Check, Please -- Restaurant Survival

Dining out with a little one can be a disaster - and usually is, for some parents. But it doesn't have to be an awful experience when you take your child out to eat. You can foster that same adventurous spirit that you might have for culinary experiences in your child. And if you can't, well, there are many good strategies for getting through a restaurant meal peacefully and without getting glares from diners and waitstaff. First, consider your child's age. Until about 4 years old, many kids simply aren't ready to sit still for as long as it takes to get a meal. If that's the case, you don't have to swear off restaurants until your child enters kindergarten. Simply choose a restaurant that you know doesn't mind kids. Look for restaurants billed as "family-style," like The Old Spaghetti Factory, P.F. Chang's and Cracker Barrel. If you don't mind a loud atmosphere and the kids running off to play or meet mascots like Red Robin's Red, then try Dave & Buster's or Chuck E. Cheese's, which cater to kids of all sizes.

If possible, make a reservation at whatever restaurant you choose to eliminate restlessness right off the bat. Allow the kids to pack a small tote with games, arts and crafts and books that they can entertain themselves with at the table. You might put a few small baggies of snacks in your purse to accommodate while waiting for food. Many kids will act up if they're hungry. Asking the waiter for bread, or ordering the child's food right when you sit down can counteract the munchies. And if things go south, then it's always a good idea to ask for doggie bags right when you get your food, in case you need to make a quick getaway. On that note, carrying enough cash to cover the meal and tip can help in scenarios like that. There's nothing worse than waiting and waiting for the server to ring up your check while your child throws a tantrum.