As a restaurant family, we find ourselves dining out with our children often. Our kids started going to restaurants early on. In fact, Louisiana's first real food eaten was at Lola. She was a mere 6 months old and we went out to dinner for my MIL's birthday. As we stuffed our faces with some Michael Symon deliciousness, our girl decided that she wanted in on the fun. She reached across the table while our heads were turned and before we knew it she was chomping down on crispy pigs ear.

The Chef & I follow some pretty serious rules when taking our kids out to eat because we do it so often. The mini's, now 6 & 4, have eaten at some of the best restaurants in the country, and we have managed to not get blacklisted. Here's how:

  • Pick independent restaurants. The majority of independent restaurants are run by people with families all the way from the owners & chefs to the servers and managers. They know (and usually) respect people who choose to introduce their kids to good local food. Independent restaurants are much more likely to smile when you walk in the door with kids in tow, then shudder.
  • Decide (before you leave your house) how long your kids can last at a restaurant. I know that if we take the mini's out to dinner at 5pm, we have a good 2 hours before breakdown. However if we go out to dinner at 7pm or later, we've got an hour. No ifs and or buts. Within 60 minutes, our little angels will go from good to 'spirited'. And when I say spirited I totally 'taken over by mini demons...'
  • Have a meal plan. The Chef & I order multiple apps within moments of being shown to our table. We usually order 4+. These apps will be the majority of what our mini's will eat. We rarely order from the kids menu, my kids don't do processed food & the majority of kids menus are 100% frozen crap. Usually we order one entree to split b/w the adults because by the time the apps are up our kids can get restless. Two entrees makes dinner that much longer and we have learned in the past that we never ever finish both entrees. So,we started ordering one. If you split an entree, make sure to ask if there is a charge. Before last night I would have never mentioned that however as I was paying the bill at a restaurant I noticed our entree had increased in price by $5 with the word SPLIT under it. SHAY to the D.
  • Don't bring a ton of games/activities/crayons/pencils/legos/dolls to the restaurant. It's cool to bring a couple things for your kids to do but leave the toy box at home.
  • Keep the iPhone in the car. Our mini's love technology. You name it, iphone-wii-ipad, they LOVE it. For a minute we fell into the dinner techno trap. Instead of hanging out with our kids we would hand over our phones. The kids head would be aglow with iPhone white until dinner was served. Then one day I realized that we had become the assholes who ignore their kids and let them play video games at the table.  As a family that does not get to do family dinner very often, we were completely throwing our time together down the shitter. Years ago I established my date night rule: ABSOLUTELY NO PHONES AT DINNER. Conversation is encouraged and moments are created. This is now heavily enforced with our family dinners out.
  • Clean up after your children. If your kid dumps a plate of pasta on the floor make an attempt to clean it up. If you are in a decent restaurant, the server will most likely help. Whatever you do, don't ignore the mess. The restaurant is there to take care of the customer however they are not your maid, nanny, or butler. Respect the restaurant and clean up the mess your children make. Better yet, make them clean it up.
  • Tip well. I know that even though we try to be speedy when we dine out with our kids, shit happens. The boy will change his mind on what he ordered while the girl spilled her entire milk in her food. Our servers, usually always very understanding, are still being pulled away from another table while taking care of our crazy family. Because they are not spending as much time at their other tables, they may be losing a larger tip. Hence, the TIP WELL advice.
  • Go on a walk. If you happen to be dining at an independent restaurant, take your kids to the kitchen mid meal. It will be something interesting for them to see and it will make up for the monotony of sitting in the same place for too long. If the kitchen is not open like ours at the tavern, go on a walk. Even if it's just to the restroom. Antsy kids make stress out parents which is no good for anyone.
  • The most important thing to remember when dining out with kids is to HAVE FUN!! Food is an important part of life and introducing your children to independent restaurants & dining out early on will give them a much great understanding of our food system and their own personal health. Plus getting to know your kids over a plate of delicious food might just be the greatest feeling on Earth.

Do you do anything special when you dine out with your kids? I would love to hear your advice and suggestions. xx