We have all seen it when eating in a restaurant. Screaming kids running around, throwing food, spilling drinks all over. Mom looking exhausted (or oblivious!) and other patrons upset all around them. Eating out with a toddler doesn’t need to be like this!
Planning, flexibility and some great toddler restaurant toys can make dining out an enjoyable time by all (including other restaurant patrons).
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. My full disclosure policy can be found here.
Eating at restaurant with a toddler – why it’s different
First things first. I’m saying this as a friend, so don’t get mad….You now have a toddler and dining out will be different.
1. You might not get to eat all your food…at least not in one sitting.
2. You won’t be able to have adult conversation fluidly – “what were we talking about?” Will be said often.
3. You won’t stay as long
4. You probably won’t stay seated the whole time
5. You will pack a bag of distractions – toddler restaurant toys – toys only dedicated for toddler restaurant trips and car rides.
Once you are comfortable with this you can go in with realistic expectations and actually enjoy the experience.
Related: Looking for an activity to do before the restaurant? Here are my favorite toddler activities (indoor & outdoor ideas)
Before you Leave for the Restaurant:
1. Look for reviews and ensure they are family friendly. This ensures staff will be used to serving families and will be flexible and understanding. Make sure they:
- Have a kids menu or family deal
- Have high chairs or booster seats
- Have reviews that say they are family friendly
2. Nap: make sure your toddler has had a good nap and that you won’t be at the restaurant too long, so they will be able to stick to their bedtime routine.
A tired toddler is not a nice toddler.
3. Make a Game Plan. If you are going with your partner, talk about how you will handle situations.
- Agree that if they get fussy one parent will take them for a walk.
- Agree it’s ok for the other parent to finish eating and take turns. That way there is no resentment if the dinner takes a turn for the worst.
- Agree to take turns helping your toddler with whatever they need.
- Agree to leave it it’s just not working.
4. Pack a bag of toddler restaurant toys that can be played solo or can get the whole table involved. Here are my favorite Toddler Restaurant toys:
How to Manage Toddler Public Tantrums
Toddler tantrums happen. In public they can be even more embarrassing, frustrating and so painful to watch, but these outbursts don’t have to ruin your restaurant outing. Here’s how to manage public temper tantrums.
1. Don’t overreact
It may feel like all eyes are on you and judging your parenting skills in this moment, but reacting to this sudden pressure and spotlight can actually make it much harder to control your toddler. Focus on helping your child and ignore the other restaurant customers.
2. Speak in a quiet and calm voice
Raising your voice will only bring more attention from the people around you. Additionally, it may trigger your child to go into an even bigger tantrum.
They are trying to get a reaction from you. Speaking in a calm, quiet voice will force them to calm down in order to listen to you.
Speaking quietly will help get your message through to them and your words will stay quiet between you and your toddler.
3. Don’t Give In To Their Demands
Easier said than done with a two year old screaming, but try not to give in to what they are asking for. If you do, the next time you go to a restaurant they will do the same because they know it works.
4. Avoid the Tantrums
Young children are prone to temper tantrums when they’re feeling out of sorts. They might be hungry, tired, overstimulated or bored. If you can avoid it, don’t take your child to a restaurant when they’re overly tired or starving.
If they’re overstimulated because the restaurant is really busy, find a way to engage them in one focused activity – the games below or busy boards should help.
5. Give your toddler choices
Another way to avoid a tantrum is to involve your child in the decision making at the restaurant. Don’t keep the choices open ended (ex. What do you want to eat?. Instead give two options.
- Do you want to sit in this chair or this chair?
- Would you like milk or water with your dinner?
- Do you want pasta or chicken tonight?
Feeling in control will help them feel part of the process of eating out and they will be less inclined to have a tantrum.
Public temper tantrums are embarrassing and pure torture when they’re happening. If you cannot get your child to calm down in the restaurant, don’t hesitate to leave the table, pick up your child and remove them from the environment. It sends a strong and powerful signal to your child that you’re not affected by their behavior and it’s not going to be tolerated.
10 Favorite Toddler Restaurant Toys
1. Busy Book
Busy Books are great for toddlers in a restaurant. They do what they say – they keep their little hands busy with zippers, buttons, clasps etc. They can get pricey – but this version isn’t too bad and will keep your toddler entertained while you order. Great for the car too!
Buy it on Etsy
2. Matching Game
Any matching game will do, but I like this version because its wood (so the pieces can handle a juice spill at a restaurant) and they come in an adorable bag that’s easy for travel.
Matching games can be played all together which is a great time filler while you wait for the food to arrive.
Buy it on Etsy
Playdoh is so versatile and you and your toddler can play together. This pack is meant to be a party bag favor, but is also the perfect size to toss in your bag before heading out the door.
Buy it on Amazon
4. Food Matching Game
Make the restaurant a little classroom and play this matching game with a food theme. Take the cards out of the box and pack in a ziploc bag to keep them safe and save room in your bag.
Buy it on Amazon
5. Resuable Color with Water Pads
These no-mess coloring pads are a staple in our house. Great while I am making my daughter’s dinner and they are just as great in a car or in a restaurant because they are no mess. Just fill the pen with water and your toddler can color away.
Buy it on Amazon
6. Pocket Pouch Magnetic Wooden Block Set
These blocks have built-in magnets so they won’t fall down as easily when your toddler is playing with them. They are also made in Honduras with the goal of creating fair trade jobs for local residents – bonus!
Buy it on Amazon
8. Lift the Flap Book
My daughter has loved lift the flap books since she was very young and they still keep her entertained as a toddler. This book has a “search” component which is great for older toddlers while you grab an after dinner coffee.
Buy it on Amazon
If your toddler is older and putting puzzles together, these can be great to keep them busy on at the table. To save space you can put the pieces in a ziploc bag.
Puzzles can also become family games if you all take turns adding in a piece.
Buy these on Amazon
10. Coloring Book
Sometimes family friendly restaurants provide crayons and a coloring book, but if they don’t these mess free coloring books from Crayola are great. No mess and lots of fun for toddlers.
Buy on Amazon
I’m sure you noticed I didn’t mention electronics, like an iPad.
Full disclosure: Sure, I let my toddler watch tv at home and let her watch YouTube on my phone during long drives, BUT at a restaurant I try to avoid this.
I want to teach my toddler that this is family time and an experience. She needs to be involved and present. I’d rather pick toys we can all play with together.
BUT if it’s going to avoid a meltdown – I would give it to her so I could pay and leave. I don’t want her sitting there with a screen in her face not engaged. We are paying to go out so let’s have fun!
Conclusion: Ten Toddler Restaurant Toys
Eating out with your two or three year old can be a really fun family event with some planning and fun restaurant toys. Planning, patience and a little trial and error will make eating out as a family a no brainer.