How to Go Out for Dinner When Your Child Has Autism

autism family eating dinner

You love going out to restaurants with your family.

There are undeniable perks to treating the family to a meal.

No dishes. New foods. Old favorites.

Everyone has a good time, and you’re happy that the family can slow down and connect.

For me, it’s an escape from our frenetic, screen-watching world.

But this simple activity--going out to eat as a family--can seem overwhelming, or even hopeless, if you have a child on the spectrum.

It could be the noise. The waiting. Food selectivity issues. Too many choices.

In response, you try all kinds of things: bring their favorite (fill in the blank), let them play on your phone, anything…

But a couple of full-blown meltdowns--and you find yourself choosing not to go to dinner as much (if ever).

So what can you do about it when your child on the spectrum has challenges when you go out for dinner?

First things first. These five tips will help you reduce restaurant anxiety for your family:

  1. Pick a time when there will be very few people (no lines/no waiting). I highly suggest between 2:30pm-4:00pm. Most restaurants are near empty at this time.

  2. Call ahead and order your food. Talk to the manager and explain what you are doing. You can say something like, “I’m practicing taking my child to a restaurant. Please have the food on the table when we get there.”

  3. This is key for “undoing” some of the negative experiences so they walk in, sit down and the food is already there. You know your child best, so pick their favorite food.

  4. If all is going well try to make sure they get a little dessert. Don’t wait until their plate is empty. Instead, bring it 5-10 minutes after they sit down.

  5. Leave when the going is good. Don’t push it. If all is going well at this point simply say, “What a good dinner! We’re leaving in two minutes. Did you have a good time?” And then leave.

If all goes well, you have a “win” under your belt and a good foundation for future success.

Keep everything the same for a couple of visits and then build in small “delays.” For instance, the next time you arrive, arrange it so that you “wait” one minute before the food arrives.

We hope this helps!

Please let us know about your restaurant experiences by e-mailing

Last but not least, check out the AnswersNow app to connect with your own expert--and learn more tips that can help you wherever you are with whatever your challenge may be.