Five Important Rules Or Ideas for Taking Children To Restaurants
In recent years, headlines have shouted that banning children from restaurants punishes good parents that have taught and reinforce good manners in their children. This may or may not be true, but it is an excuse for not dealing out constructive consequences for bad behaviors.
Some eating places allow atrocious behaviors and employ extra crew to clean up after every destroyed table that unsupervised toddlers have trashed, because of the fear of losing business. Some managers are afraid of confrontations, while others would rather build the family business and dispense with some of the adult trade. There may be enough eating places in America to continue this system.
Some restaurants, especially around the Eastern Seaboard have banned children under 6 years of age from more upscale establishments. Other restaurants have made special accommodations for youngsters by offering a children's menu and coloring placemats/crayons at only certain times of day. More casual dining places offer more child-friendly changes and McDonald's often has a playroom. In fact, one McDonald's, a franchise in Merridian Mississippi in the late 1970's - early 1980s even had a small outdoor swimming pool and lifeguard.
Here are some ideas for allowing children to enjoy restaurants as much as adults enjoy eating out. I learned them while babysitting children during college and while working as a restaurant manager.
1. Begin training children in manners at home as soon as they can talk and walk. Children do not raise themselves well, and while I think most parents do a good job, there is a smaller core of parents that have a child, lay him in a crib and ignore him, except maybe to stick a bottle in his mouth and change his diaper too late. When he walks and talks, he is ignored as he trashes the home, the neighbor's home, etc. along the lifespan.
One of my good memories is traveling by pickup truck to Florida when I was just one year old, sitting in a restaurant and enjoying a small, quick meal as it misted rain outside and a jukebox was playing some catchy tune. Still hungry when I was done eating, I received some fried potatoes from my father's plate. This brings me to another idea --
2. Think about some planning. When taking children under 6 to a restaurant, chose one in which your family can be served and on their way in 30 minutes. Dinner should probably happen before 6:30 PM as well, in order to avoid crankiness and irritation all around. Good manners already in place and a short time to sit still are more enjoyable for a child, family, and other diners than no manners and 90 minutes or two hours of havoc. Tell the children that the family is going into a restaurant for a quick meal and remind them of good behaviors they are to use (no loud voices, no getting out of your seat, etc.). Remind them of appropriate consequences and if they disobey, be sure to level those consequence, such as no TV or computer that night or foregoing a favorite treat they usually have.
3. Parents might take a picture book, a puzzle book, or coloring sheets and a small box of crayons (not the big 64-box) for their toddlers and Kindergartners to use at a restaurant. Sometimes, a child is happy only with a favorite small stuffed animal and that should by OK, too. One parent I knew taught her young daughter and young son to crochet and the kids worked on patchwork squares while waiting for their meals. Larger toys, loud toys, metal or plastic cars and such lead to toddlers "zooming" them over table tops and getting down on the floor and underfoot, which is dangerous and unnecessary.
Here's a funny story. Friends and I went out to eat lunch one day and we took their 6-foot tall 12-year-old son with us to a casual place where the waitresses knew us. He brought a zip-lock bag of small metal cars with him. Knowing the young man had a good sense of humor and was a good sport, when the waitress came and some chit chat passed, I said to the lady waiting table, "Oh, please meet my husband. And this is his bag of toys." We all laughed, and our young friend began to being a book with him from then on. I don't know if this would work on a 5-year-old. It might.
4. Parents might point out to their children good examples of other children using good manners in a restaurant, without putting too fine a point on it. You might occasionally and discreetly ask your child what they think of the behaviors of children in other families at the tables. Your child might begin to point this out to you without being asked and hopefully in an "indoor voice." A loud proclamation might lead to a fistfight between tables of children up and down the aisles.
5. Bathroom time. It is nice if children go to the bathroom before leaving the house, but they can't always remember and sometimes the need hits them - and all of us - by surprise. I think it might be good to train your child to be assured that they can always tell you they need to "go", but discreetly, quietly, not announcing it to the entire room. One mom I saw was very good with this and I saw her take her child to the restroom and back in so short a time that other diners did not notice. However, young children can have bathroom and spilling accidents at the table and hopefully parents and waitstaff can clear it all up quickly without shaming the child.
Some Other Helps
Some other ideas include making sure the toddlers and Kindergartners are not feeling ill before going out to eat, are not wearing scratchy or pinching clothing, and similar.