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How (and where) to dine out with small kids

As the weather turns cool and the holiday season kicks into high gear, local Upstate restaurants become the place to grab a quick bite and enjoy friends and family. For new parents and parents of Littles, it can also be a tricky obstacle course trying to strike the perfect balance of courtesy to fellow diners and getting tiny tummies fed. Upstate dad of two PJ Mauro and waitress turned teacher Monica Fite give up their secrets to help parents navigate the world of restaurants with their kiddos. And they even go so far as the provide suggestions on a few great restaurants to test out.

According to Mauro, the best restaurants to go out to eat are those diner style ones that “nobody is going to for a romantic event,” he said. His family frequents the Greenville downtown area and opted for local restaurants such as Barleys, Cantinflas or Mr. Salsa. Runway Café, Swamp Rabbit Café, and the Tree House Café are all laid back food joints that love when kids join the crowd. Of course, any place that serves burgers and breakfasts are always good to use as a place to get away from the kitchen. They are typically equipped with proper seating for children and are prepared to do substitutions for allergies and selective palates. Depending on where you want to frequent, they can often accommodate strollers as well though you should be cautious about taking them into restaurants as they may be a fire or safety hazard. The rule of thumb on strollers is they are typically okay for outside sidewalk seating, but not inside where they inhibit the normal flow of traffic.

More: Free and discounted kids meal deals in Greenville

Fite encourages parents to keep to their children’s regular schedule during the holiday season. If your little one is used to staying up as late as the big kids then they might be able to hang out in a noisy restaurant a bit later. However, if your small one is on a schedule where everybody is tucked in for the evening by the time the sun goes down then it may be a winning situation to eat an early dinner or late lunch.

Fite also encourages parents to teach their little ones to use their “Restaurant Voices.” Much like a whisper voice or an indoor voice, teaching children a volume scale for their words will help them begin self-monitoring how loud they are in a public space. 

One area Mauro and FIte were in complete agreement was a screaming child. Crying babies that are hungry and quickly fed are understandable, but toddler tantrums and major meltdowns should be met with swift removal from the restaurant. In rare cases that dinner out might need to suddenly become a to-go affair.

These additional tips can help

Finding the perfect kid friendly restaurant is like hitting the jackpot for most parents. Getting everyone fed and all on a budget can be a challenge. Some tips to make it a successful outing from former waitress Monica Fite and veteran Dad Patrick Mauro make it easier to venture out with the Littles in tow.

Deliberately select a noisy location. Restaurants that are more of a diner environment are designed to be kid friendly and tend to mask the louder noises little ones can make as they adjust to the rules of venturing outside of the home.

Eat out early enough you can avoid a meltdown. Mauro recalls a time when his daughter was little that they waited too late to go out to eat. “By the time the food came, we were all upset and just took it all to go.”

Take something for entertainment. Fite suggests taking a coloring book you only use when you are at a restaurant. It becomes a special item that they look forward to using and it keeps them away from screens.

Know when to go. Eating out is only fun if everyone in the restaurant is enjoying themselves. If your little one is obviously crying for longer than a minute it is time to pick up and go.