Make your Kid More Restaurant-Friendly

Article from CNN’s Eatocracy 5@5: a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

When crying kids disrupt dinner, who ends up paying the price?

That was the question posed last week, and more than 21,000 readers weighed in saying that restaurants with stated policies about children’s unruly behavior would actually entice them to spend money there.

While Firefly executive chef Danny Bortnick has taken steps to make his restaurant more kid-friendly, it is a two-way street – your kids need to act right.

And before you go off thinking Bortnick is some kind of booster seat hater, he is a father – and his restaurant is in the middle of Washington D.C.’s Dupont Circle: a densely populated urban neighborhood often busy with families and young kids.

Five Ways to Make Your Child More Restaurant-Friendly: Danny Bortnick

Disclaimer: My wife sets the tone in this department, and I support. I credit her with sticking to her principles and helping my children form good habits.

1. It all starts at home
Make meals fairly structured and most importantly, routine. Remember: Kids start out as a clean slate, so as parents, it is our responsibility to help them form good habits. Things to employ:

  • Provide a variety on the plate – consistently. Even if it is one baby carrot stick and one apple slice, at least you are teaching them the importance of balanced nutrition.
  • Stay away from foods and drinks high in sugar. Children are highly susceptible to highs and lows both mentally and physically when consuming high-sugar foods. (Ever wonder why they can’t sit still?)
  • Treats and sweets are just that, a treat. Keep them small (a fortune cookie left over from the Chinese food delivery) and offer them as a reward for eating properly.
  • Have them ask to be excused from the table. This sets the tone of who is in charge.

2. Make meal periods interactive
At home they can help set the table, help choose the menu, and/or help prepare the food. This gives them a sense of involvement; they are invested in the meal.

At restaurants, let them choose what they would like to eat and bring a restaurant-appropriate activity (kids are not interested in adult conversation or spying on the couple at the table next to you, but whatever the activity, make sure it won’t be bothersome to neighboring tables).

3. Make dining out sound like a special, rewarding and fun experience
Get them excited about the experience. If it is something to look forward to, they will want to do it again, which will help you with the next tip:

4. Discuss restaurant etiquette BEFOREHAND as it applies to children
Keep the rules simple and easy to remember:

  • “Use our inside voices”
  • “Stay in our seats”
  • “Do not throw food” – keep your expectations low if they are less than three.

If you are looking for more than the above as you are building good habits, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. The rules for home as far as eating your vegetables, etc., may need to evolve into the restaurant rules. After all, dining out with kids can be stressful enough, so you may want to consider lightening your own stress-load. Focus on the behavioral aspect.

Again, use dessert as a reward for good behavior/eating. And be consistent – I cannot stress this enough! Also, be patient. It is going to take time to go from zero to sixty.

5. Call ahead to the restaurant
Find out if they are family-friendly. Do your homework. For me, a kid’s menu is not a requirement. Generally, we can find something that our kids will eat or share. That said, if the restaurant does not welcome children, don’t bother. Know your limitations.

Give the restaurant a heads up that you are bringing children. This gives them a chance to select an appropriate table and perhaps assign a server that has a better disposition for serving families.

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