I know one of the most intimidating things about travelling with very young children is the usually necessary aspect of dining out each day. I know some families who simply refuse to go to restaurants even at home until their children are "old enough". It's true that bringing babies and toddlers out for dinner is not always easy, but it's definitely doable... and, usually enjoyably doable. I've written a few restaurant reviews for "The Fairytale Family", but I have yet to give advice on the actual act of eating out with the little ones. I hope this week's column can be of some help!
If your babies/toddlers are under 3, I would recommend buffets for two reasons. The first being the fact that there is minimal waiting at a buffet. The wait for the server to take your order, then the wait for the food is usually what sends little children into fits. Children everywhere, in any place, hate to wait! The food is always ready in buffets, so it's easy to sit, eat, and leave! You have more control over the time spent in the restaurant. The second reason that buffets are a good choice is that children under 3 eat free!
If you will encounter some kind of wait, either for your server, food, bill, or for the rest of the family to finish eating, there are some tricks you can use to help your children cope! To start, have your server bring your child's food out as soon as it's ready, even if the rest of your party's isn't. Now, you may be wondering what will happen when your child finishes eating before you? That's where some snacks come in! Don't worry, they can be healthy! I like to save up the kids' grapes from the "dessert" that comes with the combos at the quick-service dining restaurants and use them as snacks later in the day. And, this way, you know your child is eating his meal first, then eating snacks as a dessert, rather than the other way around and filling up on snacks before his food comes!
Another trick is to use entertainment! This can mean the standard crayons and paper, but for the younger set, you might have to be a bit more creative. Something that has been tried, tested, and true for us is our iPhone/iPad/iPod. There are SO many great apps for toddlers, and many of them can keep them amused for amazing lengths of time! My three year-old enjoys memory card games, while my 18 month-old likes anything with music, bright colours, and things he can tap! Even if you don't have any apps on your device, my son is always entertained by showing him the photos I've taken on my phone. Most people always have their phone on them, so this means you don't have to carry any additional toys/books to the restaurant.
Entertainment can also mean making use of what the restaurant has to offer! Always sit the little ones in front of the action to help distract them from the wait. For example, Biergarten offers a great show along with dinner (included in the price of dinner), and we always make sure our kids get a great view. Biergarten is always one of our favourite choices because there is even a dance component to the show so our kids can get up and dance! Other examples are the the ovens at Via Napoli or the animals at Rainforest Cafe. Sitting on a patio, such as the one at Tony's Town Square provides great opportunity for people watching. Of course, character dining provides phenomenal distraction. Sometimes even placing your child at the end of the table where there is a lot of server traffic can provide enough distraction to avoid some complaining!
Disney restaurants are very child-friendly. They sort of have to be! There is always a clean, high-chair available, and sometimes even an infant seat! Crayons and colouring sheets are always in abundance. The servers are used to dealing with children, so you don't have to feel anxious if your child's behaviour is less than stellar. From my own experience, I've learned that children pick up on your behaviour. If you are tense going into the restaurant because you are expecting the worst, your children will probably fulfill that prophecy. They don't do well with anxious parents - it makes them anxious (and more prone to acting out), too! Lastly, remember: the restaurant will probably be filled with other families with children just like you! We are all in the same boat, so everyone will be very understanding. The atmosphere at Disney is always a welcoming one. This combined with considering some of the aforementioned tips will help create a pleasant, and relaxing dining experience for your children, and for you!