9 Ways Dining Out Is Different Before Kids vs. After

From leisurely meals with quiet conversation to airborne nuggets and deafening shrieks, here's how dining out changes once you have kids.

young girl eating spaghetti rudely at restaurant
Photo: Shutterstock

You love that corner tapas bar with the flickering candles and delicious Rioja. But alas, it's a distant memory now that you have kids—much like your pre-baby skinny jeans and the hours once spent watching Scandal. A chic bistro filled with adults having a civilized meal will never mix with your rowdy (but adorable!) toddler. Instead, you're learning to survive on a different eating plane—one with brighter lights, foods shaped like animals, and cups with plastic lids.

Welcome to the world of eating out with kids. It's messy. It's loud. And sometimes, it's kind of fun (all those fries!). Here, we break down the difference between restaurant dining pre- and post-kiddos:

  1. Race Against TimeBefore: A table for two at 8 p.m.? Yes, please.After: You've said buh-bye to your old time slot. There's a reason you see families filling those booths the moment the restaurant opens for dinner, all vying to be seated between 5 and 6 p.m. This way, you'll be in and out before your kids have a chance to horrify the after-work crowd.
  2. Friendly FareBefore: Foie gras. Sweetbreads. And you'd never miss the cheese plate! Of course you may want to continue this practice in order to broaden your child's palate...wait, who are you kidding?!After: Face it, there's nothing wrong with burgers. Or pizza. You now know to choose a reasonable place with food your kids like to eat so you don't trigger a core meltdown.
  3. Clothes for CombatBefore: Your go-to look was always fab jeans, stacked boots, and a buttery-soft moto jacket.After: You're not exactly entering a war zone, but it's close. This event is no place for dry-clean-only clothing. Blobs of ketchup and marinara will land in your lap and on your sleeves, so you grab an outfit you wouldn't mind losing in a fire.
  4. Bag LadyBefore: A cute clutch—with lip gloss, car keys, and a credit card. Done.After: Frankly, you need your entire bag of tricks to get through this evening. A sturdy tote or the ol' diaper bag is filled with wet wipes for sticky mouths and hands, crayons and scrap paper for doodling, and, when the food takes forever to arrive, that ace in the hole: lollipops.
  5. Water, Please!Before: Cocktails! Or wine. And then a second glass. It's date night!After: Do. Not. Liquor. Up. You can't wrangle your kids if you're starting to sway at the table. You have to keep your wits about you and stick to a single (small) drink or club soda.
  6. Order UpBefore: Without kids, you might take your time with the menu, choose an appetizer or two, and then see about entrees.After: You always bone up on the menu online ahead of time so you can decide which items will cause the smallest freak-out episode, order quickly, and feed your demons fast.
  7. Sans SweetsBefore: You would always get dessert on a dinner date, especially if a molten chocolate cake was on the menu.After: Are you seriously going to add sugar to your already hyped-up kids? Plus, as noted above, you realize that an extra course extends your stay and ups the chance that your offspring could run relay races to the bathroom and empty all the sugar packets onto the table.
  8. Rate the DateBefore: The chicken was dry, but the mussels? Divine. It was fun to rehash the meal with your partner.After: As long as no one threw glass, barfed on the table, or hit his sister, the meal was a success.
  9. Tipping the ScalesBefore: You based your tip on the quality of service.After: There's spaghetti hanging from the light fixtures, water spilled everywhere, and napkins all over the floor. It looks like a tornado went through the middle of your booth, so you make sure not to leave without at least trying to help clean up and then you tip your server big time.
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