Dining out with your tot doesn’t have to be a recipe for disaster—or even a rushed, cold meal. With a few simple tips and tricks, you can have a relaxed and adorable experience. Read on for our 10 favorite ways to master the art of the eating out, family style.

photo: Nongbri Family Pix via Flickr

1. Time it right.
Work with baby’s schedule. In other words, don’t plan on visiting a local hot spot with your babe on a Friday night at 7 p.m. Skip peak crowds and avoid conflict with your little’s bedtime routine by planning an early meal. Aim for between 4 and 5 p.m., and you’ll be finished before the dinner rush and your little one’s bedtime.

2. Plan ahead.
Look up the restaurant’s online menu before heading out the door. That way you’ll be prepared to order right away. (Every minute counts when baby is in tow!) Not sure where you’ll dine ahead of time? Pull up the menu on your phone once you pull into the parking lot and peruse it in peace while baby is strapped happily in the car seat. Another time-saving trick? Let your server know you’re ready to order food when you place your drink order.

3. Scan the room for the best table.
When you’re dining with a child, a smooth experience begins before the hostess ushers you to your seat. When you request your table, let the staff know where you’d like to be seated. If you tend to get flustered if baby makes a peep or tosses food in public, ask for a quiet spot in the back. Or, if baby loves to people-watch, request a spot in the middle of the action.

photo: Kelly via Flickr

4. Choose your seats wisely.
Before baby, sitting on the same side of the table as your significant other may have seemed odd, but it’s the best position for double-teaming. Placing your child in between the two of you will allow you to trade off baby duties easily throughout the meal. Or, bring along friends and family who will be happy to care for baby while you nosh.

5. Skip the apps.
Texas eggrolls and your tastebuds are a match made in heaven. We get it. But it’s best to get right down to the business of ordering your meal. Bonus: You’ll not only save time (resulting in less chance of a meltdown), you’ll save money and calories, too. Win-win-win!

6. Pack snacks.
It may sound counterintuitive to bring your own food for baby when visiting a restaurant, but having finger foods for older tots keeps them both fed and entertained while you wait for your food. Pack easy-to-eat and mess-free snacks like fruit and vegetable pouches, puffs, string cheese and berries. If baby is still eating purees or milk/formula, feed baby before the meal arrives so you can enjoy it once it does.

7. Attach a disposable placemat.
Disposable, adhesive table mats like the pretty one shown above from Suessie (available at Amazon.com, $11.99) are the greatest thing to hit dining establishments since high chair buckles. Simply remove the paper strips from the adhesive backing, press directly onto the table and voila! Baby gets an instant, sanitary spot for snacking and playing with toys, and you get a worry-free dinner—no germs to fear or glass plates to break.

8. Bring suction toys.
Keep baby’s hands busy before the meal comes with suction toys that stick to a high chair or table. We like the Infantino Stick and Spin High Chair Pal (available at Amazon.com, $6.77) and the Grapple Suction Baby Toy Holder (available at Amazon.com, $19.99), which holds three of your child’s toys. Stash them in a small bag in the glove compartment of your car so you’re always ready for restaurant visit. You’ll keep the contents exciting by only pulling out the bag while dining in public.

Also, never underestimate the fascination potential of simple table items, like straws and disposable kid cups. But skip the packaged creamers and sugar packets so your child doesn’t eat them or create a mess.

9. Request the check early.
Once the empty plates have been removed, waiting for the check can feel like being stuck in one of Dante’s Circles (in other words, miserable and never-ending). Save your sanity and ask for your check (any any to-go boxes you anticipate needing) as soon as the food arrives.

10. Get it to go.
If you’re craving a dish from your favorite joint but your little one is feelin’ some type of way, don’t set yourself up for a battle. Call in an order to go, pick it up curbside ,and enjoy your meal in the comfort of your home…or front seat. We won’t judge.

Hungry for more? Try these proven restaurant strategieswhen dining out with your baby.

Let’s dish! What are your favorite strategies for dining out with baby? Tell us below.

— Suzanna Palmer