Dinner Drill: Before bringing the kids to a restaurant

by epi on July 1, 2013

Q: My husband and I are sometimes hesitant to bring our kids with us to dine out at a restaurant. I have nightmares about being one of those families whose children are running around the restaurant, crawling under the table, or causing other distractions to others trying to enjoy their meal. We really value eating together as a family, and it is always a special treat to go to a restaurant. How can I prepare my kids and teach them good manners while dining out?

A: Before going, talk to your child. Tell him that he’ll be given a menu, the waiter will take his order, and everyone will stay at the table until the meal ends. Select a restaurant with reasonably quick service and a family-friendly atmosphere. When you make a reservation, or before you’re seated, tell the hostess or manager that you’re dining with kids and would like to be seated near other families, or away from quiet couples.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca July 1, 2013 at 10:31 am

We practiced good table manners at home with our three. Set your table with a tablecloth and cloth napkins and breakable dishes that you can spare. Then have one of you be the “waiter”. We even printed fake menus. It was fun and the kids learned in a safe and comfortable environment and were always well behaved when dining out.

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Heather July 1, 2013 at 10:44 am

Also, have an escape plan. I take my two-year-old to restaurants often (family-friendly ones) and if my husband is with me, we usually decide “Okay, if he gets loud, I’ll take him outside and meet you at home after you’ve paid the bill”, or something like that. Try to sit near a door so that if it happens you won’t be carrying a wailing child all the way across a crowded dining room. If you’re alone, you can ask them to bring your bill with your food, so that you can pay it and leave without waiting for assistance.

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Chocobo July 1, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Why not have a fun role-playing game at home to practice first? It will be fun for the children and teach them through a game how to behave properly at the dinner table, whether at home or in public.

On a night when you are trying to clear the fridge of leftovers, pick someone to be the waiter and take orders for whatever is wanted from the fridge for dinner. Have the children state their order clearly and politely (“I would like the leftover Chinese, please.” “May I have a glass of chocolate milk?”), and let them know how to be on their best behavior, such as not getting up from the table until dinner is over, and asking to use the bathroom. Putting it into game form is good practice and will be more fun and easier for them to understand when they go out to a real restaurant.

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Ginger July 1, 2013 at 1:36 pm

And may I please say a heartfelt Bravo! to this mom. Thank you so much for continuing to value respect and decency as a family in public. I know you are modeling consideration for your children. Would that all parents were as thoughtful as you.

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Lilli July 1, 2013 at 1:48 pm

My mother taught us that we could only go to restaurants if we were well behaved. She brought us to family-friendly restaurants, but if we didn’t behave we left immediately – even if we had ordered food and hadn’t been served yet. She paid the bill and didn’t even wait for the food to take it to go! We learned pretty quickly that she meant it when she said we had to behave. She only had to do this two or three times and she always says that it was the best money she ever spent because it taught us quickly!

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Nina July 2, 2013 at 11:32 am

I think that Rebecca and Chocobo’s idea of the pretend restaurant at home sounds like so much fun–I wish my folks had thought of it. But they kind of did a mini-version of it, where meals were always fairly formal times, in or out of the house, and getting up without asking, yelling, or crawling under the table were *never* acceptable. We still had fun at family dinners and all, just quiet fun. So no real behaviour modification was needed for restaurants–we just knew running around and goofing off were for *after* dinner.

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Amanda July 3, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Several people had great ideas about how to start preparing the kids at home. I also have found that being prepared and picking the appropriate time is key. I have an almost four year old and a 9 mon. old. Obviously, there is only so much you can expect of a baby. We eat at home probably 90% of the time. When we go out, we choose a family friendly restaurant. We choose to eat outside if the weather is nice. When possible, we try to go out to eat early when it is not as crowded and we won’t have to wait, like at 5:30 or 6pm. I bring finger food snacks for the baby, toys, etc. We hold him and entertain him before we put him in the high chair. You can’t expect a baby to sit happily in a high chair for 1 1/2 hours!

As for our four year old. She is old enough to know how to behave. We let her color or do something to occupy herself while waiting. We have a hard time with her remembering to use her “inside” voice. She usually does pretty well. I don’t hesitate to take her to a private place and give her a stern reprimand if she is acting up. I try to make a point to compliment her good behaviors and include her in our dinner conversations.

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MM Thomas July 5, 2013 at 10:38 pm

We didn’t worry whether or not the restaurant was “family friendly.” We took dd to restaurants we liked. We did do this: we dined early between 5 or 6 pm. We figured that anyone celebrating an anniversary or proposing marriage would do so around 7 and would not want a fussy child nearby. If she started to get fussy, dh would take her outside until she calmed down. Like another poster, we dine fairly formally at home so wild, uncivilized behavior wasn’t even a possibility.

Good luck. Dining at nice restaurants is part of raising a well-bred adult. I believe children should be taken to museums, church, concerts, etc.. at an early age so they will learn that there are some places where one must be quiet or sit still. If that is expected of them, they will rise to the occasion.

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