I was talking to a friend of mine who is a waitress here in town, and she asked me to give parents some tips about taking children out to restaurants. It seems this is a particularly challenging time of the year at her restaurant, as so many families go out to eat during the holiday season.
Restaurants require different behaviour
Eating out does require skills because we are not in our own homes, we are surrounded by people we don’t normally eat with, we have to choose our food, we have to wait for it, it is served to us, the food is different from what we eat at home, there are people walking around carrying hot food and drinks, etc. Really quite different from our families’ normal eating situation and it requires different behaviour, both from us, and from our children.
What can we do to make it easier for our children to learn what to do?
Just telling them to “behave themselves” is not enough.
If your children are verbal, talk to them before you go to the restaurant about where you are going, what it will be like, and what they will be doing. When you get there, talk about what you see, what will happen, look at the other people and talk about what they are doing.
If you can, look at the menu online before you go and choose what is suitable for your children, and even for yourself, thus cutting down on the waiting time.
Waiting for your food can be the absolutely most challenging time in a restaurant.
It can be awful, or you can manage it with thought and planning.
Babies can be fed at any time, especially if they are breastfeeding. If they get fussy, you can walk with them outside, or very carefully inside so as not to be in the waiters’ way.
Toddlers are restless and have a hard time sitting still. They need to be kept engaged and busy. Many parents bring light snacks with them (pieces of fruit, whole grain crackers) to keep toddlers from getting hungry and fussy. They also keep a supply of quiet toys to play with, or books to look at together.
Sometimes a restless toddler needs to go outside.
Preschoolers can wait for a short while. It’s a good idea to either bring a small snack with you, or order something quick and easy for your preschooler to eat.
Bring some quiet toys, books, crayons and paper, or sticker books with you.
Preschoolers can also engage in conversation at the table and can be delightful dinner companions!
It is not safe for children to walk or run around a restaurant by themselves. Waiters are balancing hot food and drinks and accidents can easily happen!
Teach children to be respectful and polite to waiters. Explain what their job is, how they have to find out what everyone wants to eat and then tell it to the cooks, and then bring it to our tables. Teach your children to say “thank you”.
If your children are fussy eaters, order something that is close to what they know.
If you children are adventurous eaters, take the opportunity to introduce them to new foods.
Children often finish before we do. If we want time to talk to the adults it is essential to engage our children, talking to them, and giving them things to do. Again, you may need to take babies and younger children outside.
With some thought and focused attention, eating out with young children can be fun.