Tips for Dining Out with Kids


I have to be honest here – if I’m craving a nice dinner out, including uninterrupted conversation with my husband, I don’t necessarily start researching family friendly restaurants.  If my expectation is a calm, slow dinner with my husband, I call in the babysitter.  If my expectation is a dinner out with the kids – we find a place that works for us.

I notice a lot of kids at restaurants plugged in while they’re parents check out.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a criticism.  But I have to wonder…why bother with the family dining experience if the kids spend the whole time playing games?  I’m not above handing over the phone for an exceptionally long wait with an exceptionally tired preschooler.  That’s hard.  I’m also not above handing it over when a group dinner drags on and on.  But those moments are few and far between – because I just don’t like to put myself in that position.

We go out to lunch fairly regularly.  We choose fun places, hand over some crayons and paper, and try to stay focused on our “restaurant expectations”.  We want the kids to enjoy going out to eat and to learn to think about other people around us, but we don’t want to drag tired kids out to dinner just for the sake of going out to dinner.  But that’s us.

Other friends truly enjoy dinner out with the kids, and I applaud them.

If you do like to take your kids out for dinner, below are some tips to make it a little easier.

Go early:  Instead of rolling the dice on tired kids, get there early.  Plan to be there 30-40 minutes before your child would normally eat to factor in time for being seated, ordering, and waiting.

Plan ahead:  Download the menu before you even leave for the restaurant so that you can discuss choices with your kids.  Call ahead and ask if you can place your order in advance.  If so, do it.  Less waiting = less squirming/whining/game time.

Come prepared: Most family friendly restaurants have crayons and coloring sheets around, even if you have to request them.  But it’s a good idea to stick a box of crayons and a little notebook or a little Highlights puzzle book in your purse, just in case.  Mini Play Doh also comes in handy during a long wait.

Review the rules:  Go over your expectations during the drive to the restaurant.  When kids get excited (or hungry…or tired…), they tend to forget the rules.  Remind them to stay in their seats, talk in a calm voice, say please and thank you, etc.

Remain focused:  Family dinner is family dinner.  Handing over the gadgets so that you can talk to your spouse is not considered family dinner.  Engage with your kids.  Talk about your surroundings.  Do food tastings.  Play I Spy.  Tell a story together.  Dining out can be fun and engaging – but you have to remain engaged.

Call the babysitter:  Sometimes you just need a night off from cooking, doing dishes, and keeping the peace.  Believe me, I get it.  I need time with my husband away from the house so that I’m not thinking about the toys that weren’t put away or the laundry that needs folding.  Bring in the babysitter once in a while.  Give yourself a break and enjoy a date night.  You deserve it!

Happy dining!

About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)