It’s 8 PM. You’re dressed to the nines as you and your spouse breeze through the doors of the hottest new restaurant downtown. You’re seated in a quiet booth and peruse your menu by the light of a single candle. You casually discuss the wine list before settling on a 2012 Napa Cabernet. You gaze into each other’s eyes, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the chef’s signature dish…

and then you have a kid.

The days of looking forward to a romantic meal with your spouse have long passed. Now you’re a team and you’re up against a tiny menace who’s determined to ruin your evening. Taking a toddler to a restaurant is a small piece of hell that I do not wish upon you, but sometimes there’s no way around it. If you’re dining out with your toddler in tow, here are the dos and the don’t you dares.

    • DO arrive early. Obviously, because the restaurant will be less crowded. But also because you and your significant other will not be enjoying your meal any time in the near future.

    • DON’T YOU DARE wait for your server to ask for your child’s order. Just shout out what your child will be having as soon as you spot someone in a uniform. If you’ve ever been a server and happen to be familiar with the restaurant’s POS system, I suggest you just send your child’s order in from the host stand when you arrive. It’s all about minimizing the time between your arrival and when your child has food directly in front of them.

    • DO attempt to have your child use the potty before you leave the house. But if nature calls them once you’ve arrived, you gotta do what you gotta do. A supermom of three once told me to keep post-it notes in my purse to cover the automatic sensor on a restaurant toilet. Whoever invented this “convenience” did NOT have children. ​

    • DON’T YOU DARE order something that your child has never eaten. This is not the time to explore the menu. Order something proven. On the way to the restaurant, pull up the kids’ menu from your phone so that you are confident there’s something your kid will eat (and if they refuse all items, see “DO bring a non-perishable back-up meal”). My daughter gets the kids’ mac and cheese every time we go out to dinner. Every. Time. It’s proven. Never veer from proven while out in public with your toddler.

    • DO bring a non-perishable back up meal. I’m always packin’. It’s a Gerber chicken ravioli meal that I’m certain my child will consume. Just have something on hand in case your toddler refuses your selection. At least they’re eating and no one else has to hear about how dissatisfied they are with what was first presented to them.

    • DON’T YOU DARE just sit at the table until your child’s food arrives. Walk around and point stuff out. “Look at the fishies in this picture!” “Ooooh look at the beautiful…light fixtures.” And don’t forget to account for the time it will take for your child’s meal to cool because you are sure to be delivered a sweltering inferno of pasta for your innocent child to feast on.

    • DO perform a secret service-style sweep of the table before you even set your child down. Place all cutlery, salt and pepper shakers and other accoutrement out of reach. I lay out a disposable placemat so my kid has something to eat off of and so she is less likely to launch a ceramic plate. If this establishment boasts table cloths, this is not your jam. If you notice a tablecloth, just find your nearest exit.

    • DON’T YOU DARE arrive without ample entertainment and a pre-meal snack. If the restaurant is packed, it may not be possible to roam about with your kid. You’re gonna have to keep them entertained at the table. This one is dealer’s choice. iPad. Coloring book. Cheerios. A friend of mine brings play-doh for her son to entertain himself with pre-meal. Then she just puts it back in her purse when the meal arrives. No clean-up. Genius.

    • DO bring your child’s own sippy cup. It took two (epic) spills to teach me that what some restaurants serve up as a kid’s cup is bound to end up under your table as soon as it meets your child’s grasp. Just order a beverage, then pour it into your kid’s cup. That cup is proven. Again, never veer from proven. Your non-milk-spattered jeans will thank you.

    • DO order a cocktail (or three) because you frickin deserve it. Cheers.​​

    • DO enjoy apps and a drink with your spouse while your child dines and then order your entrees to-go. You will enjoy your food so much more at home in silence once your kid is asleep. I learned this one after about four nights of dining out with my toddler and having to ask for my entree to be packed up on each occasion. As soon as your toddler is done with their meal, they’re gonna be all over you and you’re going to have to ask for your entree to be packed up anyway. Why not just start there?

    • DON’T YOU DARE worry about your kid’s mess. I struggle with this one and catch myself pre-bussing the table as my silent act of contrition. I deliver my server a neat pile of plates and silverware complete with my winning smile. But its not your job to clean up. Just focus on getting that munchkin fed and keeping them happy. Your fellow diners will appreciate this much more than the cleanliness of your surrounding area.

    • DO leave a nice tip. Your server probably had to visit a little more often on account of your tiny terror, so reward them. You are not the only one who was stressed out over something that went down at your table this evening.

And after dodging forks, wiping up spills and apologizing profusely…is this all really even worth it? Which brings me to my #1 tip for dining out with a toddler…

​DON’T YOU DARE.

Erin Washington is a first-time mom from Leesburg, VA. She enjoys good wine, toddler fashion, and naps. See more from Erin at Rookie In This Mom Game and @theplaygroundfashionista.
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