Have you ever gone to a restaurant hoping for a quiet, relaxing dining experience only to find that the table next to you is the temporary playground for a couple of rowdy kids and two stressed-out parents? We’ve all been there. Whether you’re on the sidelines or in the middle of the battlefield, it’s not pleasant for anyone. But dining out with children doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Here are 10 tips for having a positive and fun outing with your family while showing other patrons that not all children are little devils at the dinner table.
1. Bring Games or Activities
When dining out with kids, it’s essential to ensure they have choices to keep them busy. Pack an activity bag full of games or other activities to give children many ways to entertain themselves. Kids have busy and curious minds that, unless otherwise occupied, can easily devise their own games—like throwing sugar packets across the dining room. Kaboose.com and stitch/craft both have travel-friendly games for any situation where kids need a little distraction. For more ideas, browse the web. Pinterest and similar community sites are great for digging up creative ideas!
2. Teach Good Manners
Children are better behaved when they know the guidelines and boundaries to follow. Teaching children from a young age about table manners, and what behaviors are acceptable at home versus in public, can help immensely. Teaching children how they should act just before heading out the door will not yield the positive behavior you’re hoping for, so start early and practice often. Before you leave for the restaurant, discuss the rules with your kids as a refresher and set up clear consequences that will be enforced if they fail to behave properly. For example, a friend of mine taught her children that crying in restaurants isn’t acceptable. If they do cry, they get a time out in the car (with a parent, of course). The kids are given two chances to fix their behavior and if they don’t, the parents eat in shifts—one eats while the other sits in the car with the misbehaving child.
Want more help understanding how to teach your kids manners? Check out TeachingChildrenManners.com. Teaching your children about appropriate behavior takes time and effort but you’ll enjoy a big payoff in the end. One tip: use positive or neutral language. Avoid phrases like, “Don’t throw your silverware” and instead opt for phrases like, “Always keep your silverware on the table or in your hand, please.” Positive phrasing helps children focus on what they should do rather than what they shouldn’t, and helps prevent bad behavior.
3. Choose the Right Restaurant
When deciding where to eat, choose a restaurant based on how your children typically act when dining out. Find an environment that fits. If they have a difficult time staying quiet, for example, chose a restaurant where other patrons won’t be disturbed by the extra noise. This doesn’t mean you have to go to the nearest Chuck E. Cheese, but you may need to consider more casual restaurants. But don’t be afraid to try new restaurants, either. Your child’s perspective on dining out and their exposure to a wide variety of food (not always from the children’s menu) will provide them with a better outlook on dining in general.
4. Sit Near Exits or Outdoors
If you have young children or toddlers, sit outside if possible or, at the very least, near exits. That way, if you need to leave the table with a fussy kid, you can do so easily without having to maneuver around other tables, chairs, diners and wait staff.
5. Make Dining Out Special
Whether you’re a child or an adult, eating out should be a special experience that doesn’t mirror dining at home. To help make the experience unique for your child, consider finding something you can do to set the experience apart, such as ordering a fun kiddy cocktail at the end of the meal. Not only does this add a little more fun to the evening, it can also serve as a reward for good behavior.
6. Avoid the Kids’ Menu
Many restaurants have kids’ menus that are chock-full of unhealthy options like deep-fried chicken fingers, French fries, pizza and the like. Rather than forcing your child to choose from those limited (and frankly, unhealthy) options, allow them to take a look at the adult menu, but make sure to monitor what they order and the portions they eat. The best solution is to share your meal with your kids. This way, you can control how much they eat and help introduce them to new foods that definitely don’t make an appearance on the kids’ menu.
7. Tip Well
Having been a server myself, and hearing stories from friends who wait tables, I know that serving children can be a hassle. This isn’t a personal attack on parents—or children for that matter. It’s a simple fact. Keep this in mind when you tip at the end of your meal. If your server has done a good job taking care of you and your family, show your appreciation tipping generously. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule and you’ll have to play it by ear. But generally, if your dining experience was positive, tip well.
8. Clean Up After Your Kids
It’s always clear where families have eaten even after they leave the restaurant. Help out the restaurant staff and leave a good impression on other patrons by cleaning up after your kids. You don’t have to take out a magnifying glass to find each and every crumb, but if a glass of water spilled all over the table and seat, do your best to clean it up. Likewise, if the salt shaker has toppled over and left a pile on the table, sweep it up and dispose of the remains. Be respectful and not only will you feel better about the experience, but others will view diners with young children in a different light.
9. Be Early
Schedule dining outings early. Get to the restaurant at the beginning of dinner or lunch service and you’ll avoid long waits and possibly crabby kids, too. Part of having a successful dining-out experience is being able to relax and enjoy yourselves. If you plan ahead and get to the restaurant earlier than the dinner rush, you’ll be a step ahead!
10. Be Respectful
Yes, there are some patrons who just won’t be able to enjoy their meal with young children present. Do what you can to be respectful to others, keep your cool and do your best. Things will always happen to make the experience less than ideal—children are unpredictable that way and you’ll be able to understand that more than people who aren’t parents. If another patron complains, listen patiently and let them know that you’ll do your best not to bother them anymore. Briefly explain to your children that they need to use softer voices or perhaps stop banging that toy on the table. Hopefully things will start to look up. If they don’t, try not to be discouraged. There’s always next time!
Do you have any strategies that have proven to be effective when dining out with kids? If so, feel free to share them in the comments below! We’d love to hear your ideas!
Rachael White is the author of the blogs Set the Table and Tokyo Terrace. After four years of living, eating, and entertaining in Tokyo, Japan, she and her family have relocated to Denver, Colorado. Rachael is constantly searching for new ways to make entertaining easier and more interesting for guests in a variety of environments and situations. In addition to food blogging, her recipes have been published in cookbooks including Foodista Best of Food Blogs and Peko Peko: A Charity Cookbook for Japan and in Japan’s Daily Yomiuri newspaper. Originally from Minnesota, Rachael strives to recreate recipes and settings that reflect Midwestern comfort with a modern twist.