Written by: Cally Worden
For some families, eating out is a nightmare waiting to happen. If your kids tend to get a little over-excited at the prospect of dining away from home, you may elect to remain indoors. But it’s a shame for you all to miss out on what can be a fun experience. Learning how to behave in different situations is important for all children, eating out offers the additional opportunity to sample new and exciting foods. With a little planning and forethought it is possible to enjoy a meal out, even with very young children.
Choose your Setting Wisely
If you head out to a posh eatery you are setting yourself up for failure. The first and most important trick to happy dining away from home is to select an environment where kids are welcome. Here, you will be sure to find appropriate seating, a selection of child-friendly foods, staff that are used to welcoming children and other diners who are familiar with the stresses you may be facing. Give yourself a fighting chance.
Time it Right
One of the joys of adult dining out is the anticipation – you take time getting ready, you may enjoy a chat over drinks before you finally get around to ordering food. Well kids’ bodies don’t work like that, do they? Trying to stretch your child’s normal eating time too far is going to rile them. Hungry tummies make for grumpy kids – and grumpy, hungry kids are generally not well behaved. It’s a no-brainer really. When you are eating out, try to keep to your normal schedule. You’ll all be glad you did.
Pack a Back-up Pack
All the best planning in the world will not give you control over the serving times in a restaurant. Kids aren’t great at waiting; it‚Äôs unlikely they will sit still chatting in a fascinating new environment while they wait for their food. So be prepared, bring your own distractions. Choose activities you know they enjoy, preferably non-electronic ones. Even other parents in the room will quickly tire of the bleeping from a game, or the soundtrack to a favourite movie. Colouring is a good choice, or for older kids a game of Hangman or noughts and crosses. Small figurines are also handy to break out, provided the play they stimulate is peaceful.
Set the Scene
One of the easiest ways to get your kids to behave anywhere is to set your expectations before you even leave home. Explain the type of environment they will be in and how others around them will behave. Tell them that you expect similar behaviour from them, also the kinds of things that will not be tolerated. Repeating descriptions of expected behaviour tends to create an imprint in your child’s mind, this gives them something to refer to, with a plan to follow when they find themselves in the restaurant. When kids misbehave it’s sometimes because they don’t know what the right behaviour is. Giving them an outline can help them to work it out.
Stake Out the Layout
If you know your kids are difficult to contain, be prepared to ask for seating that is away from the central hub of the restaurant. Corner seats, booths, or anywhere away from thoroughfares to the kitchen or toilets are your best options.
Prepare the Ground
If you never eat at the table at home, it is unrealistic to expect your kids to suddenly, magically, develop table manners. Give them (and you!) a break by taking regular meals at your table before attempting this in a public setting. A restaurant is going to raise the excitement and energy levels in your kids not matter what – you have the power to make at least part of the experience familiar, keeping them grounded.