How to Entertain Kids at Restaurants So the Whole Family is Happy

A picture of a family at a restaurant
Enjoy a meal without worrying about the kids acting up. Photo © Andersen Ross / Getty Images

Remember when you were single and you would cringe when a family with kids would be seated next to you at a restaurant? Now you're those people. But you've got to eat and you don't have to wait 18 years for the kids to leave the house before you can go to a restaurant and enjoy a family meal together. All you have to do is be prepared and know how to entertain kids at restaurants so the whole family is happy.

Separate the Kids with Adults

Got some siblings that get riled up or start fighting when they're forced to sit around a small rectangular table and asked to behave? Seating them next to each other is setting them (and you) up for an unpleasant evening where all they do is argue while you play referee.

Separate the squabblers with adults. There may be a kid or two between you and your spouse but keeping the peace will be worth it. 

Pack Tablets or Phones

You've probably seen this family at a restaurant. They're nice and quiet and you can't figure out why until you spy a tablet and phone the kids are playing with.

Sure, family meal time is special and you don't want to make a habit out of tablet time around the table. But sometimes Mommy whipping out her smartphone can be the difference between her getting to eat at a restaurant with everyone else or her having to ask for her food to be packed up in a styrofoam container so she can eat when she gets back home.


Take an Activity Backpack

Don't you just love those coloring pages and crayons restaurants give you when you arrive? Kids are totally into them and completely quiet ... for about two minutes. And then they look for something else to do because their coloring page is complete.

Take an activity backpack stuffed with coloring books, activity books, crayons and markers.

Keep the activity backpack in the car so it's always ready for those times you feel adventurous and want to eat at a restaurant. 

Keep Special Toys That are for Restaurant Time Only

The dollar stores can be a valuable asset for you. Hit those dollar stores and bargain bins every now and then to get some cheap toys that are for restaurant time only. Just when the kids start to get unruly at the restaurant table, that's when you break out one of those $1 toys that will keep them busy until the food arrives.

Don't let the kids spy your special stash. It's a secret and it's one of the greatest weapons you can have for a quiet night at a restaurant, kids included! Just be sure to add some new $1 toys into your arsenal every now and then so the wow factor of your magic bag doesn't wear off.

Promise a Reward

Like it or not, bribery works. If you're not opposed to a little bribery, promise your children a reward for good behavior at the restaurant. It can be as simple as going out for ice cream after dinner or a family movie night this weekend that can be just the perk that gets the kids to behave while you're out for dinner.

You may feel like your kids should behave just because you said so and that would be the ideal situation, of course.

So, over time, you can phase out the rewards until you get to that point. In the meantime, take a night off, eat up and enjoy a meal out at a restaurant!