Dining out is a fabulous family activity, but when you have young children, can sometimes be a bit of a challenge!  Since no one on the Dish Team can offer advice from personal experience, we’ve turned to Restaurant.com senior marketing manager and mom of two, Tania G.

With a nine-year-old and a four-year-old as part of her dining crew, Tania has learned the ropes of how to navigate a restaurant with kids in tow.  Her tips are below!

We all love to dine out, but sometimes with younger kids can make dining out seem more like a chore than an enjoyable experience.  Here are a few tips and tricks to make a night out with the kids a fun family experience instead of a dining disaster!

Bring the sippy cup prefilled. This is especially important for tiny tots.  Depending on the type of restaurant, a suitable drink choice might not be available.  Many restaurants I have visited don’t have milk (especially not whole milk) and have limited juice options – unless lemonade or grenadine count!  Also, don’t feel guilty about doing this; the restaurant will likely welcome your careful planning so everyone in the restaurant, including your family, has a pleasant experience.

Bring snacks. You never know what the wait time at the restaurant will be or how long the food will take to come to the table. Crackers, fruit snacks, or string cheese are good take-along options.  The server will also be more than happy to bring a little something out for the little ones if you don’t have anything on hand, just ask!

Order right away. We usually order the kids’ meals at the same time as our appetizer.  Kids are at the restaurant for one reason – to eat!  It’s amazing if they aren’t hungry as soon as you sit at the table: they expect to eat.

Use technology. Smart phones, portable DVD players, and hand-held electronics are so helpful to keep kids entertained while waiting for food or while you finish your meal.

Location, location, location!  This means not only choosing the right restaurant, but also the location you sit in the restaurant.  Scan the restaurant and ask to be placed in the corner, or at the very least, in a booth so you can keep the kids contained.

Bring activities for kids. Usually, restaurants have crayons and coloring books or a kid’s menu to keep your kids busy while they wait for their food.  In case they don’t, it’s always a good idea to bring a favorite book or toy car to keep them busy at the table.

Create conversation that directly involves the kids. We play different verbal games (we love the “word association” game where you start by saying a simple word, then the next person says the first word that comes to mind and it continues around the table.)  Another idea is telling fictional stories and have each person contribute, so it’s like a conversation, but something that keeps the kids are interested and participating. Another idea is to tell the kids about the upcoming week or future activity you are planning and ask for their input. Any of these ideas will make the meal more memorable and interesting for them!

Dine during off-peak times or during the week.  We like dining out at brunch time at 11 a.m. on Sunday. Or, dining out on weeknights for a break from cooking at home. Another good time is at 5 p.m., just before the dinner rush begins on the weekends.

Order dessert. We love this idea. The kids always finish their meal first (especially when we order their meal right away.)  It’s also another way to make dining out special for them!

If all else fails, order take-out.  My husband and I would feed the kids at home and then order take-out from one of our favorite restaurants.  We would start a movie for the kids while one of us would pick-up dinner and the other would prepare the table with our fancy dishes, candles, and a professional table setting for a restaurant-like feel at home. It was a nice experience with great food that we didn’t have to cook!

We want to hear from you creative parents out there!  What are your tips and tricks for dining out with kids?