If people marvel at how well my kids behave at restaurants, it's mainly because they've been eating out their whole lives. My husband and I never decided it was time to start restaurant outings with the kids. It was merely a part of our lives the kids adjusted to, through experience.
We've all certainly witnessed cases where children were misbehaving at a restaurant and asked ourselves what those parents were thinking. Here are a few pointers to help you avoid becoming one of those parents that the rest of us are wishing would have left your tots at home.
Your level of success will depend on how old your children are and how well they follow instructions. If your child is under 18 months old, for example, you can expect to be going outside when your child gets too loud or refuses to sit down. It also goes without saying that any food allergies in the family should be taken into account beforehand. Planning according to these factors from the outset will help you a lot.
Practicing at Home
One fun suggestion is to practice at home, before you even try to take the show public. Put out extra silverware, and "fancy" linen napkins. Pretend to be the server. Ask your children to dress up fancy for dinner, because you are pretending to go to a fancy restaurant. When it's time for dinner, call your children to the table, but before seating them, make sure you ask how many are in their party and suggest they should follow you to their seats.
You can either spend time with the kids beforehand, coloring some menus for use in this exercise, or simply progress right to the dinner part. You are their server. Stand beside the table and explain that your name is Mommy, and you'll be their server this evening. Tonight's specials are meatloaf, fried monkey meat and meatloaf. Inserting monkey meat into the middle will not only elicit a giggle but distract your kids from the fact that meat loaf (or whatever you fixed for tonight's dinner) is really the only thing you're serving. If they should, however, happen to point out that you already said meat loaf, explain that it's because the restaurant is called "Mommy's House of Meat Loaf."
If there are two parents in your household, the seated parent can be the one who interjects to the kids how they act toward the "waitress" and reminds them to put their napkins on their lap. In single-parent homes, the server should periodically step out of character and sit in their chair at the table to perform this role, which will distinguish the two in the children's minds. Good skills to try out during this trial run include ordering the food, talking using inside voices, staying seated, using napkins and utensils properly and saying please and thank you. Hopefully there will already be a basic standard of behavior your kids will be familiar with, which can now be applied to this situation. If not, you shouldn't begin with practicing at home, but with teaching your kids basic table manners. When the kids are successful with your home practice, the waitress should inform them that well-behaved children are entitled to free dessert. Would they like ice cream, fried monkey meat, or ice cream?
The first time you take the kids to a restaurant, it shouldn't be a five-star place. Your perfect target place to teach kids about restaurants will be something better than fast food, but not as advanced as a mid-level venue. Perfect examples of good chains to start with are Denny's, Marie Callender's, Cracker Barrel and International House of Pancakes. These places are generally family-friendly and will provide things like crayons and coloring books upon your arrival. They also tend to be casual enough that a few minor behavioral slip-ups on the part of your progeny won't result in a snooty Maitre d' giving you the evil eye.
When your server does approach, wait until after the day's specials have been recited to ask whether they serve fried monkey meat. The kids will howl with laughter at the continuation of the inside joke, and for the server, it'll be reassuring and show from the outset that you have a sense of humor about this outing.
Proper table manners reflect the tutelage of their parents. Teach your children proper table etiquette so they - and you - convey grace and courtesy in the years to come.
When a meal is moved to an outdoor location, many forget that following table etiquette remains the proper way to enjoy your food. Outdoor dining brings with it a unique set of proper table manners.