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How Parents Can Help Their Kids Be Better Restaurant Diners

How Parents Can Help Their Kids Be Better Restaurant Diners

Yes, your child is cute.  Especially when it comes to how cute they are as they run around a restaurant, throw their food on the ground, sloppily smear food all over the table and their mouths, scream at the top of their lungs, and impatiently wait for their meals.  Yes, the entire restaurant is sharing in all of the cuteness that is your child.

And how awesome are you to choose a restaurant that is the completely opposite of kid friendly.  In fact, the menu would probably be more appealing on mommy and daddy date night than it would on family night.  And it’s 9pm, so I’m sure your kids are going to just sit down and patiently wait for their late night meal, all without being irritable; especially, because you forgot to bring them any sort of entertainment as they wait their cute little faces off.

Oh you, you deserve the parent of the year award.  The rest of us will just find one of those restaurants that don’t allow kids anymore.

Behavior Expectations for Kids in Restaurants

If you’re one of those parents that’s up in arms about the recent child ban in restaurants, then you aren’t going to like this post (I should have probably led with this sentence, but the cuteness of your child took over).  Not because I’m going to tell you I’m pro- or anti-kids in restaurants, but I’m going to be honest with why restaurants have gotten to the point to enforce a child ban.

It’s because you need to teach your children dinner table manners before you start venturing out into restaurant dining.

Yes, it’s your fault.  But, you can help your child be a better diner, which will save other restaurant patrons a lot of stress while dining out, and to be honest, you as well.  I’m a parent of two little boys, and I know what dining at a restaurant with children is about.  I know how it can get stressful and how they can make messes, but I also know that there are things that I can do to help them not be a restaurants worse nightmare.

It starts at home.

If your child doesn’t know how to properly use a napkin, including keeping it in their lap or tucked into their shirt, you should stick with a restaurant that you know is kid friendly.  They need to know that milk-mustaches may be fun at home, but not when dining out; that is, unless you’re cool with seeing a grown man show off his milk mustache while dining out – awkward, right?

Have your child ask to be excused from the table.  They shouldn’t be getting up and down throughout the meal.  It’s a time to sit and enjoy each other’s company.  If they are still too young to sit through an entire meal, then just keep working on it.  I have my children ask to be excused, which helps them remember that staying seated is important.

Expand their palate.  Yes, hotdogs and chicken nuggets are kid staples, but if you are going to venture out to a restaurant that you know doesn’t have things like this on the menu, then they need to be willing to try what is available.  For example, The Kitchen Next Door, in Boulder, Colorado, is happy to be kid friendly, but they don’t bother with changing their menu just to suite kids’ palates.  Instead, they offer fun, new things like kale chips, marinated beans, slow roast pork sliders, and beet burger sliders.  If your child would turn their nose up to different foods like this, try introducing new foods at home first.

In the restaurant.

How Parents Can Help Their Kids Be Better Restaurant Diners Pick a restaurant that’s perfect for your child.  If you know they won’t eat anything on the menu, that it’s too late to take them out, or they aren’t behaved enough to not drive other diners crazy, pick another restaurant.  I know you may be craving a certain menu item at a particular restaurant, but you need to be willing to know what restaurants are for date night and what restaurants are for kids dining night.  My husband and I love our local sushi restaurant, but we wouldn’t take our kids in there just yet.  We don’t feel that it’s a good fit for our kids, but hat’s okay though, there are plenty of other restaurants I can take them to, and we can expand their palates for sushi, at home (the bonus with sushi is that it’s also fun to make at home with the kiddos).

And to even think about walking into a nice restaurant late at night, already brings on feelings of anxiety.  Kids are tired, hungry, and irritable late at night.  They’d be much more suited for a quick drive through or dine-in option at that point (think Noodles & Co, Chipotle, Mod Market, etc.).

When you do decide to dine out, bring something for them to do while they wait for their food.  Not all restaurants are going to have things to entertain your child, so take some of that responsibility on.  In this day and age, the majority of parents have smartphones and tablets that will pacify any child, but there are plenty of other fun things that you can bring along to help pass the time.

If your child doesn’t like anything on the menu, odds are you picked the wrong restaurant.  However, it’s nice when kids are willing to try new things.  When we go to a Mexican restaurant, my youngest has no idea what half of the menu items are, but I explain what is in the dish and he’s always sold when I mention cheese; he’s actually tried a lot of things that he ends up loving.

