Maybe you and your preschooler have been invited to a family dinner, party or wedding. Maybe it's a special occasion. Or maybe you simply want a change of pace from your own dining room in your house. Whatever the reason, it doesn't matter -- you and your family are going out to dinner at a restaurant. Is your preschooler ready for the challenge? Are you? Of course you are -- both of you. You just have to do a little prep work first. Before you go, check out our tips on restaurant manners for kids:
Talk about where you are going. Chances are your child has eaten away from home -- at school, a friend or relative's house, or even a restaurant of some kind or another. Use that experience to help to explain the upcoming one. Tell your child the name of the dining establishment of where you are going and (if you know it) what types of things will be on the menu. If the restaurant has a web site, visit it with your little one, so he gets an idea of what it looks like inside. Talk about what types of things he might like to eat. Most places these days serve up plenty of healthy kid-approved fare on a specially-designated kids menu, if the place you are going doesn't, call ahead and see what is available for children. Keep in mind too, things like pasta and chicken are pretty universal and are generally embraced by kids. So even if there is nothing specifically designated as being for kids, one of these dishes may be suitable.
Give your child every advantage. If your reservation is for 8 p.m. and your child normally goes to bed at 7 p.m., it's likely you are going to find yourself with a cranky child on your hands. Now that's an extreme example, but you should definitely give some thought to the timing of your outing. Keep it early if you can and scheduled around any naps or meal times that your child normally has. Also consider where you are going. A candlelit, soft-music playing establishment might sound nice, but probably isn't the best place for an under-five-year-old. Choose a restaurant that is family-friendly -- a place that will keep both the kids and grown-ups happy. As your child matures, you can try places that don't hand out crayons with the menus. Once you order your food, check with the server to see if they can bring out the food of any children first.
Go over basic table manners. Talk to your child about what it means to eat away from home. Review all the basics -- saying "please" and "thank you", chewing with her mouth closed and speaking in a quiet voice for starters -- things she should be doing at her own dinner table at home. Still, don't be discouraged however if you need to remind your preschooler of what she needs to do (at home or when you are out to dinner). If things get really out of hand -- if your child throws a temper tantrum, for example -- it's O.K. to excuse both yourself and your preschooler from the table to give him a chance to cool off. Weather-permitting, head outside for a quick walk or simply make your way (as quickly and as quietly as possible) to the front of the restaurant and into the lobby. Your mission is to remove your child from the situation, allowing the diners around you the opportunity to enjoy their meals.
Bring reinforcements. Most restaurants carry crayons and some type of activity or coloring sheet to keep little ones busy while they wait for their meals. You can't count on that though, so bring a little bag of unintrusive items -- crayons or colored pencils, small toys and maybe even a snack or two to keep both yours and your child's patience level high. Brush up on your quiet games -- I Spy, Alphabet Bingo and more that will keep your preschooler entertained without making too much noise or mess.
Know when to say "when." If your experience of bringing your young child to a restaurant doesn't go as well as you had hoped, that's O.K. Wait a couple of months and try again. At some point, he will mature and dining out will be as great of an experience for him as it is for you. Bon appétit!
Related: Check out this great guide to where kids eat free from the guide to Family Vacations.