Tipsheet: Dining Out With Kids

Anxiety about taking the kids out to dinner in New York can outweigh the enjoyment of the meal itself. The key to a stress-free evening? Preparation.

>> Eat Early. Avoid the eight o’clock rush—unless you’re in the theater district, in which case eat late in order to avoid hurrying pre-show customers and stressed-out staff.

>> Sit In The Back. When making a reservation, request an out-of-the-way table. If your kids get cranky or hyper, they won’t disturb other diners.

>> Bring A Stroller. “It comes in handy when toys, silverware, and food have been thrown overboard and nothing seems to calm your screaming baby,” says Michel Cohen, a Tribeca pediatrician and author of the parenting book The New Basics. “If things get out of hand, go around the block singing your most soothing lullaby. At least your better half can enjoy the respite.”

>> Call Ahead. Ask whether the restaurant is equipped with high chairs, and if it’s a child-friendly environment. Mention that you’ll be bringing a child so that the staff is ready when you arrive. (This will also increase your chances of getting a waiter who’s good with kids.) If you anticipate coming back, offer to pay for the broken dishes and leave a good tip, says Cohen.

>> Bring Distractions. Books, markers, and paper, a favorite stuffed animal that doesn’t honk or squeak—anything that will divert their attention from breakable items (and boredom).

>> Make Manners Fun. Both Manners, Please! (800-668-8024) and Smethport Toys (814-887-5508) have Candyland-style games geared toward teaching etiquette in a way your little ones will enjoy. Books like Excuse Me!: A Little Book of Manners, by Karen Katz, will help you teach them on your own. And if you’re really serious, enroll them in an etiquette class at the Plaza hotel (212-546-5495; $55 including lunch).

From the Fall 2004 edition of the New York Family Guide