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Dining Out, Family Style

For new parents, taking your child out to eat for the first time is a milestone. A family dinner at a restaurant can be daunting even for experienced parents. Will your kids like anything on the menu? Will they have a meltdown and disturb other patrons? Will they spill lemonade all over the floor? There’s no doubt about it, toddlers don’t always make the best dinner companions.

But restaurant eating doesn’t have to be off the table for young families. Check out these tips and tricks for enjoying a blissful restaurant meal with the whole brood.

There are plenty of kid-friendly restaurants on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton—and many offer special kids’ menus. Even restaurants without traditional kids’ food options (think hotdogs or chicken fingers) might have menu items that will appeal to your children. These days, most restaurants include their menus on their websites making it easy to scope out options in advance.

One of the best ways to enjoy a low-key dinner with kids is to dine al fresco. Especially here in Lowcountry! We think fresh seafood tastes even better when there’s a beautiful waterfront view, and there’s something downright magical about feasting on Southern comfort food under a canopy of Spanish Moss.

The Salty Dog Café is one of the most iconic restaurants on Hilton Head Island and its casual atmosphere is perfect for youngsters. They serve tasty local favorites like shrimp and grits, crab legs, and pimento cheese dip. Even their kids’ menu features locally-inspired fare like fish bites and fried shrimp. You’ll find The Salty Dog Café at the South Beach Marina in Sea Pines Resort.

Salty Dog Cafe

In Bluffton, The Cottage is both an award-winning restaurant and a family-friendly establishment. That includes pets, too! Dr. Seuss fans will want to go for Sunday brunch, when green eggs and ham are on the menu. If you have a child who loves playing “tea party”, taking him or her for afternoon tea at The Cottage is a must. They offer a special Children’s Tea menu, as well as Cream Tea, Light Afternoon Tea, and Full Cottage Tea options for adults.

At Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, The Dunes House is an all-ages favorite. The fish tacos are a crowd-pleasing menu item, and the restaurant’s location right on the beach means kids can enjoy a little fun in the sun while they wait for their meals. Kids will love cooling off with a frozen smoothie, while parents can relax with an icy daiquiri. 

Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks is a great spot for families to enjoy dinner and views of Port Royal Sound. Hudson’s offers a kids’ menu, and they make delectable desserts too—hot fudge sundaes, peanut butter pie, mud pie, and key lime pie are all on the list. (Don’t worry about indulging in a decadent post-dinner treat. There are plenty of ways to stay active on Hilton Head Island!)

Alfresco dining at sunset

If you’re eating outside, keep little ones occupied by challenging them to spot different kinds of local wildlife or by playing a few rounds of “I Spy With My Little Eye”.

Packing a bag of essential items can help make a dinner out go smoothly. It never hurts to have your own crayons and coloring books on hand, just in case your kids aren’t interested in a dinnertime discussion about current events or culture. An activity will help keep kids distracted and (hopefully) keep them from emptying the contents of the salt and pepper shakers into your margarita. 

If your little ones aren’t quite ready to drink from large glasses, bring along an empty sippy-cup for water. If it gets tossed on the floor a few times, at least you’ll be spill-free! And, toss a packet of wet wipes in your bag before you leave to make post-dinner cleanup a breeze.

To decide whether a restaurant is the right fit for your family, call ahead or check out online reviews. Find out if the restaurant provides high chairs, if they consider the atmosphere to be kid-friendly, and whether they keep any crayons or activity sheets on hand for tiny diners.

The last piece of advice for eating out with little kids just might be the most important tip of all: relax. As parents, you might flinch with every squeal or dropped spoon, but other patrons are too busy enjoying their own delicious meals to notice.

So go ahead and make those dinner reservations—and while you’re at it, plan the rest of your Lowcountry vacation, too. Request your vacation guide today.

Salty Dog Cafe

Find Your Island Time

Hilton Head is America’s favorite island, offering 12 miles of pristine beaches and everything you need for the ultimate retreat. Enjoy easy days relaxing in the sun, sand and surf on some of the best beaches in the country.
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