Don't let travelling with kids stop you from having great restaurant experiences. A little planning ahead and your whole family can experience some great family culinary vacations. Here's some tips for culinary travel with kids!
Travelling as a family and providing our children with those unique opportunities and experiences specific to travel can be wonderful, but it’s shocking how many foodie parents give up what is – for me, anyways – the best part of vacation, just because they have kids in tow.
Good food. Great restaurants.
What’s the point in travelling to Chicago and eating exclusively at The Cheesecake Factory or Bubba Gump Shrimp, or worse, searching for a pair of golden arches?
It’s reasonable to assume that most kids won’t be able to sit through the tasting menu at Alinea; but lunch at Topolobampo or Naya, or a leisurely supper at GEB or Blackbird should absolutely be possible.
For me, someone who quite possibly loves food more than I love travel, raising my daughter to be a pleasant mealtime companion and “restaurant training” her has allowed us to have completely different food & travel experiences than many of my friends.
Now, I’m not a tiger mom. And, I haven’t “trained” my kid in any other way – sleep training, potty training, car training – I figured those would just work themselves out. But restaurant and mealtime training – that was a quality of life issue. (We’ll talk about my priorities another time...)
After instilling basic table manners, practicing dining out, instilling a positive food culture, and eliminating mealtime distractions (even those meant to buy you some peace and quiet), most families will have a good grasp of which steps they will need to take to ensure a positive restaurant experience – but when you’re travelling, there are some extra precautions to take to ensure a great experience for you, your children… and the other patrons of the restaurant.
Be Flexible and Have a Loose Schedule.
Try to estimate how long you will spend at each attraction, look up the travel times on Google Transit, and figure out which flow makes sense for the day. IE: I know I’m going to feel less guilty if we go to the Chicago Children’s Museum first and end up spending more time there than we had planned, than I would if we spent more time than we had planned at a boring, grown-up activity and ended up with less time for the kids at the museum.
Looking at your schedule and having a rough plan for your day, you can plan to leave at the right time to make your well-timed reservation, and you’re less like to underestimate how long an activity will take and push the kids into the “hangry zone.”
If you’re in a city that you’re not completely familiar with, ensuring that you’re actually going to eat at the restaurant that you show up at is pretty essential. Not all great restaurants allow reservations (ahem, David Chang), so at least knowing what your back-up options in that area will be in the instance that the no-RSVP resto is full will make life less stressful.
Also, let the staff know that you will be attending with (well-behaved) children. They will be more likely to seat you with a child-friendly server, put you in a quiet area of the restaurant, and will plan to be accommodating. Even if they are not used to having children attend, some restaurants love the opportunity to plan and make the visit special for their young patrons. We once arrived to a special ice cream brownie and note from the head chef!
Eat Earlier Than Normal.
I can be really guilty of reverting back to my pre-parenthood days when on vacation, and wanting to stay out late and start supper around 8pm. That’s fine… if it’s the second supper!
I find kids tend to get tired quicker on vacation, with all of the new environments and stimulation. Eat a little bit earlier than normal, and if you want, plan for two suppers! (Just not for every night of the vacation…)
Check Out the Restaurant Website and Menu Before Visiting
Surprisingly, many people don’t do this! Make sure you’re not making a reservation on a special events night – guaranteed to be a bit more frenzied and loud. And even if your child has the most diverse palate, it’s still a good idea to familiarize yourself with the menu and be ready to order or narrow down their choices before the hanger strikes.
Know Your Limitations… and Plan For the Worst.
If you’re in a different city, children will be off routine and disruptions to your planned schedule will occur at some point, so planning for it – embracing it – will make everyone’s vacation easier.
I’m more likely to take Miss G out for breakfast or supper than out for lunch. Even though lunch is often more casual and child-friendly, she still naps around 12:30 or 1pm, so even if I time our reservation perfectly, if things run late, we have a very real possibility of facing a restaurant naptime meltdown. We tend to do quick, grab-and-go options from restaurants or gourmet grocers located close to the hotel or a park, and I let Miss G sprawl out while I enjoy my leisurely lunch.
