Most people enjoy the experience of dining out and leaving the cooking and clean-up to someone else. This includes parents of young children. Since their behavior can be unpredictable, some parents feel like they have no choice but to stay home until they know how their children will behave at a restaurant. However, preparing in advance and keeping realistic expectations can make it an enjoyable experience for everyone. This includes other diners at the restaurant.
Prepare Kids for the Experience by Practicing at Home
A few days before eating out with their children, parents can role-play the experience at home so little ones know what to expect. It’s important to model behavior such as sitting still, waiting patiently to get served, using silverware properly, and asking tablemates to pass items like salt and pepper. Children who regularly sit down to dinner with their families and know what parents expect of them at home tend to do better making the transition to dining in a restaurant.
Kids should also understand the consequences for poor behavior when eating away from home. This may include asking for the food to go and leaving the restaurant if they don’t change their behavior after a request from a parent. Pre-verbal children may not understand the words but will eventually learn to associate the cause and effect of not being allowed to stay to finish a meal.
Make Sure the Restaurant Welcomes Children
It can be awkward to show up at a restaurant with a toddler and preschooler in tow only to discover it’s not exactly kid-friendly. While it might not post a sign saying children aren’t welcome, the menu selections and ambience could send that message. If parents aren’t certain, it’s a good idea to call the restaurant and ask. This is also a good time to inquire about whether the restaurant has a separate children’s menu or if the cooks can tailor adult dishes to a child’s palate.
It’s unfortunate that more restaurants have become unwelcome to children because they need the opportunity to learn how to behave in public. The first time parents take young children to a sit-down restaurant, they should stick to the main course only. It should be a nice restaurant that caters to families, but not something overly fancy. When it’s clear the kids understand how dining out works, parents can consider adding an appetizer or desert or upping the stakes to a more upscale eatery.
How to Make the Waiting Time Easier for Little Ones
To a kid, a 15-minute wait for the server to bring the food can seem like an eternity. Children tend to act up when they get bored and fidgety, which often happens when adults are talking to each other and not engaging them. Coloring on the placemats, telling stories, or even playing with chopsticks can all help distract kids while they wait. It should be a quiet toy so as not to disturb other diners. If all else fails, one adult can get up to walk around with the kids while the other stays at the table.