Let’s face it – dining out with the kids can be a nightmare! Kids being kids, they don’t have the table etiquette finesse adults have so they are likely to make a mess, as well as throw tantrums like there’s no tomorrow. Parents will then avoid taking their small children to their favorite restaurants because it’s just too much of a hassle.
But this shouldn’t be! Parents and their children can definitely enjoy the pleasures of dining out together with minimum fuss and maximum fun. There are also several benefits related to taking kids out for meals, such as teaching them good table manners, exposing them to social interactions with both adults and children, and letting them see the world, if only in the city.
Here are tips that can ease the job for parents and make the experience more enjoyable for the kids.
Check that Kids Are Welcome
Keep in mind that children aren’t always welcome in restaurants with the obvious exception of fast-food restaurants. Many restaurants are explicit about their “No children allowed” policy but many others aren’t so it’s always best to ask the staff. Keep your questions relevant, such as:
- Are children allowed?
- Are there facilities where children can be entertained, where their things (e.g., strollers) can be stored, and where their diapers may be changed?
- Is there a specific area where children are allowed to eat and play, perhaps?
- Is there a children’s menu or foods on the menu that kids can enjoy?
You should obviously ask questions that will meet your children’s specific needs mainly depending on their needs. You will find restaurants that welcome children and provide child-friendly facilities.
You may also take your kids to the nearest Chuck E. Cheese restaurant and resolve the issue of finding a child-friendly place! You have the assurance that all the above-mentioned questions will have a resounding “Yes!” for an answer.
Explain Reasonable Expectations to the Kids
Don’t wait while you’re in the car on the way to the restaurant to tell your kids about your reasonable expectations regarding their behavior. Don’t tell them about these things when you’re in the restaurant either because then the group and the outing are disasters waiting to happen.
Instead, you should explain your expectations at least a day before the restaurant outing. Your best place to do so is while everybody’s seated at the table for a meal so that you can tie up what’s happening and what will be happening. While sharing the meal, you can:
- Tell the kids about your plans for dining out soon including the details of when and where you’re going.
- Ask them about what they think of your plans and listen to their inputs so that these can be incorporated in your final plan.
- Tell them what you expect from them in terms of behavior and actions while you’re in the restaurant.
- Act out these positive behaviors so that you can address possible issues, such as correcting table manners.
Keep in mind, too, that children aren’t too young to follow age-appropriate instructions but you have to clearly explain the what, why and how of these matters. Your expectations will also vary depending on age but the general expectations include:
- Sit up properly at the table.
- Use good table manners.
- Keep the noise down.
- Avoid running around because it will disrupt the other diners.
You can also reduce the chances of kids misbehaving in the restaurant, even when you’re at a Chuck E. Cheese by keeping the visit as short as possible. On your first outing, 45 minutes spent on eating the meals should be enough.
Choose Your Table Wisely
While you may want your kids to be the center of attention in other events, you may not want it at a restaurant, especially when they’re becoming more enthusiastic. You are well-advised to choose a table in a less conspicuous or more spacious area of the main dining room, such as a corner table. You don’t have to rent a private room but it pays to let your kids be kids without disrupting other diners and attracting attention.
If there are family-friendly tables available, then choose one of them. These are likely to have entertainment options for kids, even if these are as simple as crayons and coloring books.
But just to like a Girl Scout, you should always have entertainment on hand that will distract your kids while waiting for your order. You can pack a few small toys, coloring tools, and books, among other low-tech options. You may want to reach for the electronic gadgets out of desperation but you should limit it when in public places.
Last but not least, you may want to consider eating earlier than usual. If the kids’ dinnertime is at 6:30 P.M., then you may want to consider a 5 P.M. dine-out meal. You will still be on track for evening routines when you get home so everybody’s still happy and you can do it again!