This year a restaurant in Pennsylvania banned children under six. Hardly anyone noticed. Children, unlike senior citizens, are not a protected class, but this has only reinforced my belief that parents should make it a point to bring their kids to restaurants.
I say we create an inclusive culture, one that includes kids instead of seeing them as aggravating nuisances. Where they can learn about good food and appropriate behavior at the dinner table, whether it’s public or private—there shouldn’t be two sets of rules. After all, we groan about kids eating Happy Meals, but if we only take them to fast food joints and kids’ theme restaurants, how will they learn to appreciate good, well-cooked, wholesome, exciting foods?
That is our job. So, to inspire you all to go for it and take your kids out for a real meal, here are some tips that have helped our family have a great eating-out experience:
Save the relaxing, wine-soaked dinners for you and your partner alone. You’re taking your kids out for a family experience. That means you have to be watching them, supporting them, setting rules and boundaries, providing games and entertainment, talking to them. If your child has a tantrum, take them out and soothe them. Do not let them run like a herd of elk through the restaurant.
This happens with some trial and error. One of our favorite restaurants is not a typical family restaurant at all, but a small Japanese restaurant run by an owner who welcomes breastfeeding moms, and allows kids to take off their shoes and quietly play on a mat in the corner with toys.
I often see parents ply their kids with crackers and goldfish to keep them happy before the meal comes. If kids are stuffed by the time dinner arrives, they’ll want to leap out of the chair and run around the restaurant by time the food arrives. They should be hungry, but not starving. Order a fun appetizer right away - there is nothing like a plate of edamame or guacamole and chips to keep fingers busy and occupied while waiting for the main course.
Sometimes it’s going to be bad, so go in knowing that. Like the time my oldest daughter, who was a toddler at the time, took off on a sprint through the restaurant, into the kitchen and came out smiling in the arms of the head chef. I was mortified. Sometimes your kid will devour lobster and sit like an angel for hours, but be prepared to get your order to go if things don’t go as expected. It will be different every time. Be patient. Be supportive.
Most importantly, be vigilant (for the other diners) and supportive (for your kids). Our kids can only learn how to behave in a restaurant if we take them out. They’ll learn to appreciate fine food when they’re actually allowed to eat it. It’s up to us to expose them to a variety of experiences. That’s how they become good citizens in that world.