Wisdom Wednesday


“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 weΒ doΒ 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!


10 comments on “Wisdom Wednesday”

  1. Right on, Sarah! We learned the benefits of practicing restaurant eating in McDonald’s goes a long way… The food comes out instantly, there are enough distractions, such as other kids eating, to keep Jake occupied and at least into the whole eating thing and not throwing food eveywhere, (until he’s done eating, that is), and it’s an inexpensive way to “test the waters.” I kept worrying that if we shelter him from restaurant life that when he was at an age for us to go out to eat at Bertucci’s or our local diner, he’ll be in a culture shock and waiting to take him out will backfire on me. Enter McDonald’s. Mike and I will get a grilled chicken caeser, and Jake has his cheeseburger happy meal. (Which we end up eating half of the fries out of…) We’ve done this a few times when we’ve been out and need to eat, and it’s a great alternative to pulling your hair out and running out of there like hell on wheels.

    1. I haaaaaate having to leave but have many times…ugh. I think fast food places (even nicer ones like Chipotle!) are good for practicing. Oh- and the cashier at Wendy’s totally called me out on the fries thing. I ordered my older son chicken tenders and apples with milk, my 16 month old chicken tenders, fries and milk, and me a salad…and she looked at the baby and said “Your mommy is going to eat all your fries…can you believe that! The nerve!” hahahahahah!!! I laughed soooo hard because she was 100% right πŸ™‚ He was having a Go-Go Squeez with his chicken tenders and those fries were MINE. πŸ™‚

  2. I would never bring a baby or toddler to a nice restaurant, but I have been bringing mine to “family” restaurants (friendly’s, red robin, tgi fridays and their locally-owned equivilents) since she was a few months old. Basically if they don’t take reservations and they have kids menus I feel that’s appropriate. And the practice really does help. She’s 16 months old now and can sit through a whole meal without a problem. I have to come well-prepared and she does make a mess, but she’s not screaming or causing trouble and we leave a good tip for the extra clean-up. You can’t just wait until they’re 10 and take them a steakhouse – it does take baby steps πŸ™‚

    1. Our motto with kids- with EVERYTHING- is practice, practice, practice. We have been somewhat obligated to make brief appearances at nicer restaurants for family parties from time to time, and I panic for a solid hour before these outings. We would leave immediately for screaming in any scenario, but I think family restaurants can be a lot of fun for even young kids. Our youngest is also 16 months old, and it’s so hard at this age because they just want to walk around. I agree though- if there’s a kid’s menu and no reservations, they expect kids to go there, and so should other diners! πŸ™‚

  3. All good ideas! While fast food is not one of my favorites, it can be used as a wonderful training ground for kids, and in recent years, these places have made it easier to pick healthier choices. When my children were small, we used to take their Great Grandmother and Great Aunt out to lunch every other week at a diner or something similar. It was a great restaurant experience for the kids and a fun day out for the seniors! Also, letting kids who are new readers pick from the menu gives them such a sense of independence!

  4. I think this is a great idea! We don’t go to fast food restaurants but we do go out to eat at moderately nice places. They practice at home and are usually pretty good when we go out, or at least until they are done eating! We’re still trying to figure out the exact timing so that they can eat and WE can eat but there’s isn’t too much downtime for them. In a pinch, we’ll show them a short video on our smartphone if we have to. πŸ™‚ If they were to really have a meltdown, we would leave. I think I’m also going to take Jessie’s idea to pack a small bag with some coloring books and toys for at the table. We already have some of these in the car, so it would be easy to bring them in.

    1. Yes! The timing! Ugh! Why, oh why, do so many restaurants insist on brining out the kids’ food FIRST? Have you ever encountered this? We have many times. They’ll say “Oh I got their food out ahead so they can start”, and I think “Ummmm…and what will they do when WE are eating??”. I hate having to leave, but we have alternated taking “walks” with our 1.5 year old while the other grown up and our 4 year old eat. Blaaaaah. Someday we can all just relax and eat again. Someday.

  5. we’ve always brought our daughter to restaurants – since she was born but know when to draw the line at the appropriate restaurant or not or when to leave.

    she always behaves – most of the time. now that she’s 2, i got her this great lunchbox with her name on it from Frecklebox and it’s our restaurant tote. she gets excited to bring it in and it’s full of things to keep her busy if she needs it. i’ve packed: crayons, a pad, 2 small books, these mini puzzles she loves to do, and some wipes and crackers if food is taking too long.

    we do not allow video games or playing on the phone in the restaurant as that drives me crazy but we can color together or read while we wait for food and it keeps her behaved and us relaxed.

    kids are just going to be in restaurants whether adults like it or not. as long as parents know when to draw the line, it shouldn’t be a problem. but i like the idea you have and i’m sure your boys will do great!

    1. I am really with you on the no video games or phones. I actually read a book about this topic that you might enjoy called “The Case for Make Believe” by Susan Linn. There was a great discussion about children in this generation not learning how to handle down time in restaurants, cars, etc. because they’re so used to always being entertained by a screen. I have vowed to only resort to that on airplane trips (because honestly, no one should be locked in a metal tube for 4 hours with a screaming toddler). Never in restaurants.

      We have gone out a lot too, and my 4 year old is great, but ugh…our 1.5 year old. Ugh. I loooooove your restaurant box idea!!! That is fantastic. I might have to make these for my sons. Love it!!

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