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Enjoy dining out with kids

FALLBROOK – Parents know taking kids out to eat requires patience. The sights and sounds of a restaurant can be overwhelming and distracting to children used to eating at home.

Toddlers have not learned to control their impulses yet, and even school-aged children may experience intermittent breakdowns when they are uncomfortable or not feeling well. But parents who want to take their tots out on the town can employ some easy steps to make eating out a fun excursion for everyone.


Daniel Post Senning, the great-grandson of etiquette expert Emily Post and co-author of Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th edition, said parents can practice dining out by replicating the experience (as much as possible) at home.

Parents can ask their children to use inside voices and exhibit proper behavior at the dinner table. They can remove children from the table if they misbehave and try again another time.

Parents also can acclimate their youngsters to dining out by gradually working their way up to more formal restaurants. They can start by dining out at a place where table behavior or noise may be more tolerable, such as a fast-food restaurant, before moving on to a casual restaurant and then a nicer restaurant when kids can handle it.

Provide distractions

Many young children cannot sit still for long and may need a series of distractions to keep them entertained throughout meals. Parents can pack a bag of tricks that includes toys, games, books, and even a digital device tuned to kids' favorite programs.

They can pick restaurants that do not have a long wait to get a seat so that the kids' patience has not worn thin before they even make it to the table. A sightseeing walk around the restaurant also may be able to provide a welcome distraction until the food is ready.

Pack snacks

Although the goal may be to eat out, kids may not be as patient as adults when waiting for their meals to be delivered. Parents can ask servers to bring out the kids' meals when appetizers are served or think ahead and have some light snacks, such as crackers or dry cereal, available to tame kids' hunger pangs.

Choose restaurants wisely

Parents can make concessions as to where and when the family goes out to eat. They can coordinate around nap times so the children will be happy and well-rested.

They can also select restaurants that accommodate children and ask to be seated out of the way just in case their son or daughter acts up. This way they will not disturb other patrons.

Restaurants tend to be less busy right before dinner service and directly after. If parents can time their meals to these off-peak hours, it may make for a more enjoyable dining experience.

Offer plenty of praise

Parents should always let children know when they are doing a great job and behaving well in a restaurant. They can engage the kids in conversation and keep them entertained. Boredom or attention-seeking behavior can make dining out with youngsters more difficult to manage.

A treat or a special reward (sticker or coloring book) can be offered to a child who behaves when dining out.

Be courteous and respectful

Many children will eventually act up in restaurants, and parents should respond to such instances as courteously as possible. They should apologize to those around them whom their child has disturbed. They should also remove their son or daughter from the area and take a few moments to help him or her calm down. If kids can't be calmed down, the parents should ask that their meal be wrapped.

Parents should also remember to clean up after their family and thank the wait staff for any extra service, such as lugging a heavy high chair or providing extra silverware if kids drop any forks or spoons. They shouldn't leave a large mess for the server, and should tip accordingly.

Children grow accustomed to dining out over time. It may take some practice, but with the right planning, families can enjoy meals away from home.


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