Every parent has been there. The crying. The shrieking. The throwing of food.
Yes, I’m talking about taking your child to a restaurant, of course. It can be a real challenge to enjoy a meal away from home with children, as we all know.
Our little ones are so sweet, so adorable, so fun! But one thing true of all kids is that they don’t always know how to behave in public. When we as parents need to just get out of the house once in awhile, away from cooking and dish duty, we take on a whole new set of issues.
Children aren’t usually misbehaving on purpose. You can avoid a lot of issues by planning ahead and being logical about your eating-out plans.
So if you’re looking for some ideas, look no further! You want to enjoy an occasional meal out without having to pay for a babysitter and your meal! I’ve got some of the best tips around for getting your kids to behave in restaurants.
Tips for Visiting Restaurants With Children
Okay, so let’s start with the youngest of your brood. When you have small babies or toddlers, your dining-out choices can be somewhat limited. But you don’t have to hide away in your home for the first three years of your child’s life!
Choose Restaurants With Visual Appeal
For the very youngest kids, it can go a long way to simply take them to a restaurant with something interesting to look at. Babies and very small children may be entertained by looking at a colorful aquarium filled with beautiful fish, for example.
Themed places may also buy you a bit of time, as kids can check out interesting pictures of animals or cartoon characters.
Bring A Goody Bag
Just like when your children have to tag along at doctor’s appointments or sit with you in church, you always want to pack a goody bag to keep them occupied.
Bring along a few of your child’s favorite small toys, books, or games to the restaurant. Whether it’s a fast-food joint or a four-star locale, kids often need amusement.
When you’re waiting for your food to arrive, pull out a quiet toy or a board book. Small ones can pass the time with some of their fun stuff from home!
Some restaurants provide coloring pages and crayons, which are great, but you could also have your own in your handy little kids’ goody bag. Whether it’s coloring or a game of Memory or any other fun activity, it should help keep your kids from running around the restaurant.
Come Prepared With Snacks
Not every establishment will be thrilled to see you packing little Ziploc bags of Goldfish, but plenty of them are fine with it! Most managers and restaurant owners want to make their customers comfortable, and anything that helps kids behave well in their restaurant accomplishes that goal.
Especially in those early years, around age two or three, you can’t reasonably expect your kids to wait very long for their food. So why not arm yourself with a little something for them to nibble on in the meantime? It saves you money, since they might not eat much of what the restaurant offers anyway.
Feed Them First
Along the same lines as packing snacks, another strategy to help kids behave in restaurants is to feed them before you go out! Give them a snack or even a complete meal at home before heading to the restaurant.
Feeding the kids ahead of time ensures they won’t get too hungry (a factor that always ups crabbiness). It also helps keep your food bill down, since you won’t have to order them as much at the restaurant!
This can be an especially useful trick when choosing a restaurant where your kids won’t particularly like the food. Of course it’s great to go to someplace where everyone can eat, but let’s face it, every parent gets sick of chicken tenders and mac and cheese!
When you just want a little more of a “grown-up” meal but don’t want to leave the kids behind, feed them their own meal in advance and then maybe let them get an appetizer or a dessert to eat while the adults enjoy their meal.
Invite a Friend
Here’s a fun suggestion, if you’re up for a larger group! This depends on the circumstances, obviously, but there may be times when you can let your child invite a friend along for a dining out adventure.
The downside is obvious: If you have multiple kiddos, the cost will add up fast as you’ll multiply the number of children! But it could save you a lot of trouble if the friend keeps your child occupied and happy.
Dining al fresco is a fun way to scratch your eating-out itch without your kids driving you crazy. In nice weather, head to a place with outdoor seating.
Eating outside can make your meal a more exciting event. The fresh air is good for everyone, and if kids are a little loud, it’s not as big of a deal. It also may offer your child the chance to run around a little bit, depending on the space and how crowded the establishment is.
Small children often get antsy and this is what causes them to “misbehave” in restaurants and other social situations. They just need to move their bodies! So opting outside is a fantastic option that lets your kids wiggle out some of their energy while waiting for food to arrive.
Choose Kid-Friendly Restaurants
Here’s one that may be fairly obvious: choose restaurants that are kid-friendly. Kids will almost certainly behave better when eating out in a place that really welcomes them.
Some restaurants just aren’t designed with the intention that families with children will eat there. So use your common sense: when the food is fancy and expensive, it’s probably not the ideal place to take your kids along. Children most likely won’t have the self-control to sit quietly and follow table etiquette – at least not to the extent you’d hope.
Do yourself and your fellow diners-out a favor and use your best judgment in choosing a restaurant for you and your kids. Maybe save the four-star establishments for an evening out without the kiddos! When they’re with you, stick to places that fit their attention span, food preferences, and behavioral development.
When taking kids out to eat, earlier is almost always better. But you know your kids. Decide based on your children’s general behavior what is the best time to go. For us, it’s usually breakfast time or a very early dinner (like 4:30 or 5:00).
Request A Good Spot
It’s always good to be considerate of other diners. If you can, try to go out at a less-busy time just to minimize the number of other patrons who might be bothered if your kids do get out of hand. You might also just let the waitstaff know you’d like a table away from others.
Use Technology as a Last Resort
You knew it was coming…yes, technology is an option as well. Most of us don’t want our kids glued to a tablet screen, not engaging in conversation. But let’s face it, if we don’t go out to eat that often and our kids know they won’t get to use tech every time they go out, maybe it’s worth it to bring along.
Only you know what kinds of boundaries you’ll need to set. Perhaps your kids can have screen time only while waiting for food to arrive, and then the devices must be put away. Maybe if your kids already ate their meal beforehand, you’ll let them have some screen time just so you and the other adults can just enjoy your food for a few minutes undisturbed!
Model Good Table Manners
Let’s not forget one of the biggest ways kids learn behavior: from watching their parents! Modeling good table manners can help your children take in those important life lessons.
Be sure that you are teaching your kids great manners at home, so when you go out to a restaurant, it’s not a surprise that etiquette is expected. Let them learn day after day how to use their utensils, how to sit still and speak at a reasonable volume. Let them hear you saying “please” and “thank you” and making dinnertime a more pleasant time for all.
Don’t Be Afraid to Discipline
Your kids need to know you’ll dole out some consequences for bad behavior. Whether you use time-outs, take away screen time for a week, or take them out of the restaurant briefly, don’t be afraid to discipline your child.
Just because you’re out in public doesn’t mean you can let your kids run wild. Of course, kids need to learn there will be consequences if they don’t act properly when eating out, just as in any other place.
Leave If Your Child Misbehaves
Of course, all the toys and crayons and bribes in the world sometimes won’t fix a child’s behavior. Some days a relaxing meal out just isn’t in the cards.
For really terrible behavior, especially when you know it’s disturbing other customers in the restaurant, it’s time to leave. Pay for whatever food or drinks you’ve consumed already, and go on home. There is no shame in that.
Enjoy Restaurants With Your Kids
Kids will be kids! No matter how wonderful a parent you are, they’re still bound to have some rough days, especially when going out to a restaurant.
You can implement a few simple strategies to help your children behave appropriately when you take them out to eat. Even if you don’t go out very often, kids will benefit from an occasional chance to try it out. Try these tips and test if your children will behave better in restaurants!