Why You Are Going:
The reason you are going out to eat will make a big difference in how satisfied you are with the dining experience. If you just want to get out of the house and not have too cook dinner, then you are more likely to enjoy your meal out even with flung food and tears. But, if you are going to enjoy your meal or have conversation with friends, you are much more likely to be thwarted by your little one. If you are going with your spouse, try to agree a head of time that you will take turns providing distractions, comforting, and prepping food for your child.
Where You Go:
Depending on where you go, the expectations on your child's behavior will be different. You are much more likely to get an ugly look from fellow diners at a causal dining restaurant like Friday's than at Wendy's. Also, where you go will also have an impact on what there is to entertain your child, the wait to be seated and eat, and the food offered for your child. Save places with no kid's menu and crayons for date night.
When You Go:
You have two big factors to think about here. First, when will your child be most agreeable. But also a factor is when it is a good time to go to the restaurant. Remember, to dine out, you don't have to go for dinner. Breakfast, brunch, or lunch might be less busy where you want to go, or more agreeable for your child. Also, don't forget about the ride to and from the restaurant. Will you have to wake your child up or cause a fight over the car seat?
*Be prepared for distractions from your food and conversation. I usually spend as much time getting food for my daughter as I do eating my own food; similarly, I can only get a couple sentences out before I have to hand her a new toy or acknowledge her in some other way.
*Be prepared to leave the table to walk your newborn or remove a toddler in a tantrum.
*Know what you want to order a head of time and order it with your drinks. This will cut down your waiting before the food arrives, thus allowing you more time to spend with your food if things are going well and a better chance at a quick get away if they are not.
*Bring snacks for your child in case the service is slow. Depending on the age of your child and your leniency on the matter, snacks might also prove helpful as a distraction while waiting even if the service isn't slow or if your child snubs his / her ordered meal.
*Bring other distractions in the form of toys and books. As stated above, be prepared to be a distraction for your child by reading those books and engaging him / her with those toys.
*Make the most out of the items at your table. Play with the menus, straws, napkins, sugar packets, etc.
*There's no harm asking for a secluded seat if your child has a history of tantrums or colic. This could also be a good idea if you want the option of nursing at your table. A high backed booth facing away from the rest of the room would probably let you nurse without any other patrons being the wiser.
*We have found disposable place mats that stick to the table. They allow you to give your child a clean service off of which to play and eat, and make easy clean up for the staff. Disposable bibs are also nice so that you don't have to cart home anything covered in food.
*Don't order it if you don't want to share it. If you plan on taking a stance about your child not getting french fries, then don't get them yourself.
*Make reservations or use call ahead sitting to avoid waiting in the lobby.
*Check to see if your child can reach a table leg or other surface with his / her feet that he could push off to tip the high chair.