My husband and I started taking Max out to eat with us when he was just a few days old. I think the first time was for breakfast at an old diner way out on Long Island. Decent way to break a kid in, right? Loud, nosey diners seated too close for comfort. The air laden with the wonderful smell of corned beef hash and maple syrup. Max slept peacefully through the chaos and we looked at each other proudly and thought life was great.
Two and a half years have gone by and Max has accompanied us to incredible eating establishments in New York, California and Alberta. Amongst others, he’s been to The Farm, Una Pizzeria, Without Papers, and is on a first name basis with Chef Cam at Brasserie Kensington where he likes to sit at the kitchen bar. The problem is that somewhere along the way our restaurant experience has changed.
Up until recently, Max has been an incredibly well-behaved kid when we are out to eat. But now, instead of looking at each other proudly and thinking that life is great, my husband and I look at our son in disbelief and wonder why we didn’t get a babysitter! I have learned a few things that make a restaurant visit with a toddler a little smoother for everyone.
Allow me to use our recent dinner at the Wild Orchid Asian Bistro in Canmore as an example of some do’s and dont’s.
1. Check out the menu before you go to make sure they have something your child will eat.
In this case I looked the menu over online before going and for some reason thought I saw California rolls on the appetizer list. Max loves Avocado Rolls so I was pretty sure we were safe to take him with us. I was wrong and Max was starving but wouldn’t eat anything that they served.
2. If there is nothing child-approved on the menu, feed them something healthy before you go so you can give them fries or dessert and keep them happy.
The Wild Orchid Asian Bistro is a classy place with a quiet atmosphere and many Zen elements. Our table was not very Zen! Max’s behaviour was quickly descending, Josh was looking at me like I should know what to do and I started sweating looking at the menu desperately trying to find something that would just shut the kid up! Finally Josh asked our waitress if there was anywhere close by to purchase a yogurt. He was directed to the gas station next door and returned with a Carnation drink and a Tim Horton’s muffin. A bit of a compromise on the healthy aspect but it worked!
3. If there is a high chair, put the child in, strap the child down and never give the child the option to sit in a chair.
Chairs are freedom and freedom and toddlers are a terrible combination in a restaurant. Thankfully Wild Orchid Asian Bistro had a cute red high chair and we didn’t have to chase Max around the other diners in between bites.
4. Use technology–God created it for a reason!
Stashing the tablet in my bag was my smartest move of the evening. After Max was calm and had his belly full of the sugary Carnation drink and muffin, he was bored. Netflix allowed us to enjoy the rest of our meal in peace. Good thing because we were just starting our entrees, Thai Basil Peso Elk for Josh and Pad Thai for me. Both were good but Josh’s Elk sirloin was the winner as it was perfectly seasoned and delicious. I would ask for the Basil Pesto on the side though. The Pad Thai was packed full of shrimp and chicken and was good but it wasn’t the classic Pad Thai taste that I was expecting.
5. Order dessert and share with your kid.
This is a bonding moment for the whole family that is much needed at the end of a harried dinner experience. If your dessert is a winner like the Green Tea Cheesecake made in house at Wild Orchid Asian Bistro then the bonding moment will transcend all other bad moments you may have had all day. This cheesecake is still calling my name with it’s smooth, perfectly weighted texture and delicate flavour. Josh, Max and I all ate and smiled at each other and thought wow, life is great!
Do you take your kids out to eat? What are your tips and tricks for an enjoyable experience?
Another couple tips… In addition to checking out the menu prior to arriving… Order the child’s meal immediately upon arriving (even if there’s a seating wait) and tell them to bring it out ASAP. Hungry kids deteriorate quickly!
My best tip though is a game we played with our son at home. “Fancy Restaurant” game was my sneaky way of teaching good manners.