When my daughter was very little, my partner and I would head out for happy hour at a local place around the corner just to get out of the house. One margarita and some chips and queso later, we'd feel a little like our pre-baby elves. However, once our daughter started to wiggle around and move a little more, she wasn't so content sitting in the stroller for an extended period of time. In other words, we had to create a few tricks to get the kid to sit nicely at a restaurant.
If you have a baby, and only one baby at that, take advantage of the fact that they might sit in the stroller and chew on a single toy for an hour. That phase is fleeting and what proceeds after it is 100 percent more exhausting. Now that my daughter is a toddler, my partner and I try to find a spot that has an outdoor patio where we can just roll her up in the stroller. The longer she's willing to sit in that stroller, the more peaceful our meal is going to be. Kids that age (kids most ages, really) want freedom to roam, and in a restaurant that's exactly what parents do not want. Chasing an exploring toddler around a restaurant is my idea of hell (and a waste of time in a restaurant) so if we can keep her entertained outside, we're winning.
I can't tell you every trip to a restaurant is a win, but the following tricks have helped us get through the majority of out out-of-the-house meals in peace. Of course, we've also had to abandon ship mid-meltdown, but we try to remember that's par for the course when you have a toddler. IN the end, all you can do is use the tricks you have and promise yourself that, yes, this too shall pass.
I Feed My Kid Before We Leave The House
There's nothing worse than praying food will arrive before your kid has a hunger-induced meltdown. Feed your kid before you go to a restaurant, especially if you think hunger is going to keep them from sitting nicely.
With our daughter, we don't count on the restaurant to provide a quick meal for her. Instead, we count on the restaurant providing her with an entertaining snack. She's usually too distracted by other people to actually sit and eat, so we make sure she's well fed before we arrive.
I Always Bring Snacks
I try to keep a stash of special snacks to whip out in restaurants. Bonus points if the snacks take a while to eat.
I Let My Kid Use Silverware
And by "use" I mean "play with." My daughter is at the age where she just wants to be like a grown up. Turns out, silverware makes her feel like an adult, even if she's just playing with a fork and an empty water cup on her highchair tray.
I Always Pack Lollypops
Trust me when I say lollypops can keep a toddler occupied for hours on end, or at leas longer than most candies or other foods. You can find sugar-free varieties (if that's important to you) and break it out after they've tried some of your food.
I Check To Make Sure The Restaurant Has A High Chair
If your kid is small enough to need a high chair, make sure the restaurant you're going to has some available before you leave. Alternatively, you can bring a booster seat with you, but make sure you know there's a way to strap them in so you don't have to have them sitting on your lap.
I Practice At Home
Obviously, if your child isn't used to sitting nicely at a table at home, they're probably not going to sit nicely at a restaurant. If you start by practicing at home, they'll start to think of a night out as "normal" and, in turn, not something to get all worked up over.
I Bring Entertaining Toys
Getting your kid to sit politely at a restuarant is really getting them to recognize that public spaces are different than our homes. When it comes to our daughter, our goal is to teach her that, in restaurants, we have extra special manners and use quiet voices. It doesn't always work, but it's something we repeat and encourage by bringing entertaining (but quiet) toys for her to play with. Toys like magnetic blocks or removable stickers she can play with on a high chair tray are really good for keeping a toddler busy but chill.
I Allow My Kid To Eat "Adult Food"
Part of the fun of going out to eat is getting to try something you might not usually eat at home. Keep that in mind for your kid, too. It's tempting to order them something from the kid's menu (especially if you don't want and/or can't spend money on something they might not eat) but giving them something new might keep them intrigued.
We've had the best luck with taking our toddler to restaurants with very different cuisine than we eat at home. Our best success for getting her to sit nicely for a long period of time was Vietnamese food, actually. I brought enough snacks she was used to, and paired it with some bites of whatever my partner an I ordered from the table, and she instantly felt like an adult. What's even more important? She acted like one, too.