We used a Tiny Diner as well, but I rarely remember to bring it out with us anymore. We just give her a plate, and when she's done eating we take it out of her reach and give her other things to play with. Putting food on the bare table would totally squick me out, but maybe if I was able to wipe it down myself it would be an option.
we've done plates since day one, but we also do at home. it was more of an issue when she was younger. it's not like at 18 months she's throwing dishware around (at least not when we're sitting together:) )
I've always just done plates but we do plates at home as well so that's normal for ds.
We don't bring anything special when we go out. We use regular dishes and plates at home. We'll ask for a small side plate or bowl to share our meals with dd, but that's about it. She's never been a thrower though, and in two+ years she's never tossed a plate or bowl or cup from the table (we use regular breakable dishware and cups at home too). I think it depends on the kid. If our next child is a tosser, we'd likely reconsider our strategy.
When my kids were very young and we ate out, they would sit on my lap at the table. When they got older (over 2), sometimes they would have a booster seat.
They never threw anything, but usually DH or I fed them out of our bowsl or one that we controlled, until they were around 3.
My desire for hygiene was (and is) the same for my kids as it is for me. If a restaurant table is too filthy for my kid, it's too filthy for me and I would not eat there.
I used to wipe the table down with wipes before feeding DS, and would just put it on the bare table. Now that he's 2, I don't worry about him throwing the plate off the table. He used to do that, but it was when he was much younger. The thought just never crosses my mind anymore. I'm also not that worried about germs though. :)
I wipe the table with wipes & put the food directly on it. The few times we've eaten at places with tablecloths I put food on a plate and watch carefully! I think we'll be moving into plate & utensil territory over the next few months though.
I have a mini lysol spray in the diaper bag. I spray the table and wipe down the table with a wipe. Have tried other methods: The suction cup mat gets ripped off, and as soon as my son is done with a food (sometimes before) the plate is tossed over board. We have been practicing more with plates/bowls/utensils at home. I have heard that using real plates can be more meaningful for toddlers. The weight of real plates/cups can provide a feeling of responsibility and increased sensory input. Good luck, I hope you find something that works for you guys!
I have a small bottle of Purell in the diaper bag, that I dump on the table and rub until it evaporates. Then, I let my 10-month-old thrower-of-plates just eat off the table. Hopefully she'll throw less, soon... and then I'd like to use a plate like a "real person." But for now, I sanitize. And I hate the idea of sanitizing! But for her, I do it.
I got a tester of gravity here, so she eats off the bare table. That way only the food is on the ground, not the tableware.