5 Strategies to Keep Your Kid off the Restaurant Black List

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.

The truth is people get really irritated by kids who aren’t theirs.

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.

Parents who let their kids run amuck give those of us parents who don’t a bad name.

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.

Here are five simple strategies to keep your kid off the Restaurant Black List.

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!


Showing 6 comments
  • Valencia Macon

    My strategy and it works with 4 young children is IPADs, KINDLES, etc. Give them some headphones and pray the establishment has wireless internet so they can download a show from Netflix. You will never know they are at the table. And for those parents who do not condone electronic devices at the table…well, I welcome your suggestions for dining out as a single parent with a 5, twin 4 year olds and a 3 year old. For the most part, they do pretty well, but god bless APPLE and AMAZON!!!

    • bossmomonline

      Valencia, I say do whatever it takes to get through the meal, especially at that young age. I’m going to confess something. We go to a very small church without a children’s school and sometimes I bring the iPad and headphones for D2 to use during the service. I feel really guilty about this but he does stay quiet during the entire service. I’m hoping God won’t judge me for doing this!

  • Yum Yucky

    This is why I leave the kids at home and go out with hubs by myself. LOL! Well…. I suppose it is way past time for a family dinner out. hehehe

    • bossmomonline

      Josie, oh yes well there is always THAT! LOL. I absolutely believe that leaving the kids home for a date night is a must! Gotta keep the flame burning 🙂

  • Linda Formichelli

    Love it! It’s too funny that I saw this today because just yesterday, a friend and I took our 3 kids — her 3- and 4-year-old daughters and my 4-year-old son — to a casual pizzeria for lunch. The kids ate their food, played tic tac toe, sang songs (quietly), and competed to see who could scribble the most on their paper. They weren’t loud and they never left the table.

    When we were leaving, an old woman beckoned me over and said, “The next time you bring your children out, you may want to consider teaching them proper table manners.” I was gobsmacked! God forbid the kids should actually ENJOY themselves. I guess she expected them to sit there, straight and silent, for an hour.

    We go to this pizzeria often, and I’m sure the waitress was as gobsmacked as we were when she heard the fuss.

    Of course, NOW I can think of so many great comebacks, like “They’re four. What’s YOUR excuse?”

    Also…I agree with Valencia on the electronics. We brought an iPad with cartoons and toddler games to restaurants until our son was old enough to sit quietly and talk with the adults at the table. Now we usually bring crayons, paper, and Star Wars figures.

    • bossmomonline

      Linda, that’s so funny! Really I think people’s tolerance for kids is going down. It sounds like your kids were definitely within the boundaries of well-behaved. People need to get a freakin’ grip especially when you are in a family restaurant. Kids need to have fun and as long as they are sitting and playing quietly, I don’t see the harm. Glad you liked the post!

Leave a Comment

Want to contact me?

Send me an email and I'll be in touch.