I am a firm believer that children need to start eating in public at a young age. They need to be taught the social conventions and expectations early, so that it will become an ingrained habit when they are older.
Tonight we went our for dinner as a family to celebrate my sister’s graduation from college. Going to the restaurant I am armed with my diaper bag which has diapers, a spare set of clothes/underwear, bib gadget, wipes, sippy cups and snacks. Diapers are obvious, but don’t forget to carry a changing mat with you. Every once in a while you may get a restaurant who has not installed a change table (or you want your hubby to change the kid instead). I suggest always being prepared. The spare set of clothes always comes in handy because accidents happen. Food gets spilled, or we don’t make it to the bathroom quick enough. My bib gadget is made specifically for kids (picture on the right. But you can make your own with a piece of ribbon and large paper clips (shown below), or even suspenders (if you’re handy and can sew). Bibs get dirty and then you have to take them home. This is much easier, because you can just leave the napkin at the restaurant.
Wipes are a must for anyone with kids. they clean messes much better than a regular napkin. If you’re a mom – you know this 🙂 Until I know that my kids can drink from a regular glass, I bring sippy cups instead. I would rather put their drink in a sippy cup than deal with a big mess because someone didn’t watch where their elbow was going. I always have snacks in my diaper bag, but I make sure to have something to tide my kids over until their food arrives. You never know how long the kitchen is going to decide to take making your kids’ food. And I would rather be proactive and prevent tantrums.
When we arrive we do a pit stop at the washroom, so that hopefully there will be no need to get up during dinner. We order for the kids as soon as possible. I ask the server to put their order in with our drinks, so I know that the food will get out quickly. Sometimes, if we go somewhere we have been before, the kids will already know what they would like and ordering is easy. Having them decide what they want ahead of time makes life easier. I only present them with 3-4 options. Too many options will confuse them and frustrate you.
Most kid-friendly restaurants will have crayons or something available to keep kids occupied. And while I’m on the subject – if you are going out to eat with kids – pick somewhere that is kid friendly! Don’t choose a fancy restaurant where the kids will pick at the food and wreck the dinner experience for others around them. Only attempt going to this kind of restaurant once they have learned (and demonstrated on numerous occasions!) that they can handle eating properly at a restaurant.
Also, you are their model while dining. Don’t ignore them and pull out your cell phone. Engage them and use this time to enjoy each others’ company. Show them how to use their utensils properly, review how to ask someone to pass something they would like, demonstrate and let them order their meal, etc. This is a learning experience for them, so make sure to go over things we take for granted (eg. talk about who makes the food and why it takes time to prepare, talk about the hostesses job, talk about paying the bill afterwards…)
I am also a firm believer in asking to be excused from the table. My children are required to ask at home, so it is no different at a restaurant. But, they do not get up from the table. They are expected to sit thru the entire meal. It is a pet peeve of mine when parents allow their kids to run around the restaurant (unless you are in the playplace at McDonald’s!).
There have been a few times when a child is upset for some reason and needs to be removed from the restaurant. Other people are not paying good money to come to a restaurant to listen to your child have a tantrum. It is your responsibility to remove your child outside (or to your car) where they will stay until they have calmed down. One of you needs to be prepared to leave the restaurant. This may mean taking your food to go. But you children need to learn that disruptive behaviour will not be tolerated and is not allowed in a restaurant. Ours learned that pretty quickly!
And finally, please try to teach them about not making a mess. Yes – it will happen and I always apologize to the waiter/waitress if it does. And sometimes large messes will be reflected in their tip (aka. extra). But try to respect the restaurant environment and tidy up a little before you leave 🙂
With practice and patience, any child can learn how to dine in a restaurant!