/2009/10/eating-out-with-children-some-top-tips-from-its-a-small-world-after-all.html
    I’m not sure I agree with you about all places marketed at families, they’re not all bad – it’s the other people you may have to watch!

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily 14/10/2009 at 11:14 am #

      Thanks so much for the link on Have a Lovely Time. You do have a point on family restaurants, and I must admit that we do sometimes go, particularly places like Wagamama and Giraffe which are a bit of both. We have even ventured into McD’s on occasion (*gasp*). What I really object to is places where other kids run riot as it’s really hard to then make our children behave. I also hate paying for food I could cook better at home.

  4. quicksilverpr 14/10/2009 at 9:29 am #

    Excellent advice. Our strategy was to start ours (very) young, so they have got used to trying new food in a new, public setting, and (fingers crossed) it seems to be working. It seems to help that the oldest (19 months) never misses an opportunity to flirt with the waitresses!

  5. parklover 14/10/2009 at 10:00 am #

    Great post, agreee with you all the way. Our local Turkish restaurant is fab (Cafe Istanbul if you’re ever in Manchester) – no kids menu, but we just order some extra small dishes and share everything. My daughter’s quite happy to guzzle houmous! They are lovely with children too. Wagamama also fab, food comes really quickly and great for trying new tastes.
    Also, we’ve always taken our daughter out for food, so that she’s used to it. If you’re in any way worried about whether a restaurant will welcome babies/toddlers, phone in advance. I’ve been pleasantly surprised many times.

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily 14/10/2009 at 11:16 am #

      I love our local Turkish place too! The food is lovely and so are the waiters.

  6. Linda 14/10/2009 at 11:16 am #

    Your top pic made me laugh – when we went past a sign like that on a trip to London on our way to the Globe theatre, we joked that if it said that at the front of the restaurant, what did it say on the toilet door?
    No worries re link, I love your blog so much…x

  7. SandyCalico 18/10/2009 at 9:35 pm #

    Brilliant post and loads of great advice. You’ve inspired me to go out for more meals as a family.

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