One of the great joys of any family holiday is experiencing the local cuisine, but once you’ve had kids, sometimes meals end up being curtailed to fast food you can eat with your hands on the run. But there is a way to avoid an entire family vacation of room service and burgers. You can get to enjoy fine dining restaurants with kids; you and the kids just need to know how to behave. Here’s the suitcases&strollers travel tips to eating out in expensive restaurants with kids.
· Call the restaurant to ask them if they are kid-friendly. Ask them questions about the menu, if they will cater special meals for kids, whether they have high chairs and if there is stroller access. From their response you will usually get a good sense of whether this restaurant is a place that welcomes children or not.
· Prepare the kids for the experience. Explain to them about the environment they are about to enter and the kinds of behaviour that will and will not be accepted of kids in expensive restaurants. This is a good opportunity to explain the concept of sharing a space with other people to small kids; they need to understand that there are other diners that have paid for a particular type of experience and the kids need to be mindful of this when they act.
· Prepare the restaurant for your kids. Befriend the waitstaff with your cute children and explain to them your painstakingly organised plan for keeping the kids in check. If you can get your server onside and understanding that you are making an effort to keep their other customers happy, they are more likely to overlook small incidents and try to be accommodating rather than judging you.
· Pack an arsenal of entertainment and incentives for good behaviour. This is one time when electronic devices (with headphones) can be extremely useful tools at the dinner table. Remember that large, bulky toys and expensive wine glasses do not tend to be good friends.
[Being in the confined space of an expensive restaurant with kids is a bit like flying with kids. For more travel tips on how to encourage good behaviour in kids on the plane, see the suitcases&strollers story by a behavioural therapist here.]
· Also pack snacks. If it is a very sophisticated restaurant they may not be able to cater appropriate children’s meals so pack a meal for each child including a sweet dessert incentive to keep them going too.
[For more travel tips on travel-friendly foods, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
· Prepare yourself. Have a plan for what you are going to do and how you are going to react if the kids actually do not to behave.
· If you have a baby, try to plan meal and sleep times around the restaurant booking. Babies in fine dining restaurants are actually excellent companions…so long as they are sleeping. Plan to feed and change baby ahead of time so they arrive content, clean and ready to sleep at the restaurant. Pack all your emergency sleep tools and prep the restaurant so that they understand that as soon as baby goes to sleep, you want to be eating immediately to maximise your time. Pre-request a table away from other diners so that if your baby does stay awake, your stress levels stay down.
· Be realistic about what you can achieve. This is probably not the time to order the 10-course degustation menu. About one and a half to two hours is the likely limit of any child’s ability to sit quietly at a restaurant table, so ask the waitstaff about time frames. If it is available, look up the menu online before you arrive so you know your selections. Order immediately when you arrive and ask the kitchen to bring the courses out at a faster pace than normal.
[For more travel tips on feeding kids on family vacation, see the suitcases&strollers interview with baby food guru Annabel Karmel.]