Small Kids and Restaurants

We’ve all been to restaurants and watched in horror as a family allows their child to run wild, throw tantrums and generally make the experience unpleasant for everyone. Don’t be that family! Use these tips from experienced parents, restaurant managers, and waitresses/waiters to make your next meal out fun for you and everyone around you.

Be Prepared!

  • Whenever possible, know where you are going to eat before you leave the house. Check the restaurant’s website so that everyone has an idea of one or two things they might like to eat before you go.
  • Pack a few things to entertain the kids while you wait. A small party-pack of play dough fits easily into a purse or diaper bag and will keep little hands busy. Keep a pack of special pens or crayons and a small pad of paper next to the play dough. For 2-3 year olds, bring finger puppets or a few hand-sized toys.
  • With 4-7 year olds, make it clear before you enter the restaurant that you WILL leave if they do not: stay in their seats, keep their hands to themselves, try to use their indoor voices (this is tough for this age group, so cut them some slack) or keep their food on the table. If they break these rules, follow through and go home. Let your spouse get meals in to-go boxes and pay the bill while you put the kids in the car. Generally, you only have to do this once.

Be Polite!

  • Leave the electronics at home! Dinner out is a time to be a family. Teach your kids to pay attention to their dinner companions rather than spend the meal staring at a screen. Parents must set the example by putting their phones down until dinner is over.
  • Your waiter/waitress is a person who deserves your attention and respect. Teach the kids to speak clearly and to say please and thank you. Remember that waiter/waitress has to clean up when you leave, do not let your children throw food on the seats or floor.
  • Keep other guests in mind. If one of your children begins to act up, take him outside until he settles down. A restaurant is not the setting to let him cry it out or have a full-blown tantrum.
  • This is not the place to have a battle of wills. If your child will not eat, box the meal up and take it home.
  • Avoid taking your children to restaurants that cater to mostly adults. There is time for that. Kids do melt down and have tantrums. Don’t put them in a situation where they could ruin someone’s anniversary or other special celebration.

Be Proactive!

  • Eat early or give the kids a heavy snack late in the afternoon if you must eat late.
  • Order immediately upon being seated. (You know what to order because you checked the menu before you got there!)
  • Ask for the check to arrive with your meal. That way, you can pay quickly if you have to leave suddenly.
  • Let your kid know when they’re doing things right! Thank them for being so neat or polite.

Having children does not mean you can never go out to eat again. It does mean you have to plan in advance a bit more. Think of it as an investment. The younger children are when they learn to behave well in restaurants, the easier your life will be in the years ahead.

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