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Is Fine Dining With Your Kid a Recipe for Disaster?

A few key tips can help you introduce your child to the world of upscale restaurants.

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As a food writer and passionate eater, it is always my goal to expose my 5-year-old son to new foods and culinary experiences. His young palate should be introduced to all that the world has to offer. After all, who knows what dishes and flavors may become lifelong favorites?

It’s equally important that he goes out to eat as often as possible with my wife and me. We’ve taken him everywhere—from pizzerias and ice cream parlors to white tablecloth restaurants. I don’t have any problem bringing him to high-end establishments that are generally considered off-limits for little ones, though we sometimes get questioning stares (to put it charitably) from other guests.

We don’t just wantonly impose our child on everyone else’s dining experience. We expect our boy to act appropriately, be polite, and remain engaged—though he has fallen asleep a few times because the meals have stretched past his usual bedtime, yielding some cute pictures for the family scrapbook. It’s our hope that these experiences help him develop manners, self-confidence in formal environments, and an appreciation for fine dining.

Over the years, I’ve developed a series of tricks and techniques for ensuring these meals are a success rather than a disaster (but don’t beat yourself up when that occurs, because it’s bound to happen sometimes). I hope they help you have some memorable meals out together as a family, while you cultivate your little epicureans.

We don’t just wantonly impose our child on everyone else’s dining experience.

Pack distractions
Fill your bag with coloring pages and crayons, books, toys, games, and other quiet entertainments for your child. I’m a firm believer that phones and other screens should be turned off during meals—unless you’re taking pictures of the food.

BYOG (Bring Your Own Gear)
Don’t expect restaurants to have baby- or toddler-friendly equipment on hand.  Bring along a sippy cup, plate or bowl, flatware, washcloth or wipes, bib, and a portable changing mat.

Reservations are key
Standing in line or putting your name on a long list is for the kid-free crowd. Make a reservation, so junior doesn’t get tired or fussy while waiting to sit down.

Practice, practice, practice
When kids are old enough to understand the concept of manners, work on mealtime expectations around the dinner table at home. Then try dining at family-friendly restaurants before graduating to more formal settings.

Children first
Order food for little ones as soon as you sit down and ask staffers to bring it out as soon as it’s ready. I’m fine with everyone not eating at the same time if it keeps the smaller diners in a good mood.

Have your ripcord ready
Be prepared to bail if your child is having a hissy fit or annoying other diners. Ask for the leftovers to be boxed up, tip generously, and leave quickly.

If at first  you don’t succeed …
Don’t give up if you have a bad experience. Watching your little one cause a major mess or have a massive meltdown in public may be humbling, but it happens. Don’t let the fear of something going wrong keep you from exposing your kid to the amazing world of higher-end restaurants.

Did you know? Little Sous offers a monthly themed kids cooking box that will help your family connect in the kitchen. Check out our subscription options!