Childless couples often enjoy dining in restaurants, but once they are parents, many people fear that pleasurable restaurant meals may be a thing of the past. While romantic dinners for two may be hard to come by, family meals in restaurants can be fun and relaxing, as long as parents plan ahead a bit.
- Practice beforehand: Playing pretend games helps preschoolers to understand what they may encounter in new situations, and restaurant visits are no exception. Parents can help to prepare their little ones by engaging them in imaginative games of "restaurant" at home, taking turns being the customer, server, and cook. Everyone should use their best manners during these practice sessions!
- Let them know your expectations: Talking to kids about appropriate behavior will help them to know how to conduct themselves in restaurants. Explain that they must stay at the table and not disturb other diners with loud or boisterous activity. While you can't expect perfect table manners from young children, common courtesy is a reasonable goal.
- Choose the restaurant carefully: Toddlers and preschool-aged children cannot be expected to sit quietly for extended periods of time, so parents are wise to choose family-friendly restaurants for enjoyable meals. Places that offer booster seats, quiet table games or crayons and coloring book style placemats are best for families with young children.
- Allow them to have their favorite foods: Preschoolers are notoriously picky eaters, so allowing them to select familiar favorites such as chicken fingers, macaroni and cheese, or hot dogs can make them more inclined to be happy diners. Many families enjoy buffets since the wide selection of foods usually means that there is something available to please every family member. Parents should never allow young kids to serve themselves at a buffet table, though. Not only can trays of hot food be dangerous for children, but also little ones' tendencies to grab things with their hands can be distasteful to other diners.
- Try to make the kids comfortable: If your child has a favorite sippy cup, by all means bring it along to the restaurant. In time they will learn to use traditional glassware, but until then, avoiding unnecessary spills can make the visit less stressful for everyone.
- Visit during off-peak times: Small kids aren't the most patient people, so scheduling your meal before the dinner rush is wise. There is usually less of a wait time for meals when the cooks and servers aren't swamped with customer orders.
- Finally, relax! The first few visits may not go well, but with patience and practice, even young children can develop into polite and pleasant restaurant companions!
Today's families eat many of their meals away from home, so teaching kids to be thoughtful dining partners is important. There are few things more appealing than happy, well-mannered children, so parents who take the time to teach their kids to enjoy restaurant outings while being considerate of other diners are sure to enjoy the much-deserved appreciation of the restaurant staff and fellow patrons alike.