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 5 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 timeout 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 waitstaff.
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.
— Rachael White, Menuism
For more tips on dining with kids, visit Menuism.