“Restaurant Training Wheels”

“Kids in restaurants” is one of those sometimes controversial parenting topics. Some parents believe that since kids are people, they have a right to go wherever other people are allowed, including nice restaurants. Some, on the other hand, disagree, thinking that diners who are paying good money to go out to eat deserve to do so without interruptions from unruly kids. My feelings fall somewhere in the middle. Yes, of course, kids are people, and we all used to be kids ourselves. Kids shouldn’t have to be hidden in our society until they’re older and perfectly well-behaved, however, I can certainly understand the perspective of those feeling like they shouldn’t be subjected to the bad behavior of other people’s young children while they’re paying for a nice night out.

My big dilemma is this: If I don’t want to hide my kids away until they’re teenagers, and if I want them to learn how to behave properly in a restaurant, how do I do so without risking ruining the meal for the other patrons? I really do want to have children who know how to sit nicely in a chair, eat with their silverware, speak quietly at the table, and amuse themselves. Of course we do practice these skills at the dinner table every night at home, and dinner manners are something I am a big stickler on, but it’s different, somehow, in a restaurant.

Enter the “Restaurant Training Wheels”.

Recently, the boys and I were out back-to-school shopping. Normally, I’m a mean mom who packs Cliff bars and juice boxes for lunch if I know we’ll be away from home, but today, the boys had really been troopers, and I was feeling extra-nice. I took them to Wendy’s, something I never, ever do. My four-year old actually asked (to my shame) “What is this fancy, fancy place called? It’s wonderful!”. Then it hit me. Inexpensive, fast food restaurants are the perfect place to practice how to eat in a restaurant without worrying about ruining a meal for other people!

Let’s face it: few people are eating in a fast food restaurant for the ambiance. They’re not there to linger and enjoy the experience, so if the kids were to forget to talk quietly at the table, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. We used this lunch to practice eating carefully, over the plate (well, um, tray, in this case), politely ordering food, sitting on the chair properly, and not making a mess. They boys both rose to the occasion, and I wasn’t stressed about “what-if-they-melt”. After we’ve had a few more smooth lunches like this, we will try a lunch at a casual, sit-down family restaurant.

Before this realization, I really hated fast food. I still hate the idea of my kids eating it, and we certainly don’t make it a habit, but I’ve found a positive lining to the experience. They boys see going out to lunch or dinner as a privilege, and I now see it as a form of “training wheels” for finer dining down the line. I’ve always wanted to have the kind of kids I could easily take anywhere, nice restaurants included, without worrying about their behavior, but I had a hard time figuring out how to teach this behavior outside of the house. The boys are enjoying their “restaurant training wheels” and seem to like practicing eating like grown-ups when we are out at fancy places (you know, like Wendy’s). They’re four and almost one-and-a-half now, so hopefully,we can soon try even fancier places…like maybe…Ruby Tuesday! If you’ve always wondered how to teach restaurant manners, give our “training wheels” method a try!

 

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