Does going to a restaurant with kids fill you with apprehension? Do you cross your fingers and hope for the best, or do you load up on digital toys and promise yourself it will be different next time?
We’ve had some wonderful meals out…and ones we’d prefer to block from memory. But we like eating out too much to dispense with this pastime—children and all. Here's how we've helped our kids develop the patience and manners to make a meal out more enjoyable for everyone.
I’m a big advocate of the public library, so this is often my starting place for any activity. We found the book Manners at a Restaurant by Bridget Heos on one visit and it has been engaging for the whole family.
Start as you mean to go on
Taking the time to have a family conversation before setting foot outside the door is extremely helpful. Set the expectation of the behavior you want to see, ensuring everyone understands the role they are required to play.
[Related: A British expat mom on teaching kids manners]
Then set yourself up for success by picking somewhere low-key, where you won’t be shush-ing the little ones at every excited whoop. Silver service can be rather too rigid at any age, while loud(ish) music can be a savior for blocking out bickering.
You may have ambitions of a leisurely French multi-course meal with wine pairings, but being realistic can alleviate anxiety. Mid-morning croissants might be an easier place to begin, while still keeping on theme.
Set the ground rules
Maybe you feel strongly there should be no electronic devices on hand, or that getting up from the table should be discouraged. Whatever embodies your ideal mealtime, make sure your team is on board before you sit down to dine.
While you might not sanction video games, it is wise to have a few tricks up your sleeve. Our go-tos include digital drawing boards and mini sticker books. (Crayons just keep rolling off the table and are a distraction for our crew.)
If you want your youngsters to engage with their fellow diners, show them how to converse at the table. Modeling behavior for them to follow is invaluable. We’ve tried conversation starters at home, making a fun game of it.
[Related: Kids always making you late? Try these tips for on-time arrivals]
Keep it short
When dinner is going well, it can be tempting to order that second drink. However, keeping outings short to begin with can help keep things positive. You know that old adage: Always stop while you’re winning.
Make it a regular thing
Like all activities, dining out as a family also takes practice. Keep the momentum going by making eating out a regular thing. This helps take the pressure off each occasion having to be perfect; there is always another opportunity coming up.
Don’t be deterred
Don’t let setbacks set you back. If you have an all-out fail (as we all have), just take a break and come back at it again in a few weeks. Or else just try something different. If tacos failed to impress your youngsters, maybe chopsticks will keep them entertained. Or if dinnertime is a consistent miss, brunch might be your sweet spot.
Above all, have a plan…then be prepared to be flexible. And don’t give up—the rewards are too high.