We were visiting relatives recently around dinner time. These relatives said something along the lines of: If your children can behave well in a restaurant we should go to out to one of the best restaurants Roanoke has. Otherwise we can grab something and eat at home.
I was a little taken aback. At first, I was slightly offended but then I realized, some, maybe even most, children are not well behaved at restaurants. It made me think about this and ponder why our children, ages 3 1/2 years old (Bunny) and 16 months old (Baby Sister), are well behaved at restaurants. My conclusion? They have no other option.
Okay sure, they do have another option, to be rowdy and loud, and sometime they are. For the most part, when we eat out our children are well behaved. This is a dangerous thing to say and I have knocked on wood to make sure it stays that way. However, our children behaving well is not merely luck, it is hard work and persistence.
I love to eat out. There is nothing better, in my opinion, than going out to eat. The table is set, food is served, dirty dishes are taken away and I never have to see them again. What mom doesn’t love that?! Because of this we eat out a decent amount. I look for coupons, deals and ask for gift cards for Christmas and Birthdays. This is a treat, eating out. I love it! Both of our babies have been in restaurants since they were infants. They have learned how to behave in a restaurant at a young age. This does not mean it is easy nor does it mean they were always well behaved.
I clearly remember a meal we had at a restaurant when Bunny was about 18 months old. It was a disaster. Whatever could go wrong did go wrong. We put our drink too close to her, she spilled it. The food did not come fast enough for her, she did not want to sit. She way whiney, fussy, being loud and definitely NOT well behaved. Everything was going wrong. Sometime during this meal my husband looks at me and says, “We are never taking her out to eat again!!!” I smiled and said, “This is exactly why we need to take her out to eat again, and again, and again. So she learns how to behave.” That meal was not fun for anyone. But we got through it and we took her out again. And again. And she learned how to behave. She is not perfect, she is not always well behaved, she is still learning.
(Of course I have no photos of the disasters! My hands were too busy wrangling kiddos!)
Bunny is now 3 1/2. We still go out, although not as often as before when we only had one child. Bunny is learning to order her own meal. At 3 1/2. She knows to look at the waiter and say, “May I please have ____.” Most of the time I have to repeat it for the waiter, and sometimes Bunny is shy and doesn’t want to say it. That is okay. Baby steps. Expect a realistic outcome for your child’s age and comfort level.
I am no expert, my children still have bad days at restaurants. There are some days I wonder why I even took them out! But most of the time we have a good time. A lot of prep work goes into taking children out to eat. These are some things I do for my children based on their ages and experiences. I know my children’s limit. They can sit and be well behaved at a restaurant for an hour. At an hour and one minute, your guess is as good as mine as to how they will behave. I plan our meal accordingly. We do not often go out right at the typical meal times, instead we go out a half an hour before lunch or dinner or an hour after. I also try to time the meals arriving to our table to my children’s stomach. I know when they get hungry and expect food NOW. If my children are used to eating lunch at noon we go out at 11:30. We get ahead of the lunch rush and our food is at our table by noon. Often times sooner. If we happen to go out right at the time they normally eat, I pack a snack. Some berries, some nuts, anything to tide them over until the meal arrives. I also like to go to places that have a kids menu with crayons. This typically entertains my children for about 5-10 minutes, enough time for us to order and have some food on our table. If I am unsure of a restaurant providing this, I will throw a small notebook and some crayons in my diaper bag. I LOVE to dine at places that have apps where you can order ahead. This allows me to order our food before we leave home and typically shaves about 10 or so minutes off of our dining experience. I order at home, get seated at the restaurant and within 5-10 minutes food magically appears! It is wonderful! If we are eating with a large group I will often times order our children’s meal with the drinks so they can eat sooner.
When my children are not old enough to use a plate I LOVE having these disposable table toppers. This gives my baby a nice big clean area to spread their food on! Makes clean up a breeze too!
Bunny only gets to drink soda or lemonade when we are at a restaurant and she knows if she is not well behaved she will not get a special drink the next time. We follow through on this and that encourages her to behave. Since I am a stay at home mom I am able to eat all three meals with my children. We sit down for each meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner. They have learned manners and how to sit at a table because of this. Consistency is key.
I have had a few people tell me I am lucky to have well behaved children, especially at their age. I have also had people compliment me and my children on their behavior. It doesn’t just happen. It takes A LOT of hard work, from us as their parents and from them. We expect a lot and a lot is given to us in return.
Baby Sister is reaching the age that Bunny was when she started disliking restaurants. I am dreading this but know it is bound to happen. All I can do is keep taking her out and teaching her how to behave. And pray for us all to survive it!