fine dining with kids

Does that title sound impossible?

Well, to be honest, it *kind of* is. I'm not going to lie, some of our dining experiences were all-out fails. But we learned a lot while in France this summer in this area too. And while Oli often slept through our meals out (bless his heart), Lily was a very obvious presence, and she was also at the height of a difficult tantrum stage (more on that to come).

SO, we were in the food capital of the world, and we couldn't pass up eating out (duh). We stuck to our one-meal-a-day rule, but when we were eating out (usually lunches) we went all out. 

Here's how we survived at Michelin rated restos with two under two:

Eat out for lunch, not dinner.
  • Not only will this save you a ton of money (often for the SAME meal it's up to 15 euros more in France to dine at dinner), but the kids will not be demons. 
  • Our kids go down for the night at 7pm and many restaurants don't open until then, so no dice.
  • Moreover, people who go out to lunch are generally more casual than those dining out for dinner, so they're more gracious when a kid misbehaves (or dares show up!) near them.
Make sure they've napped
  • A well-rested baby/kid is always going to be more well-behaved. Period.
Eat quickly
  • Even when all of these tricks up our sleeves, we often ordered all courses at once (sometimes they would come back later to ask about what dessert we wanted but that added prescious time of potential disobedience)
  • We also asked for the bill after our first course so when we were done, we could jet. 
  • Sometimes we could linger if the kids were doing well (and the cheese plate was always a winner with Lily), but we planned to not stay and then played it by ear.
Make sure they've eaten *something*
  • We always fed Lily and Oli before going out for lunch so the wait wasn't excruciating. 
  • I mean, when I'm waiting for food on an empty stomach I'm grouchy, now times that by a thousand when you're considering a toddler with no filter or desire for social acceptance. Ahem.
  • I say *something* because it's also fun to let them taste your food. 
  • Double bonus because eating/exploring food is an activity to occupy them, but it's also not an added expense because they're not filling up.
[Lily enjoying a snack in our apartment rental in Annecy before lunch]

Carbs can be a meal, just this once
  • Part of us enjoying our own meals meant accepting that Lily's meal may exclusively be from the bread basket. 
  • It's not the norm in our home or her diet, but if it means surviving at a top-rated resto, I beg you, DO IT.
  • Let them eat what's familiar and don't push new foods. Now is not the time! It's all about keeping baby happy, fed, and decently behaved so you can enjoy a meal out.
Call ahead
  • Not many restaurants jump at the chance to cater to children. France was a bit of an exception since kids are more involved in quality food from a young age, but bringing two under two to fine dining was still a bit taboo.
  • We found we gained major points by dropping by the restaurant earlier in the day and saying (not asking) "We've heard wonderful things about your establishment! We'd love to enjoy your lovely food and will be bringing our children with us. We hope you understand, and please feel free to seat us wherever is most convenient for you" 
  • By warning them, they weren't shocked and annoyed that we showed up, even if they were less than thrilled to have kids there. They also were able to plan ahead for us. In one case, the restaurant was small and open to the terrace/road. The reserved us the table closest to the terrace/road knowing that our kids may get rowdy (and that was their BEST day for behavior. Lily napped until dessert in the stroller!). 
  • If we just showed up they probably wouldn't have had appropriate space for us since we had our stroller and wouldn't have felt comfortable asking people to move (this was a very fancy place)
Bring discrete activities
  • We didn't think we'd help our case by bringing noisy children's toys (even if that is what Lily would have preferred), but we knew we needed to occupy her.
  • Crayons are your best friend in this case! We brought crayons and paper everywhere and didn't let Lily colour anywhere BUT restaurants, so it was a treat she loved. 
  • But lets be honest, once she thought the white table cloth was the paper. And you can guess how that ended. 
Let your kids be adorable
  • Lily was hamming it up once and smiling big time at a table of business people having a nice lunch. My instinct was to ask her to turn around and join us, but they actually started making funny faces with her and told us how cute she was between coo-coos.
  • This works only when they're behaving fairly decently.  If they're being loud and rowdy (totally possible), it's probably not time to encourage your toddler to tell the strangers what sound a puppy makes ;)
[outdoor dining made this lunch a win. otherwise it was a tough one! in Beaune]

Eat outside whenever possible
  • Terraces and roadside tables were always our preference
  • Think about it: you aren't in a small room with people talking in hushed tones, there's ample room for your stroller, and worst case scenario, there are options away from the table for your straying children (what, only I have those??)
Be gracious and thankful
  • It's annoying that traveling with kids can close so many doors for you, but accept that that's the case and be gracious and thankful when people make great travel experiences possible for you.
  • Part of me felt entitled to eat delicious food though my kids were there. I'm paying for it, why can't I? But then I remembered that not everyone has or loves children, and we were the odd balls bringing them, which changed my attitude.
  • Tipping is a great way to show your appreciation, but in many places like France, it's taboo. If it's not, do tip above average!
  • For us, we left the regular French tip (spare change) and added a bit more
  • We also showered our server and the hostess with apologies (though most of the time our kids were angelic because of the aforementioned tips), which were received so graciously. Often all staff we spoke to assured us that they were no bother. Whether they meant it or not is up to them :)
Be realistic
  • Some days were easier than others. If the kids were having a really bad morning, we didn't force a fine meal out or we let them nap longer and altered lunch time
  • We had a list of restaurants and visited them all beforehand. If they looked too fancy or not accommodating enough for kids, we passed.
[there was plenty of this goin' on too! Beaune]

or.... you could always get a babysitter :)


  1. Anonymous9.8.12

    Good tips but my biggest one to add is get a sitter! ;) I know, not always possible, but it's so nice not to do all this!


    1. A B S O L U T E L Y !!!

      this is more for if you're traveling and aren't able to. in Montreal, we'd never go to a fancy resto with Lily and Oli, lol!

  2. I love this post! Too many people have high expectations of toddlers in nice establishments, and by taking these steps they can enjoy fine dining with young children! Brilliant!

  3. So glad you posted this! Even in an regular restaurant (that's not specifically family-oriented) it's hard to have kids, especially in small spaces like in the Mile End. Yes, I'll lift your huge stroller above tables to put it in the back, then lift it out again when you leave. The whole team will even put up with your kids wandering around in a tiny dining space when we're trying to get food out and are in a rush. But it's such a nice change for a parent to recognize the extra time and effort it takes for the restaurant and be nice about it. Too many assume that we'll babysit the kids while they eat their meal!

    Anyway, looks like you had a great time in France, can't wait to hear about it in person!