Helping Your Child Behave In a Restaurant

Table Manners and children

Growing up in Ireland in the 1960’s, trips to a restaurant were few and far between.  For me, it was on Christmas shopping day, Pantomime day and a couple of times during our summer holiday.  Manners were vital and my mother would watch to make sure that we were using the correct utensils, not eating with our mouths open and so on.  During the boom years, many families in Ireland enjoyed a more comfortable lifestyle and good financial positions.  As a result, Sunday lunch was more often in a restaurants or pubs allowing parents to relax and eat the meal without the chore of cooking it or cleaning up afterwards!

Good times indeed but along with this change came the reality of more and more children in restaurants or pubs with their parents.  So what is the problem you ask?  Well none really – as long as the children behave properly.  Often parent’s fail to respect the comfort of the other diners allowing their children to run around, climb under tables, climb on chairs, shout and scream and so on, which can be very annoying to others on the premises who are trying to relax and enjoy their meal, not to mention, keep their own children under control.  The is nothing worse that watching  your well behaved child watch another child running around and you know well that they are thinking to themselves “that looks like fun, I think I’ll join in the fun and run around too”!  The reality is that parents have to keep children under control for many reasons:

  • Comfort of the other diners
  • Helping parents who’s children are behaving well (children don’t ‘copy’ the poor behaviour)
  • Safety – there are trays of hot beverages, soups etc being moved around which could cause a nasty scald if your child knocked into one of these

So what can you do to help to keep your child calm and well behaved in a restaurant?

Practice at home.

The first tip is to try to set a table and get your child used to sitting at a table (even if it is in a high chair) and understanding the ritual of sitting, eating and having conversation.  You can’t expect a child who never sits at a table at home to suddenly be inspired as to how to behave in a restaurant.

Teach them how to behave

Tell you child what you want them to do when you get to the restaurant.  For example, “I know you are a very good boy/girl, so please sit quietly at the table when we are in the restaurant.”  You could even have a little incentive such as a nice desert, an extra bedtime story and so on.  By telling the child how you want them to behave you are making it clear to them the behaviour that you want.  If, on the contrary, you tell them what you don’t want, you may just put ideas in their head!  For example, parent says “when we get to the restaurant, don’t start climbing on the seats or running around”…….child thinks – “wow, that sounds like fun….”!

Have some backup!

While we as adults can sit quite happily in a restaurant, enjoying the food, ambiance and conversation, it can be quite boring for a child after a short amount of time.  Have some backup with you to help to keep your child amused if they do get bored.  For example, a younger child may enjoy colouring or drawing pictures so you could bring paper and crayons.  Perhaps your child loves to play with some small cars or figures, if so, bring some for them to play with to keep them amused.  Older children may bring a Nintendo or suchlike, the basic principle is the same.  Bring something that will keep them amused and is suitable for playing with in a restaurant.  For example, a football may keep your child amused but it would be at all suitable for a restaurant!

Toddlers and Tantrums

If a toddler gets very frustrated and begins a tantrum, first try to calm them by encouraging them to play with whatever you brought along with you – “oh look, you drew a car, can you draw a green one?”.  Alternatively, use the technique of distracting the child to help them to switch their attention to something else and calm down.  For example, if there is a painting on the wall, draw their attention to that “look at the picture, what is in that picture? Is it a ….” Etc.

If your child continues throwing the tantrum, it may be wise to gently take them outside or to a quiet area and soothe them.  Reassure them that they are okay and try to calm them.  Once calm, you can see try to get your child to return to the table until you have finished.

One final tip, most children don’t eat a starter so if you are ordering one, ask the server to bring your child’s main course when they bring your starter.

Bon Appétit!