We’ve all been there. Spent a fortune on a meal out on the town with that someone special only to have a screaming child take the romantic out of our rendezvous. What are the parents doing? Ignoring the offending behavior. Trust me, Tatjana had her moments – all children do until they learn otherwise, but it was not tolerated, so she had impeccable table manners at a very early age due to our persistence.

With Nick and Tatjana at one of our favorite restaurants in the South of France

Agreed, sometimes ignoring bad behavior is a way to send the message that it will not get the desired response (attention), but those are lessons taught at home, in public it is not appropriate. Have you ever wondered why people are giving you the evil glare instead of the child? You’re the parent! It is your responsibility to teach your children what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to social etiquette. Lane has illuminated us with the bag of tricks she employs, and the rules she governs her little man by in restaurants with another great guest post just in time for the most social of seasons.

 By Lane Buckman

We don’t come into this world with an understanding of table manners and etiquette, which fork to use for salad, and which spoon to use for gelato.  We have to be taught that our bread plate sits to the left, and our drink to our right and that shouting is verboten, much less shouting, “Gross! I don’t eat that!” at the sight of escargot. No matter how carefully our parents trained us at home, there comes the time to test out our skills at someone else’s table. Sometimes this happens accidentally.

Recently, a girlfriend of mine, our children and I wandered into a strip mall storefront Italian restaurant, only to find that we had stumbled upon a fine dining experience.  We were whisked in and seated before I had the presence of mind to suggest we might be in a situation over our respective 4- and 6-year-olds’ heads.  The mark of a truly well trained, and truly service oriented staff, the gentlemen serving us never blinked an eye at the mini-diners, and treated our daughter and son with as much grace and interest as the other patrons around us.

Dinner with daddy

My husband, Bryan, and I have worked overtime at teaching manners quickly. Since I am only just learning to cook and have been known to set the kitchen on fire, we used to take most of our meals out. Thor (our son’s nickname) has been visiting restaurants since he was three weeks old.

Bryan and I are also formerly single and childless, and remember well what it was like to save up to go out to a really special dinner, only to have its shine dulled by a toddler’s throbbing vocal cords.  Before the boy was born, we talked about how we would manage the situation in the event we should ever find ourselves in care of our own personal screamer (okay, during meals when we were being screamed out of our elements, we judged parents and said, “These are the things we will never do…”).

Salsa Sampler

Our list, and I am verging on the vice of pride that we’ve stuck to it, goes like this:

  1. If a restaurant doesn’t have a kiddie menu, we don’t visit it with our kiddie after 5 pm.
  2. If our child ever raises a ruckus, one of us will remove the child immediately, and the other will collect our food to go.

  3). If our child makes an inordinate mess, we will

  • Clean it up
  • Tip very, very, very well

4).  We will always make our child’s behavior our priority, and remember that everyone else in the restaurant is paying for their meal, and they deserve the same consideration we would expect.

  • He will sit at the table
  • He will not cruise the restaurant
  • He will not turn around and aggravate the people behind him

In other words, we really expected him to behave as we did but were prepared to help him out if the age gap left him hanging.  Now, I’m not going to tell you that Thor has never cried at a restaurant.  He’s a kid—they aren’t known for keeping their emotions in check.  We have had to employ rule #2 one time when he was two-years-old, but because we were sticking to rule #1, the people around us at Chili’s didn’t seem to notice.

Take a little bag of tricks to keep them entertained

To keep stress levels low, parents have to plan ahead.  If we were going out with Thor, we always had a battery of items on hand.  Usually, in the time it would take to get his meal to him, we could run through our whole bag of tricks.  If he seemed abnormally antsy or it was taking a long time, Bryan or I would take him for a walk until the food arrived.  Whatever it took.  We just wanted to have dinner without getting stink-eye from other people.

We carried:

  • Prepped bottles/cereal/baby food when he was an infant
  • Prepped pre-meal snacks when he was a toddler—he loved cereal bars and the standby Cheerios
  • Small, soft toys and little board books (books about cars with wheels that would roll were Thor’s favorites)
  • A mini-photo album with pictures of Thor in action and with family, and friends
  • My iPod nano, or smartphone full of games when he was a little older

Practicing at Home

I was honestly not sure how Thor was going to handle the restaurant we found ourselves in.  It was hard not to laugh when we sat down and he started explaining what he knew about table manners to his friend.  My girlfriend and I used it as an opportunity to tack on some etiquette they hadn’t had an opportunity to practice yet, and I was pretty pleased that Thor picked up on our cues and put on his very best behavior.

Take your kids out to eat.  The only way to learn how to behave in public is to be in public.  Be aware that your little people don’t come complete with the same filters adults have, and they might need practice at controlling themselves—don’t be upset with them if they act like kids.  But, do take responsibility for being the filter yourself.  As I have always said to Thor, “Look around.  Do you see these other people?  They are paying money to eat here.  We need to respect that.”

Still enjoying those good table manners while in Thailand last August

Thank you so much for the advice, Lane! What tricks do you have up your sleeve to keep your children entertained and well behaved when eating out?

This post was first published November 14, 2011

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