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Dining out with toddlers

We like to dine out alone, but sometimes it's just not possible. Once in a while, we take out our toddler out with us for lunch or an early dinner.

I'm curious-
What's acceptable to request at a restaurant? (I like to ask for a "to go" cup with water and a straw-- a friend said that's totally out of line)

Toys- can I bring them? (Crayons & paper, finger puppet)

Tipping...what's expected?

Not looking to start any arguments... Just opinions from those who have been there.

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  1. I don't know about the other two questions, but as far as bringing toys, as long as they're not being flung around the room, blocking the aisles, making noise or in some way interfering with other patrons or the staff, I'd think any restaurant wouldn't care what you brought, as long as it helped keep the toddler from crying or acting up.

    1. We take our toddler to restaurants occasionally and my experience is:

      We try to bring a sippy cup with us, so we don't have to request anything extra from the restaurant.

      My opinion is that toys are fine, as long as they're not loud or being thrown- anything that keeps a toddler quiet and occupied gets a thumbs up.

      Tipping- we tip as we usually would, though we will increase it if there is any additional mess created by our toddler. That said, I always clean the table and floor to my best ability before we leave.

      8 Replies
      1. re: hyacinthgirl

        Thanks. She doesn't drink from a sippy cup, otherwise I'd bring it

        One place we go to (alone and with toddler) is so accommodating. They'll prepare anything, as long as the ingredients are on the menu. They try to bring toddler's food first, so she doesn't get cranky.

        1. re: cheesecake17

          How about bringing a plastic cup-and-straw combo, then? I guess it really depends on what kind of places you're going to -- I wouldn't assume that all the restaurants I patronize have a to-go cup.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Great idea. I have to remember to keep a few cups and straws in the car.

          2. re: cheesecake17

            Really, really hate when they bring the toddler's food first. Then they're done and want to leave NOW when your food arrives. I think it's well-intentioned but a bad idea.

            1. re: rockandroller1

              I think it depends on the toddler (which makes it impossible for the restaurant to guess). Some kids get bored once they've eaten. Some get cranky if they have to wait too long but are saints once they're full.
              The best restaurant practice would be to ask the parents first, "would you like the child's food first?"

              1. re: rockandroller1

                The key is do it in stages. We timed it so we were all eating at the same time, just different courses. It paced the meal better and as we aren't dessert/coffee people it worked out well.

                I do agree though this should be the parents decision, not the servers.

                1. re: rockandroller1

                  I'm thinking of one place in particular. They bring her food while we have soup or an appetizer. When we get our food, the waitress brings out a small plate of orange slices or melon for her.

              2. We try to dine out with our 21 month old once a month or so for practice for her, so she remembers how to behave in restaurants, and to keep us familiar with dealing with her dining out. She has a nut allergy so I need the practice being vigilant about it.

                I always bring her "lunch bag" with us, containing a big, a sippy cup with water, toddler utensils and plate (not always depending on the place), some sliced up fruit, crackers, applesauce, and crayons/paper. In my purse there tends to be a book or two. We have never had complaints from restaurant staff about us bringing any of these items. She loves to people watch so that is great entertainment. The snacks are for while we are waiting for our meal, or if she's having a picky moment.
                I just personally like to be prepared with what I know she will need so I don't have to hope the place has it. I've watched friends try to wing it and ask for stuff that a restaurant doesn't have and it's not pretty.

                We always order her something. Staff tend to overlook my buffet when she is a "paying" customer. The only place we don't order her anything is the local under 5s are free for brunch.

                We tend to tip around 20% with her.

                1 Reply
                1. re: autumm

                  Good point, we always order something for our 22 month old too. Once or twice his meal has been more expensive than ours.

                2. I don't have a toddler but recently dined with one. The restaurant brought her drink in a "to-go" cup with a straw and lid and it saved many a potential spill. It is NOT out of line - it's a very clever idea that will save laps!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: JerryMe

                    Yep, that's exactly what I like to ask for. Daughter get a "big girl" cup and there's no spilling either

                  2. My opinion:

                    You can bring anything that's quiet and unobtrusive -- certainly crayons and paper, I think small toys would be fine too.

                    You can request anything that the restaurant would normally have and provide to its customers. I think a to go cup is totally fine.

                    If there is any kind of mess or disruption whatsoever (and there's usually at least a little), we tip around 30% and call it the "toddler tax."

                    And it sounds like you already know one of the key rules of dining with little kids -- eat at appropriate times and places. (For instance, unless the restaurant is known to be kid-friendly and not a date-type place, no kids in restaurants after 7 p.m.) And of course, have an escape plan if the kid starts acting up.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Pia

                      Ditto what Pia said. I'm guessing the friend of yours who made the remark about a to go cup must not have children or not go out with them. Most kid friendly restaurants serve a toddlers drinks in a colorful plastic to go cup to begin with. They expect you to take the cup.

                      1. re: Pia

                        Reminds me...we were once at a restaurant, daughter needed a diaper change. On the way back to the table, she tripped and bumped her chin. Lots of crying and we decided to end the meal. Husband quickly found the waitress and asked that our meals be wrapped up before being served, as we had to leave. She gave him a dirty look...and he said its bc of personal issues and her tip was already on the table. (She didn't see that dd fell)