Being unsure of whether kids will enjoy (and let others enjoy) a public dining experience puts many adults on edge. Not to mention the added pressure of paying market prices to feed a crowd.
An enjoyable and affordable dinner out with the family requires a bit of planning, but with these clever tips, you can achieve an experience — and final tab — that leaves everyone satisfied.
1. Plan ahead
To avoid both financial and emotional disaster when eating out with kids, you have to plan ahead.
First, make a reservation if you can. Many kids are used to eating at a specific time, so think about booking a reservation for a bit before your normal mealtime. A reservation ensures you’ll get a table without having a long wait, which can be tedious for little ones with empty bellies.
Also, look at the menu beforehand and discuss what you want to order. Menus are often available on restaurant websites or social media accounts. Knowing what you’ll order in advance can get kids excited about going to the restaurant, and will also cut down on the wait time once you’re seated.
Finally, bring sippy cups or water bottles from home. Ordering juice, milk or pop off the menu for each kid will only hike up the bill. Bringing a few emergency snacks can also be a smart move — especially if you have a toddler — in case the food takes a while or they don’t like how it tastes.
2. Choose a kid-friendly restaurant
One of the easiest ways to make eating out with kids enjoyable for everyone is to choose a kid-friendly restaurant. This doesn’t mean you can only eat at fast-food places, but rather look for an eatery that makes it clear they’re used to having kids around.
Signs that an eatery is kid-friendly:
- Activities to keep kids occupied, like colouring pages or yard games.
- Indoor/outdoor seating (kid screams are louder indoors).
- Ample space for kids to move around if they get fidgety, like a patio or large waiting area.
3. Avoid the kids menu
This might come as a shock, but despite its name, the kids menu doesn’t always offer the most cost-effective options for children — especially if you have multiple small mouths to feed. What it does offer is items that kids will recognize and feel comfortable with, like macaroni and cheese or chicken tenders.
If your kids have a flexible palate, consider ordering off the adult menu with the intention of splitting it between two or three of them. This could actually reduce your cost per child, and may yield healthier options.
4. Use coupons, specials and loyalty programs to your advantage
Some restaurants, particularly chains and locally-owned establishments, have promotions or participate in programs that make it cheaper to eat out as a group. Look for:
- Coupons in mailers, like Valpak, or newspapers that offer a total bill discount or buy-one-get-one-free deals.
- “Kids eat free” specials (usually Monday or Tuesday nights) where kids get a meal gratis with the purchase of an adult entrée.
- Early bird or happy hour specials that may see the price of many menu items slashed during times when restaurants are less busy (a win, win!).
- Chains, particularly fast-food restaurants like McDonalds and Subway, with rewards programs that allow you to earn free or discounted meals. If you frequent these establishments anyway, it will likely pay to sign up. Scene+ is another popular Canadian rewards program through which you can earn dining and entertainment discounts.
When it comes to eating out as a family, there are no guarantees. You can never predict how kids will behave in public, and everybody has hard days (even adults). But with a solid plan in place, you can be better prepared for possible snafus while avoiding sticker shock when the server brings the bill.
Scotiabank Scene+ points can be earned on eligible purchases and redeemed for merchandise, travel, dining out and entertainment experiences.
Travelling as a family doesn’t have to break the bank. Have fun for less by seeking out free food and events, and opting for vacation rentals over hotels.