Holiday Gifts & Lifestyle

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Tips for families dining out for the holidays

Dining out for the holidays is a tradition for many families. Dining out has many advantages, including no cleanup once the meal is over and a more varied menu that provides guests more choices than the standard holiday fare.

Dining out can also prove less expensive for the holiday host. The tab at the end of a night on the town can be split among the guests, whereas the food bill when hosting a holiday dinner at home is often left to the host and the host alone.

But dining out for the holidays does require some work, even if none of that work involves scrubbing dirty dishes or finding extra seats for guests. When planning a holiday dinner at a restaurant, consider the following tips.

* Do your homework. A favorite restaurant might be tops on your list, but do some comparison shopping before settling on a restaurant. Prices can vary greatly when it comes to private parties, and some might not even be capable of accommodating the kind of large party that might accompany you for a holiday dinner. Start shopping well before the holiday season to see who offers the best menu, the most affordable prices and the best accommodations.

* Choose a restaurant that's accessible to everyone. Guests can stay overnight when a holiday dinner is at a relative's house. However, guests will almost certainly be driving home after a holiday dinner at a restaurant. Make everyone's post-meal commute home as easy as possible by choosing a centrally located restaurant that's equidistant from everyone's home. Consider the proximity of public transportation to the restaurant as well, as some guests might prefer to avoid holiday traffic by taking public transportation.

* Inquire about a restaurant's pricing flexibility. There might be room for negotiation regarding the menu, including choices on the food and beverages being offered, but you'll never know if you don't ask. Traditional holiday fare will likely be available, but discuss alternatives to such menu items, including if there is anything for vegetarians or if there is a gluten-free meal option. In addition, some restaurants might be willing to negotiate price, especially for large parties.

* Sign a contract if your party will be especially large. Contracts can ensure that especially large dinner parties don't go awry. This may require a deposit in advance of the holiday, but the contract should spell out the menu, including food and beverages that will be offered, and the final price of the meal.

* Be an early bird. If the responsibility of planning or hosting the dinner has fallen on your shoulders, then get to the restaurant before your guests. This gives you time to ensure everything is ready and increases the chances your holiday dinner will go according to plan.

* Don't forget invitations. Treat the holiday dinner like you might treat a wedding reception or a birthday party, inviting guests several weeks in advance so everyone has time to plan their trip. Include directions to the restaurant in your invitations, and remind guests that holiday traffic might require they leave earlier to make it to the restaurant on time for the start of the meal.

Osceola News-Gazette