6.02.2011

The Dining Gamble

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I’m not going to lie to you.  I love to eat out.  But do I love to eat out with both of my children? Not so much.  I like to compare taking children to a restaurant to playing craps in Vegas.  Sometimes you win.  Sometimes you lose.  Winning is fun, but losing? Well, that is just a big disappointment, and you walk away angry.

We were pretty lucky with my oldest child, but there have been some exceptions.  As crazy as it sounds, the word restaurant was in his vocabulary as young as two.  We thought it was cute at first that he could say such a big word as a toddler.  It wasn’t cute, however, when I would pick him up from his toddler class at preschool and he would yell in the car at the top of his lungs, “RESTAURANT, I want to go a RESTAURANT” all the way home.  He wanted to eat lunch out EVERY DAY.  It was also around this same time that my husband and I stopped taking him to restaurants as much because it was too much like a crap shoot as to what our experience would be like. 

My son in his earlier days
The straw that broke the camel’s back for us is when we dined with my good friend, who is also my son’s godfather, in 2008.  We ate at a popular Raleigh Mexican restaurant where crowds would gather early on a weekend night.  We got there as soon as it opened, and people were already waiting.  My son was happy when we waited outside.  We didn’t wait too long, but as soon as we got to the table, our son wouldn’t go in his high chair.   He wanted to be outside.  The inside of this restaurant is dark, and to him it was more fun outside.  This has to go down in the record books as the most miserable eating experience of our lives.  All three of us, who at the time were in our late thirties and were used to many years of peaceful past dining experiences, were at a loss as to what to do with this child.  He would be happy for a little while, then he would embarrass us.  The three of us spent this dining experience taking turns OUTSIDE the restaurant walking my toddler around where there were crowds and lively music.  We asked for our check, and a to-go box in record time.  It was no fiesta for us.

A recent lunch outing

After that experience, my husband and I made some unwritten guidelines for eating out with children.  We certainly went out to eat less with him (a lot less actually -- maybe just twice a month) and instead chose to have nice gourmet dining experiences for the two of us.  We would hire a sitter for those occasions.   But, sometimes, you just want to eat out casually and unexpected, and kids need to be in tow.  We try not to frequent restaurants where entrees for adults are priced over $10. We are not spending a lot of money on our food when half the time, we are cutting up food, handing out toys, picking up crayons, making trips to the potty, and woofing down our entrees at lightning speed because when the child is done eating, the dining experience pretty much goes downhill from that point.  It’s just not enjoyable. 

Once our son reached the age of three, we went out more frequently, but still abided by our budget rules for eating out with children.  Now that my son is five, we could probably relax our eating out rules a little, and open a new, hip dining world to him, but unfortunately for him, he has a little sister.  She’s now 18 months, and the dining crap shoot is just now starting with her.


She has found her inner voice and began shrieking very loudly at a restaurant in Cary on a quick lunch stop.  She thought it was funny.  I did not.  If you can tell, I’m not much of a gambler.


(If you like to eat out with your family or even have kid dining rules like mine, you may want to enter my give-away. I was invited to participate in a new P.R. campaign for Wendy’s, and I’m giving away a $25 gift card.  When you eat out for free with kids, it makes the gamble a lot more fun.)

This post was written for the News and Observer's Triangle Mom2Mom parenting website.

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