Taking Children to Restaurants: 7 Things to Consider

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I've heard it said many times that everyone should work serving the public at least once in their life.  


I would agree.  What better way to learn the etiquette of serving and being served than being submerged into the work of it.  I have a background with waiting tables.  I may be biased, but working with hungry people might even be the hardest!  :o)  You learn how to serve in the best and worst of circumstances; to the pleasant and the harder to deal with.  There is a shaping of the human heart that happens when we serve others.  

My years waiting tables to get through school as a newly married wife were, though not my favorite, some of my most valuable years as a young adult.  My shoes would curl up with distaste at the hot fry grease spattering the floor.  My legs would ache at the end of the night, begging me to stop the relentless running around, and my wits would sometimes get the best of me as a hungry customer sat down at my table, growling from having to wait too long to get a table.  Though some may enjoy working in food service, it was not my dream job.  I say this only to explain that when we serve in less than desirable circumstances, it is possible to be more affected and in the process have the opportunity to learn more.

I also had amazing nights and stories as a food server.  

I met one of my dearest friends at the restaurant we both worked.  I have always been grateful that we met, and we bonded over our years working together....a ray of sunshine amidst a stressful job.  Though she is across the United States from me, I still think of her often and when we are together, it's as if no time has lapsed.  

I was thankful for the little notes left by parents who thanked me for talking kindly to their daughter.  I appreciated the comments made about my service to my boss.  

I admired the way customers were flexible if the dish they had their stomach and eyes set on were no longer available, and those who were gracious and forgave the time I unintentionally forgot their coffee refill.  

One evening, on one particularly slow Monday night, I was fretting about how my husband and I would buy groceries that month.  He was a full-time college student as well, working in a cabinet shop. Though his pay was fairly consistent, mine was not and it made it difficult to budget.    

Close to the end of the night, I had only waited on 2 tables and it looked that I wasn't going to be bringing home enough to make a decent trip to the grocery store.  Suddenly--in walks a party of 8.   I soon learn that they are part of the crew for the band Jars of Clay, and at the end of the night gave two front row/backstage passes to my husband and I to go to the show the next evening.  On top of that, they gave me a tip that matched their bill.  $240.00.  

Such a gift!  What a night!  Times like that are seared in my memory.  I am grateful for the generosity of those who are able!  

Waiting tables is a sometimes rewarding, always exhausting job....one that changed my life in ways I am very grateful for.  

Now that I am a mom, it is really important to me that our girls learn polite table manners, and this is definitely because of the knowledge and experience I had serving and watching others be served.    

Here are some ways I make attending restaurants a pleasant experience for us, as well as for the restaurant staff:  

1.  Practice at home first.  This helped us a great deal.  Some days, I would pack a cooler of carrot sticks, apples, cheese, crackers and meat and we would spread out our "picnic" at a tables of the donut shop around the corner.  We would spread our napkins on our laps, wait for everyone to be served, say grace, try really hard to eat with our mouths closed, and take turns with meaningful conversation, etc.  When we were done, I'd line up the girls at the colorful, smell-good counter, and they would choose the treat of their delight.  It was very motivating for them!  There was one catch--they had to order their donut themselves.   

2.  Order for themselves.  We ask our children to order their own meals. This requires them to make a decision, talk loudly and clearly, and say "please" and "thank-you". This can be very difficult for some children, but we try to encourage them to order for themselves at a very young age so that they would quickly become comfortable with it.

3. Teach your child to deal with conflict.  Ordering for themselves also includes any problems they have with their order. If the item is not what they had wanted, or if something is wrong with it, they are encouraged to discuss it with the server or store clerk.  They approach the person in charge and ask to talk with them about their order, and then ask for what they need or want with a polite "please" and "thank-you".  This is a life skill!  

4.  Be Prepared. When frequenting a restaurant, I make sure to have some leniency for the younger children.  It can be very hard to sit for a long time if there is a lot of adult conversation to be had, or if there is an unusually long wait time.  I usually carry with me a few quiet, small activities for times such as this.  Sometimes I bring unifx cubes (you can read about my obsessions here, and here), Mad Libs, an extra point-and-shoot camera, silly putty, a small puzzle, etc.   

5. Be kind.  I understand that my kids are not perfect.  I do not have any notions that they are super tidy or clean.  But I do know that we can do our part to make the clean-up for others less work.  I ask the girls to pick up any large objects, napkins, silverware, or kid color pages up off the floor.  Then they are asked to stack their plates and silverware nicely before we leave the restaurant. If they are able to say "thank you" to the server one last time, they do so. 

6. Share your expectations.  Usually in the car ride to the restaurant, we review our behavioral expectations.  We remind them of things like, "don't forget to say say 'please' and 'thank you'", stay seated, use a pleasant voice and get along, and clean up your mess.  Table manner are sometimes reviewed-- like napkin on lap, chew with mouth closed, etc.

7.  Keep the big picture in mind.  Teaching our children how to appropriately be served is not a list of rules. The rules and expectations are nothing if not sincere.  Most of all, it is important to show your children the importance of treating others with kindness and respect, especially those who are serving them.  

And though I have long said a glad goodbye to my waiting table days, I have thought it fun to host small restaurant parties in our home and allow the girls to practice what good restaurant etiquette looks like.   Click here to read my article about setting up a real classroom restaurant in your home, teaching the importance of using real money to practice paying a bill, the skill of estimation to order off the menu within your financial means, and the quick way to figure out your tip!

I'd love to hear your ideas on how you make restaurants work for your family and your small children, and how you are teaching your kids to be considerate.  Please share!