By Dr. Heather Wittenberg
My husband and I used to forbid the words “restaurant” and “children” from being used in the same sentence. French fries scarfed while running around after the kids resulted in a sure-fire case of indigestion. “Why are we doing this?” we wondered. It was so much easier to stay at home.
Then Grandma and Grandpa came to visit, and generously offered to take us all out to celebrate my hubby’s birthday – a tough offer to refuse. But the pressure was on for good manners (okay, maybe just “not horrible manners”). Since then, we’ve learned that dining out can actually be a fun experience for the whole family – if planned and practiced in advance.
My Dos and Don’ts:
- DO have high expectations. If you expect your kids to throw tantrums and generally create havoc, they will. And if you expect better behavior, you’re more likely to get that, too. Start by having mini-conversations at home about restaurant manners. Make it a game you play in the days leading up to dining out – “Who can tell me one of our restaurant manners, for when we go to celebrate Daddy’s birthday?” Go down the list and see if the kids can remember all the rules: Say “please” and “thank you”. Use inside voices. Have a conversation or color nicely while we wait for our food. Walking, please – no running. Wait patiently for everyone to finish their food.
- DO go to nice places. Practice with family-friendly joints, but aim higher. It’s a great opportunity to teach little ones important social skills, including how to behave at– and enjoy – special occasions. One of our favorite places to go with Grandma and Grandpa has outdoor seating, good people-watching, and a cool fish pond.
- DON’T depend on tech. Although I understand the temptation, turn off the tech at the table. The whole point of going out as a family is to enjoy each other’s company, which isn’t possible when Elmo is on. Give your child your full attention, engage him in conversation, and help him enjoy interesting new things about the environment. On the other hand, if your mother-in-law is the one demanding your full attention and your preschooler is crabby from missing his nap, I’ll give you a pass if you fire up some Angry Birds to distract him.
- DON’T order the kids’ meals first. Parenting newbies make this mistake in a desperate attempt to immediately get food into hungry kids. Instead, order a fun kiddie drink – it is a special occasion, after all – and enjoy some good old analog conversation and togetherness. Have the kids try the adults’ appetizers. Everyone talks together, and eats together. Later, pull out some crayons and paper if the kids finish eating before you do.
- DO tip well! Servers remember families with small kids – especially if you’re one of the few well-mannered ones. Tipping well shows you appreciate the extra effort needed to serve a table with small children, and helps ensure special treatment on your next visit.