The value of eating together as a family can’t be overstated. Every meal is an occasion for bonding, freely exchanging ideas and picking up subtle hints to what goes on at school.
Eating with the kids in restaurants shouldn’t be any different, but most of us remember disastrous events that took place in them. Occasional temper tantrums or diaper crises can hardly be avoided, but the ugly scenes of yesteryear still linger in our minds. This must change—if parents are stressed-out about going out to dinner, kids will be too.
Here are five easy tips to make the restaurant dining experience more enjoyable for everyone:
The sooner your child is exposed to the restaurant scene, the more quickly he or she will be comfortable in it. Don’t wait until he’s capable of pairing wines before you take him out to eat.
Do Your Homework
Google the restaurant at home with your kids. Check out the website and menu together, and describe dishes that they have questions about. If certain foods are off-limits, say so at home. One way to work around unhealthy kids’ meals is to share an adult meal with your child. Find an entree you agree on, and allow your child to choose a side order or dessert.
State Your Expectations
Briefly go over the rules for eating in restaurants. Fighting, leaving one’s seat without permission and disturbing others are unacceptable. If your kids have eaten in the school cafeteria, they already know all this. Move on to talking about how fun it is to eat out.
While waiting for your meal, keep your kids engaged in conversation; the time will pass more quickly. Talk about the many jobs in a restaurant, or ask them to name as many foods of a certain color that they can think of. Even a bathroom break goes a long way to relieve boredom and prevent bad behavior when the kitchen staff falls behind.
Pick Your Time and Your Table
Children are often worn out and crabby before they ever get to the table. If you choose a popular restaurant, try going early. Not only will you avoid the dinner rush, but many eateries offer discounted prices before 5:00 p.m.
Booths, patio tables and counter top stools with a view of the kitchen are especially kid-friendly.
Let Your Kids Speak for Themselves
Eating out is not only a great opportunity to teach table manners, but it’s a prime occasion for sharpening social skills.
Encourage your kids to speak for themselves. For example, tell your daughter that if she can place her own order with the server, she may choose whatever she likes. Practice with her by playing the role of the waiter.
Finally, remember that everyone has a bad night now and then. For small children especially, know when it’s time to ask for a doggie bag and head home.