You’ve seen him. The kid running around the restaurant dodging coffee-serving wait staff.
Then there’s the kid screaming at the top of his lungs that he wants chicken nuggets and NOT meatloaf while his parents try to shush him to no avail.
And don’t forget about the kid who insists on tearing all of the sugar packets and scattering their contents on the table and floor.
And so the public is in revolt.
Parents with unruly kids are getting kicked off of airline flights.
Restaurants and upscale stores are declaring child-free zones.
Some businesses are even levying baby-surchages (WTF?).
I grew up with a mother who strongly believed that children only learned how to behave properly when you took them places. That’s what the old schoolers call Home Training. She didn’t believe in the “children should be seen and not heard rule” and so even from a young age the three of us kids went to museums, ate Sunday brunch at four star hotels and generally went where most people wouldn’t dare bring kids.
A chef friend of mine once confessed that she dreaded families eating at her establishment because once the family finished, their table looked like a Category 5 hurricane hit it. Kids can be noisy and messy. Top that off with parents who are either oblivious or insensitive and you get a recipe for landing on the Restaurant Black List.
The other day, D2 and I stopped off at McDonald’s (and yes, we go to “Old Mac Donald” – as D2 calls it – don’t judge me) for a post-grocery shopping ice cream. A kid about four years old was sprinting around the restaurant yelling at the top of his lungs while his grandmother chased him around.
D2 looked a the little boy and then at me and said, Mama, we don’t run around in the restaurant. It’s not nice.
God, I love my child.
I tell him, that’s right we don’t run around because we know what happens to little people who run around like wild animals.
He looks at me all serious, We have to go home and get a time out.
Damn right you do.
But I get it.
You want to expose your kids early in life to different social settings to teach them how to behave. Maybe you’re just desperate to get out of the house and don’t want to spring for the extra $50 bucks it’s going to cost you to hire a babysitter to watch your tots.
If you are bound and determined to eat out with your child, you need this advice.
There is a way to have a somewhat enjoyable meal out with your kids while not driving other restaurant patrons crazy or having a restaurant manager
threaten tell you to never come back. And you don’t even have to relegate your meals out to Chili’s, Golden Corral or any of those other plastic-food serving joints. Dr. D. and I have used these strategies many times over with great success.
Avoid dinner primetime and eat out early.
I miss those days of eating dinner at eight and nine at night really I do. But if your kid’s bedtime is any time before 9pm what sense does it make to take them out at seven? No, it’s not that fun to eat dinner early but on the plus side, the restaurant is less crowded and the waitstaff are far less harried. Your food will arrive promptly thus enabling you to avoid hunger -induced meltdowns. Remember a tired and cranky kid is a disruptive kid.
Order appetizers and dinner together.
I used to love lingering over a glass of wine while I perused the menu. These days, I’m a bit more hit it and quit it. Our strategy is to order our appetizers and main course at the same time; we don’t wait for our server to come back and to take our order for the main course. We also tell the server to bring D2’s meal out right away so that he can start eating.
Clean up any mess you’ve made on or around your table.
Kids are messy we all know that. But just because you are eating out doesn’t give you the right to leave your table a disaster zone. No one expects you to bus your own table but do your server a favor and try and keep your mess to a minimum. Pick up nasty globs of food and scrunched up napkins holding mystery offal and at least consolidate them onto an empty plate. Clear up piles of sugar or salt and pepper (what is it about pouring stuff on tables that children love so much anyway?) your tot may have dumped.
Ask for the check to be delivered with your meal.
Congrats, you’ve made it through most of your meal and for some totally random reason your tot starts flipping out. You haven’t finished your meal but she is ready to go NOW. You’re getting death stares from the couple at the table next to you. You’ve got a couple of options when this happens. One of you can get up and take your screaming tot outside while the other pays the tab. You can wait it out and hope your child suddenly calms down (highly unlikely and not recommended). Or do what Dr. D. and I do. We always ask for our check to be delivered with our meal and we pay for it while we are eating. This way if D2 starts bugging out, we can beat a hasty retreat without waiting more time to pay for our check.
Leave the fancy restaurants for dining out a deux.
It’s so tempting to bring your tyke to that fancy restaurant you’ve been meaning to try out, but think twice. First off, it’s no fun for them or you to be in surroundings where you can’t totally relax. Eating out is one of life’s great pleasures but if it means dining in hushed or uptight surroundings you are asking for trouble. Make it easy on yourself and save that 12- course molecular gastronomy tasting menu for when it’s just you and your main squeeze.
Finally, if your kids are walking and talking, I’m a firm believer in setting expectations. Now that D2 is three I explain to him where we are going and how I expect for him to behave. We talk about how much fun we are going to have but that we want to be nice to other people by having good manners.
You are probably thinking this sounds rigid and boring but actually we have a great time eating out with D2. True eating out with a toddler means that we can’t be in a restaurant for more than hour and a half (max!) but our system gives us a chance to get out and have fun as a family without wreaking havoc on our fellow diners.
Your turn. What strategies have you learned to have a sane diningout experience with your kids? What are your pet peeves? Do share in the comments!