This one’s a given to me, but I’ve seen so many parents just leave messes lying about.  Clean up your messes.  Accidents happen, crumbs fall, and mouths get messy.  I know.  But if you aren’t willing to clean up (or at least help clean up) your own messes, don’t expect someone else to; that’s just rude.

It’s nice to give a helping hand.  Seriously, stacking the dishes, collecting the silverware, and pushing it off to one area of the table is just polite.  I used to waitress and loved when families came in and did this.  It made it totally worth it to serve their table.  I do the same thing when we eat out – almost obsessively – and our servers LOVE it!

If your children can’t keep quiet just yet, pick a restaurant that you don’t have to worry about them being too loud.  I swear by sports restaurants like Buffalo Wild Wings, because they have the perfect mix for all of us!  The noise level is always up, so we don’t have to be particularly quiet, and there’s a game on the screen that keeps us all happy.

And finally, set realistic expectations for your child.  If you know they aren’t a good diner at home just yet, don’t expect them to be good diners at a restaurant.  Nothing is worse than a child misbehaving, and frustration levels climbing because he/she won’t listen.  If you know your child will be okay at a restaurant, remind them of their manners before entering, and if they mess up, that’s okay but talk with them about it afterwards.

What Weird Things Do Your Kids Eat?

As I wrote this, I started to think of all sorts of foods that my kids eat that are likely not seen as normal to most; at least, I know I wasn’t eating these things when I was younger.  Here are a few things that our kids beg to eat again and again…

  • Raw Oysters.  Yes, I know they’re pricey, but they are so darn good!  We started by getting a plate for my husband and I for an appetizer, and after the boys tried one, they were sold!  So, now we have to get a much larger plate of them.
  • Kale Chips.  If you haven’t tried these for yourself, you’ve been missing out!  They are super yummy, and, surprisingly, the kids love them!
  • Brussels Sprouts.  I don’t know if this is a weird one, but when I grew up, I thought it was odd that I was the only one of my friends that didn’t turn their noses up at these little cabbage greens.  I suppose that’s why I think it’s odd that both of my boys love Brussels sprouts too!
  • Sushi.  It’s kind of hard for them to roll the sushi, but they have no problem putting all of the ingredients together to make their own roll.
  • Salads.  Instead of putting all of the salad together in one big bowl, I separate each item into smaller bowls so they can pick what vegetable and/or fruit they want to eat.  Even if it doesn’t include lettuce, each of my boys has their own favorite pick that they choose – it makes dinner time fun and healthy!

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How Kid-Friendly Restaurants Can Better Cater To Kids

You got the crayons, the coloring mats, and the fun kids cups, but then stopped there.  There are so many other things you can do to make your restaurant more kid-friendly (yes, more).  Creating a little fun and teaching your servers what being kid-friendly means can really help increase sales in the end.

This doesn’t mean you have to become a fun zone, you can keep your style; just add a little spice, a little flavor, and you’ll turn your restaurant from a place that serves kids meals to a place the kids beg to come back to.  Here are some great ideas that I’ve seen some restaurants do right when it comes to being kid-friendly.

Toys & Games

1. Fun Area & Chalkboard Wall

How Kid Friendly Restaurants Can Better Cater To Kids

No, you don’t have to have a complete game room like in the picture above, but these are great distractions for small guests.   I love how this restaurant created a nook in the backend of the building, so that other non-kid diners could still enjoy their meal in peace towards the other end of the building.

The chalkboard wall is easy – some paint and chalk, and you’re set.  You can even wash it clean and do your own doodles on it.  Just remember that little artist might think it’s fun to scribble all over your doodles, so don’t get upset about that.  Also, make sure to get the big chalk so that little ones don’t choke on the small pieces of chalk.

2. Make Your Kids Menu Fun

How Kid Friendly Restaurants Can Better Cater To Kids

Kids like to be independent, and if they can order their own food, well, at least at the beginning of the meal they’ll be entertained/preoccupied if your menus are written for them.  I love this kid friendly menu that blogger Kimberly came up with (she has free printables too), but if you don’t want to waste time cleaning them, just turn them into paper ones to throw away.

