Pack to distract. Fill diaper bags with favorite books, toys and games. Keep your phone charged, because your little one might need a quick video fix to prevent a meltdown.
Gear up. Don’t expect restaurants to have baby-friendly equipment on hand, so also pack a sippy cup, plate, flatware, washcloth or wipes, the all-important catchall bib and a portable changing mat.
Start small. Begin by teaching manners and mealtime expectations around the dinner table at home. Then try dining at family-friendly restaurants before graduating to more formal settings.
Pick partners wisely. A successful dinner with other families often hinges on whether the children get along. Little BFFs can make meals fun for everyone, while kids who don’t see eye to eye can derail meals and override even the most dedicated parents.
Fast food. Ask the staff to bring out the children’s dishes as soon they are ready — instead of pacing them to coincide with the adults’ course — as tiny diners don’t like to wait.
Be prepared to bail. If your child is annoying other diners, be ready to pull the ripcord. Ask for your meal to be boxed up, tip generously (good advice even if your child does behave, to compensate for the extra attention your table requires) and leave swiftly. Consider bringing cash to avoid waiting for a credit card to be processed. Alternately, give your server your credit card at the beginning of the meal to speed up the bill-paying process.
Practice makes perfect. Don’t give up if you have a bad experience. Watching your little one cause a major mess in public may be humbling, but it happens. Figure out what went wrong and how you might be able to fix it, then try again.