Reader Question: How Do I Get My Kids To Behave At Restaurants?

In 2017 at Commander’s Palace

The most commonly asked question I get from parents is “how do I make my kids behave at a restaurant?” There isn’t a magic pill. This takes consistency and lots of grace. When I first started taking my kids out to eat. I made up my mind to be prepared mentally and emotionally to leave at any point where my kids disrupted another diner. Of course, I always make sure to not put my kids in situations that are selfish, such as having them out too late. Last year at ages 3 and 5 we were able to enjoy a very nice, long meal at Commander’s Palace with my mom. My daughter understood that eating there was very special and a treat. This is not to toot my own horn. This is simply what has worked for us and for others. I promise you, it has not been easy from the beginning. When they aren’t accustomed to something like eating at a restaurant, they won’t inherently know how to behave. It has taken consistency in my expectations and sticking to my guns if something happened. Thankfully, it hasn’t in years. Enjoying a meal out is not a right that we are given, so having respect and courtesy for others is important. Here are a few tips that have worked over the years:

(1) Let them know your expectations upfront. I would always let my kids know what the plan was and what was expected of them. We didn’t eat in front of the tv every night and then magically expect them to know how to act at a table. I would go over basic table etiquette with them so they would become more comfortable using it, such as using a spoon or fork instead of their hands.
(2) Be consistent. Just like in a restaurant, we don’t allow yelling or crying at the table. If they’re frustrated, they may tell us why. We also have them place their napkins on their laps. By practicing at home, it is a more natural transition for them to use these techniques in public.
(3) Be realistic. Don’t expect your 18-month old baby to be okay sitting still and quiet for three hours at a fancy restaurant. For your first time out, ask for a to-go box at the start, if that makes you more comfortable. If your child is old enough to talk, point out all of the fun colors and build up this experience for them. Once you consistently see the results you want, you can incorporate something new, like dining in the evening.
BONUS TIP: Be prepared. This is especially necessary if you’re going out to eat during a busy time. Take a board book, colors or silent toy to keep your child occupied. Also, it’s okay for those who are little (think under four-years old) to have a snack brought from home if things are too busy, such as puffs. If you bring something for them to eat, have everything you need. Don’t ask for the restaurant to provide anything.

When Efforts Pay Off

My mom, my kids and I just got back from the most amazing trip. We started out on Thursday morning before the sun was up, and we made it to New Orleans for our 1:30pm reservation at Commander’s Palace. I was ecstatic to get a lunch reservation for that day, as we wanted to keep the trip as schedule-free as possible. This, if you know me, is not my norm. I thrive on schedules, but, even though I did have moments of terror wondering what we were going to do, I loved the freedom of this trip.

I usually find that scheduling my time is more purposeful, and I’m able to get a lot more done. But this trip wasn’t about getting as much done as possible. It was about spending as much time together as possible. We were able to do a lot, which my Type A side appreciated. More than that, though, we were able to do a lot together. I loved sharing a meal at Commander’s Palace with my babies. Having my daugther choose to take a buggy ride as her choice of activity warmed my heart. We hit the highlights in every town, choosing the touristy route, and we spent most evenings playing for a couple of hours in the pool – which the kids absolutely loved.

In New Orleans we ate at Commander’s Palace and Cafe Du Monde, followed by a buggy ride; In Pass Christian we played in white sand and ate the best crab I’ve ever had. In Natchez we toured three homes and took pictures of the Mighty Mississippi; In Natchitiches we ate meat pies; In Jefferson we got Moody Dogs and Riverport barbecue and showed the kids where their daddy proposed to me many moons ago.

I wouldn’t have changed anything about it for the world. This trip also helped me realize something. I’m raising good humans. This will likely come across as though I’m tooting my own horn. My intent is not that at all. My intent is to encourage you to slow down in life long enough to see the good around you. I worry so much about making sure I’m doing everything in my power to ensure that my kids are smart, kind, outgoing, etc., etc., etc. I don’t slow down enough to always recognize that they are truly good people. They’re respectful. They thank others without being prompted. My daughter, at one point in a restaurant, even said, “I know what ladies do. They do this!” Then she promptly placed her napkin on the seat of her chair. This warmed my heart. She’s listening. They both are.

Most importantly, they pray for others who are hurting, such as those currently impacted by Harvey. They are good souls, and I’m thankful I get to be their momma and spend this time with them. I’m thankful for the reminder that they are enough. We all are.

Our prayers are with those who are impacted by Harvey.