The "Five Ps" of Restaurant Dining with Small Children
It's possible, I assure you. Like finding a perfectly symmetrical, scar-less pumpkin the day before Halloween, or an ESPN article that doesn't mention Johnny Manziel or LeBron James, having a successful, painless dinner at a restaurant with your kids could happen. Clearly, it doesn't always happen but it's attainable. Being honest, it happens about as frequently as a flawless pumpkin or a LeBron-less ESPN tweet. If you have any children (or follow ESPN on social media), you know exactly what I mean.
If you have older children, you've already been through "the dining experience" more times than you could likely count. But if you're a newer parent with children aged 2-3, here are some tips I've found most useful when attempting to eat a meal without losing my mind or getting banned by the owner. I call them "The 5 Ps."
The biggest mistake any parent can make when taking their small children out in public (especially to a restaurant) is not being able to come correct. By this, I mean you should have prepared diapers (if needed), a backup outfit, and the most crucial item: the entertainment. A coloring book, a doll, or an Etch-a-Sketch -- anything that will occupy your child's mind and deter him from destruction. If you're counting on the restaurant to supply the crayons, it's a risky bet as you'll often be left, quite literally, empty-handed.
Whoever coined the phrase "time is of the essence" was clearly either a parent of young kids or a war general (or both). Because being tactical with your time is most important when leading troops into battle or feeding your children. And frankly, both acts can feel quite similar. In short, don't bring your children out to a late dinner. Early on in my parenthood, I made the monumental mistake of arriving at a restaurant at a time we would normally eat dinner, forgetting that we'd need to be given a table, then order and wait for our food. And the place didn't have crayons! Bottom line is: get to the restaurant at least half an hour before the time you actually plan to eat.
This is the trickiest maneuver to pull off successfully. Mostly because it depends on your child's appetite and demeanor at the exact second you sit down to eat on a particular night. Has she not eaten a morsel since lunch? Has she eaten a granola bar as recently as half an hour ago? Is she being an irritable little jerk? These are all questions you have to ask yourself when ordering your meals. If your child looks like she can hold out to eat, give her a toy/book to play with first, have your meals come out together, and then eat at the same time. If your kid looks like a character from Dawn of the Dead, give her something small to eat to hold her over or have her food come out first.
A necessary virtue in any aspect of parenting, but yours will truly be tested when you're surrounded by angry, unsympathetic patrons who are simply looking for a peaceful night out at Fuddruckers. Your child is undoubtedly going to do something to annoy them (and you). Take a breath, gather yourself, and try your absolute best not to lose it. Having patience doesn't mean allowing your 2-year-old to knock down his juice cup on his little sister without consequence. It just means you can't fly off the handle because two peas fell on the floor. Pick your battles. This leads right into the fifth and final P...
Goes hand in hand with patience. You can't really have one without the other. Poise is the difference between flipping the table over and storming out the front door like Teresa Giudice vs. calmly carrying your unruly kid to a neutral zone and coolly, yet forcefully, threatening the disposal of the entire collection of whatever they love. Don't get me wrong; I've lost it many, many times with my children in public. But I've found that, aside from the release of letting off steam, losing my cool only yields negative results. However, staying poised amidst chaos is a virtue worth its weight in gold, and it will make you the envy of every parent around you who are slamming their fists on the table in disgust.
I know what you're thinking: But Joe, I have definitely tried all of these tips and I still want to smash my face into a wall every time I set foot in an Outback. Trust me, I understand. It's not an exact science. And like anything related to your kids, there is no handbook/guide that guarantees a disaster-less night. But if you think ahead, come correct, and maintain whatever composure you have left, there's actually an outside chance you could (gasp) enjoy a meal with your kids. Just maybe.
Joe DeProspero has two sons and a wife, and he is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as "outrageous," "painfully real," and "downright humiliating." Author of the dark comedy fiction novel "The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt," Joe is also writing a parenting humor book.
Image: Restaurant table photo via Shutterstock.com