Back in our university days, Nate and I lived in a college town where BJ’s Restaurant was THE place to be. With their plethora of beer samplers and sports screenings it was a favorite hot spot, and we’d walk on over there every Friday for our fill of pizza and avocado egg rolls. I even spent a semester studying in Mexico with the daughter of one of the guys who originally started BJ’s Restaurant up in Santa Ana. She’d tell me all sorts of fun restaurant mishaps and tales of being restaurant royalty (a term I came up with because really, having unlimited access to pizookie is akin to being a princess).
BJ’s Restaurant is still a favorite place to eat for Nate and I, even if it now means we’re dining out with toddlers. Part of BJ’s Restaurant’s mission when they first started was to be a family destination with lots of energy and a child-friendly atmosphere, and they’ve totally nailed it! I love that I can still enjoy one of our favorite restaurants from our pre-baby days, now with the whole family in tow.
The experience was so great, it inspired me to write a little guide to help find YOUR go-to spot with the kids. Here’s what to look for in a restaurant when you’re dining out with toddlers.
Ten Tips for Dining Out with Toddlers
- Know your restaurant. Nate and I always “pre-screen” our local eateries, just the two of us, to make sure they’re child-friendly before we take the kids there. If the staff is unkind and unhelpful, it’s best to observe this BEFORE coming in with the entire family.
- Get there early. We often find ourselves eating dinner at like, 4pm. Most restaurants are dead around this time, and you’ll be more comfortable knowing that you’re not disrupting everyone else’s dinner.
- Ask for a large table. If there are four of you, get enough seating for six. This provides a bit of a buffer for your kid to shift around if he or she gets antsy.
- Snack attack. I try to have snacks packed but if I forget, I’ve found that the waiters are BJ’s Restaurants are always happy to bring some Saltines to keep my little guy occupied until the meal arrives.
- Confinement is key. Having a high chair at the table for mealtime is helpful, but we’ve also had a lot of success with using booth seating to keep the toddler contained. Adults can sit on the outside with tots on the inside to give them from jumping up and running around.
- Entertainment. BJ’s Restaurant offers coloring sheets and crayons to provide some much-needed entertainment. If all else fails, there’s always a TV to point them towards!
- Be prepared to get messy. I see a lot of parents bring bibs and that works well for them. Some Boy refuses to wear anything like that, so we just take along an extra shirt. At home we feed him shirtless, but that’s not entirely appropriate for public.
- Dip it. Dip it good. One thing I love about BJ’s Restaurants and their Big Poppa Smokers BBQ specialty menu is the plethora of awesome dipping sauces they have available! Kids love to play with their food, and I’ve found a key to dining out with toddlers is having lots of finger foods and dipping sauces available.
- Scheduling is key. The sweet spot is after the last nap of the day, but not too close to bedtime.
- Divide and conquer. Order your meals as soon as you arrive to limit downtime, and ask the waiter to bring them about five minutes apart. That way, one adult can keep the kids entertained while the other starts eating, and nobody’s food has to get cold!
If you’re fortunate enough to live near a BJ’s Restaurant, don’t miss their new Big Poppa Smokers BBQ specialty menu. It’s available at all neighborhood BJ’s Restaurants (except Balboa, Laguna Beach, Belmont Shore, La Jolla and Westwood). We tried the Blue Ribbon Barbeque Combo For Two (because we wanted a little of everything) and the Corn Fritters with Bacon Aioli appetizer. It was all SO good. It’s obvious why Big Poppa Smokers won the 2012 American Royal Invitational barbecue competition.
The menu’s set to stay through September 2nd, but I’m hoping they keep it around longer because I could really get used to this hearty barbecue in such a family-friendly spot. We do have a nearby barbecue joint that I love, but it’s definitely not ideal for the little ones.
What tips do you have for dining out with toddlers?