If you want to enjoy a romantic dinner out but need to bring your kids along, these tips will help you enjoy a meal with your partner while teaching the kids important life lessons!
There are so many tips for keeping kids happy during your family vacation but today I'd like to pause and consider the adults for a minute.
Family travel doesn't need to be centered solely on the children for every single moment, sometimes mom & dad need a bit of a breather, too.
My husband and I recently celebrated our anniversary and this year it meant bringing the kids along for our special dinner.
Just because we had pint sized companions didn't mean we had to stoop to a chicken nuggets and dancing characters restaurant.
You can enjoy fine dining with the kids as long as you head to the restaurant prepared with these important tips!
How It Started
My husband and I have always celebrated our anniversary with a special weekend away or at the very least a fancy dinner out together.
This year, living far away from family for the first time since having children we were forced to choose between staying home or planning a romantic adventure with the kids tagging along.
The adventure won.
We headed to Hilton Head Island for a quick weekend at the beach.
(Want all my best beach vacation tips? You'll definitely want to visit my beach vacation guide on Don't Just Fly.)
Though there were plenty of beach shack spots our kids would have felt right at home at, we wanted something a bit fancier and more adult for our anniversary dinner.
With 2 girls ages 6 & 3 this was definitely an option with just a bit of planning and preparation
Tips for Dining Out With Kids
1. Call Ahead!
I phoned our restaurant of choice to double check that children were welcome.
I personally felt better knowing that they had a high chair available and children's portions on the menu.
I made reservations for an earlier time when the restaurant would be less crowded and when our girls would still be well behaved and not overtired.
2. Dressing to Code
I made sure that my girls were dressed in their fanciest vacation gear (plus sweaters!! So many restaurants are over air conditioned in the summer!)
I'm a firm believer that what they wear dictates the tone of expected behavior.
A fancy dress for dinner signals it's time for our best manners.
It also says, "This meal is going to be special for us all."
3. It's a Date!
We talked with our kids about what "anniversary" means and how we wanted them to come and celebrate with us.
They know that mommy & daddy go on dates at home once in a while, this was a family date.
They loved feeling so included with our party.
4. Practice Manners
We are always working on our please and thank you's but a meal like this is also a chance to work on:
- eye contact with other adults
- listening skills
- making simple requests
We have our 6 year old practice placing her own order politely and thanking the servers when the food arrives or plates are removed.
This is a lot easier if you use dining out with kids as an opportunity to do these things all year round at any restaurant, not just a fine dining one.
The hard work earlier in the year totally pays off when you can enjoy a nicer meal later.
5. BYOC: Bring Your Own Crayons
The finer more adult oriented restaurants do not always have crayons and placemats for coloring for the kids.
Our daughters have come to expect this whenever we dine out so I came prepared with our own.
We loved the Melissa & Doug Color by Numbers set and the Color-N-Carry Animals set for the girls.
The crayons and markers are self contained in the packaging, they were just the right size for my purse, and took up very little room at the table.
Bonus points that both have built-in hard surfaces to color against--the nicer restaurants with soft tablecloths can make that tricky!
6. Lighten Up
Finally, once the kids are set and happy, Enjoy Yourself!!
It's ok to spend time enjoying your own meal for once and not waging the nightly veggie battle.
Let them fill up on the bread basket if they want. Order a basket of fries and call it dinner. Promise ice cream for dessert if things go well.
Or even go full steam ahead and try a full meal of "Yes Moments."
This is just one meal out of the entire vacation, fill them up with healthier things earlier in the day if it makes you feel better, but try to relax and make this dinner all about what you and your partner would enjoy eating and not about worrying about what's on the kids' plate.
After all, this is your vacation, too.
7. Plan for Things Going Wrong
Above all, life with kids is unpredictable no matter how much effort you put into planning.
Talk with your partner before dinner and have a plan you both feel comfortable with for if things don't go as well as you hope.
If your children cannot have environment-appropriate behavior at the restaurant, do not ruin another couple's evening with screaming, tantrums, or major crying fits.
Plan to have one of you walk the kids outside until they can calm down again or have a total exit strategy if you need to take food to go.
Even if things don't go well, your efforts are worth the risk. Children learn appropriate behaviors by example and maybe next time will have better luck.
Date Night at Home
If all else fails, or you just don't feel comfortable dining out with your kids yet, plan a romantic date night at home!
Pour a couple glasses of champagne and toast your amazing hard work as parents of the year!