And it doesn’t have to be just about the food, include some games, jokes, and fun facts.  I love how The Kitchen Next Door does their kids menus.

3. Restaurant Bingo!

How Kid Friendly Restaurants Can Better Cater To Kids

These bingo cards are fun and can be changed up a bit to include different items – even branded just for your restaurant.  My kids would sit well past waiting-for-food-to-come time and end up playing right through the meal!

Anyone else notice how dated that phone was?  So 90’s, pssh.

4. Awesome Coloring Pages

How Kid Friendly Restaurants Can Better Cater To Kids

I don’t know a kid out there that wouldn’t be occupied with these cool coloring pages; in fact, I think the kid in all of us would have fun coloring these.  Make sure you have fine tip markers for the small areas; although, crayons would be interesting for those young scribblers.

5. I-Spy Bottle

How Kid Friendly Restaurants Can Better Cater To Kids

These neat I-Spy Jars could keep kiddos occupied for hours (well, at least a good 20 minutes)!   The best part about them is that they’re cheap to construct, easy to make, and can be themed around the food you’re serving, i.e. if you serve organic-food-to-farm style food, throw in little veggies (plastic of course), or if you’re an Italian style eatery, find some little toys that remind you of Italy.

6. Shut The Box

How Kid Friendly Restaurants Can Better Cater To Kids

Most of us have heard of the dot game (and I’m not bashing it, it’s still a fun game that we all enjoy), but have you heard of Shut the Box?  My life changed when I learned about this game; seriously, it’s enough entertainment to keep the kids busy until the food comes to the table.  With my kids, we reserve this game for restaurants only so that they don’t bored of playing it all the time at home (mom tip, not necessarily a restaurant tip).

Gracious Servers

7. Snacks, Always Snacks

How Kid Friendly Restaurants Can Better Cater To Kids

Before your servers even take drink orders, they already know if kids are sitting at their table, so encourage them to bring out edibles as they approach the table – bread, crackers, chips, whatever.  When I used to waitress, all I had available to give to kiddos was oyster crackers, but that was enough to keep them occupied until I could get their drinks.

8. Special Requests

How Kid Friendly Restaurants Can Better Cater To Kids

One of our favorite Mexican restaurants, Azteca, has an enormous menu and tons of great food.  They have the perfect environment for us to visit, and they know that there are picky eaters even amongst the adult diners.  Yes, they have an authentic kids menu with Mexican dishes, but they also have Gringo Dishes for those diners that just like chicken (pollo) nuggets.

No matter how much I beg my kids to try a tostada or enchilada, they always go for the American plates.  They aren’t trying to be picky (and they’d likely eat anything we chose for them, if we made them eat another menu item), but kids like things like hamburgers and hot dogs, and sometimes it’s a hamburger and hot dog type of day (even if it is at a Mexican Restaurant).

This was a long tip, but my point was that when it comes to kids, be polite when it comes to special requests.  If your trying to teach them different tastes, I get that as a Mom, but if they don’t want red sauce on their noodles (and it’s not too much to ask), can we just get plain noodles with butter and parmesan?

9. Cook For The Kids First

How Kid Friendly Restaurants Can Better Cater To Kids

I can wait for my food, but the kids get impatient.  As soon as the food is ordered, your servers should be putting high priority on the kids’ menu choices.  Mac and cheese takes minutes to make, so if it’s done before the parents meal, ask them if they want it early… they’ll thank you for it!

10. Don’t Discriminate

How Kid Friendly Restaurants Can Better Cater To Kids

If the restaurant is clearly kid-friendly, you and your servers shouldn’t get upset when kids walk through the door.  If you do, you (or your servers) need to find another job.  Besides, like Andrew Knowlton said, “After all, you’re probably going to be in the same boat as I am in a few years.”

And for the sake of all humanity, please, don’t discriminate against people with special needs.  My son has a disability, I know what it feels like when you stare at us uncomfortably (and how do you think that makes a little boy feel?).  I’m not at your restaurant for you to cater to his needs, that’s why I’m there too – I’ll take care of him.  If you’re curious about what he has, I’m okay with you asking me, just don’t be rude, okay?

Pinterest Fun

A lot of these ideas we were able to pin over on our Pinterest board, “For the Kiddos,” in addition to some fun, kid-friendly recipes.  Have fun pinning!

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