Candlelight out, bendy straws in! Restaurant dining post-kids is different than pre-kids, for sure, but with a little planning, you can still enjoy it — and so can your children. Even better, taking kids out to eat helps them develop social skills, encourages patience, builds confidence and inspires them to try new things. Here, we share seven tips on how to dine out with kids without sacrificing your sanity.

Choose a kid-friendly restaurant.

Do they have white linens and flowers on the table? Pass. Highchairs and a kids’ menu? Right this way! Even if a restaurant isn’t specifically family focused, look for a loud atmosphere and other kids. Once you get there, take an out-of-the-way corner table to corral your kids and minimize disruptions for other diners.

Go early.

To avoid overhungry, overtired kids, don’t show up at your usual dinner hour — plan time to get seated, get served, get the check, get home and still get kids ready for bed. Plus, when you stroll in at 5, you’ll find fewer other patrons to worry about disturbing, more attentive waiters, faster service, and possibly even an early-bird special. Just in case: Ask for a booth or bring a stroller so kids can lie down if they get sleepy. Or try brunch or lunch — as long as you go well before naptime.

Practice at home and set expectations.

Table manners aren’t just for restaurants. If you teach your children to use their inside voices, eat with utensils instead of their hands, and say “please” and “thank you” in your own home, meals out are a lot easier. Before you head to the restaurant, walk them through what to expect, including what will happen during the meal (“first we’ll sit down, then we’ll look at the menu to decide what we want to eat…”) and how you’d like them to behave (“…we’ll all sit at the table until everyone is finished eating”). It can also be helpful to narrate the experience for them as it’s happening (“Okay, we just ordered, so it’ll take a little time to get our food. Would you like to play a game while we’re waiting or do some coloring?”) That said, be realistic about your expectations. Very few toddlers can sit still for an entire meal. Figure on getting up to walk around with little ones every 20 minutes or so. Don’t let them wander around on their own while you catch up on a little adult conversation: It’s too easy to get distracted while they grab silverware off a table on the other side of the dining room or crash into a waiter carrying a tray of hot minestrone.

Keep it short.

Skip ordering appetizers so dinner doesn’t drag on too long. You might even want to check out the menu online before you go. And don’t ask for kids’ meals to come out first, or you’re just asking for restless and cranky children by the time your food arrives. Instead, occupy them before the meal (see below) and eat together to foster social skills and family bonding.

Bring a bag of tricks.

If the restaurant provides crayons and color-in placemats, amazing. But it doesn’t hurt to pack a few goodies just in case: Think finger puppets, small toy cars, activity or board books or whatever else your kids like that’s small and quiet. What about your phone or a tablet? As tempting as it can be to distract kids with digital devices, screen time at mealtime means kids miss out on practicing the art of conversation, learning to entertain themselves, and the joy of a communal meal. Instead, include kids in the fun with games like Q’s Race to the Top On the Go Pack or Would You Rather? If you do choose to allow some screen time, set limits on it, so it’s only while waiting for food to come, say, not when the waiter is taking your order or while eating. While you’re at it, put your phone away too — not on the table where it is likely to distract everyone. If you really have to send a text or call someone, excuse yourself and take the phone outside to do so.

Take them outside — or even leave if you have to.

Baby bawling? Kid freaking? Respect other diners: Calmly pick your kid up and head outside until your child calms down. If the behavior continues back at the table, be prepared to get your meal to go and take it home. P.S. Don’t give warnings without follow-through: If you tell your child to stop throwing french fries or you’re leaving, really do go home if the frites keep flying. On the other hand, if you overhear the next table marveling at your kids’ good manners, be sure to pass that onto your children — nothing encourages good behavior like positive reinforcement.

Tip well.

Leaving behind a mess? Kids a handful? A hefty tip makes up for a lot — and may grant you even better service next time you come in.

Looking for a kid-friendly restaurant for your family? This fall, get Q Wunder prizes in Chick-fil-A® Kid’s Meals while supplies last!