Break All the Rules… Snack Before Supper.
I love appetizers, so this is an easily embraced one for me –plan for there to be a hold-up with supper and ensure the kids either get appetizers, or give them a snack before arriving at the restaurant. Something light, but better to ruin their supper than to have them meltdown before it gets to the table.
Also, make sure the kids are hydrated.
Get the Kids in on the Restaurant Excitement.
My daughter has a strange and perplexing obsession with Anthony Bourdain, but if I tell her that Anthony Bourdain ate at a restaurant we’re going to eat at – she’s excited and ready to listen (and watch the Youtube clips of him at the restaurant over and over again…)
Tell the kids why you are excited to eat at this restaurant – why is it more than just a place to eat? If the chef has a cookbook, borrow it from a local library before your trip and try out a few of the recipes. Is there something about what the food represents that is exciting to you – culturally, scientifically, aesthetically? How can you build up that excitement in a way that is tangible for the kids?
Be Considerate Of Everyone.
To the kids, to the other patrons… and to yourself! Whatever your discipline style, to all of the other patrons in the restaurant if you don’t flat out stop the screaming and running around, you might as well be encouraging it!
Set your child up for success, but if they are just not going to have it for one reason or another, accept that you are not going to have a great meal if your kid is staring you down, sulking, or flopping out of their seat like a fish out of water. Respect that the people around you were looking forward to that meal just as much as you were.
If it’s something that the serving staff has the potential to help with, ask for help! If you need to rush your order and change it to a take-out, let them know and many restaurant teams will work together to help you out.
What are your best tips for foodie bliss while travelling with kids?
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Jennifer Tammy is the blogger behind Sugar, Spice and Glitter, a parenting inspiration, hands-on learning, and family foodie site. Trained as a psychologist, she currently runs Child’s Garden Montessori daycare and can’t wait until her next vacation.
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I would love to print this out and hand it to families in restaurants, such good suggestions.
I love these tips ( and cute photos of Miss G dining out). My travel companion is nine year old Mr. J and although he’s willing to free dive with whale sharks he is NOT an adventurous eater. In fact he eats a very narrow diet that includes only about 6 items – grilled chicken breast, cucumber, avocado with lime, plain spaghetti, broccoli and chocolate milk. It’s balanced but not something you’l find everywhere. Because I often have to dine out and write about food, I’ve been so very grateful to restaurants who have been able to accommodate special requests. In fact, Chef Wolfgang von Wieser at Grace Bay Club in Turks and Caicos once prepared my grandson a spectacular meal complete with fanned veggies that’s endeared me to them forever.
These tips are actually great, and though I don’t have any kids, I think a lot of people could benefit from reading this! I also just think parents should give their children more credit in general– you never know what they may like if presented in a fun way!
These tips are great! Often things I tell clients struggling with this, especially eating a little earlier. Thanks for sharing.
i am lucky that my kid loves to eat out, has always been pretty well behaved in restaurants because i had trained him since birth and he knew that not behaving = not eating out lol AND he would eat pretty much anything put in front of him so eating while travelling was never a problem with us. That said, I also understand that we hit the jackpot – suggestions like these are invaluable to travelling families who want to be able to enjoy everything that their destination has to offer.
The one that I can’t emphasize strongly enough is to EAT EARLY. Make reservations for the blue haired special right at 5pm before the place fills up. The staff will appreciate it, your kids will be hungry enough to want to eat but not hangry yet lol
Oh, I could have used these tips when the kiddos were younger! I don’t mind eating out with them now.
We lived in France when they were younger and were hard-pressed to find restaurants open in the evening before 7. So yeah, that wasn’t always easy. Tired, ‘hangry’ kids. We usually stuck to big lunches where possible.
Eat earlier than normal is the biggest one for us! Easy to get a table and no looong waits for food…our kids love eating at restaurants and we don’t take them often so we want them to enjoy it, not feel our stress level rising 🙂 These are great tips!
[…] well-behaved and I was attentive to the experience of other patrons during our visits. Check out my tips for eating out when travelling with children if you want to set your kids up for success at your next restaurant […]