Re-Discovering Family Dining

One of the many pieces of advice we received as new parents was: “Eat out when he’s new, while you still can.” We didn’t quite understand what this meant, but we enjoy eating out, so we obeyed. I’d slide Roy’s car seat into the booth before me, or prop it up on a chair tableside, and he’d sleep, or stare at the ceiling fan overhead while soaking in the foreign ambiance. Once, we even snuck him out of his crib in the dark of night to accompany us for enchiladas and mariachi music on the patio of a Mexican restaurant. Our bellies full, we carefully slipped him back into his crib. He slept through the entire adventure.

I’m so incredibly glad we did this, because at around 7 months, this window of opportunity slammed shut. Suddenly, dining out with Roy meant going to a restaurant in order to take turns hastily shoving food in to our mouths and comforting, distracting, and, eventually, chasing Roy. It was the opposite of fun. Totally not an experience worth paying for, so we rarely did.

Last month, about a year after this restaurant-unfriendly phase began, we thought we’d give family dining another shot. We selected a casual, kid-tolerant restaurant, talked up the experience and brought plenty of props. It worked. Woo-hoo! The world of eating out, together, in a relatively leisurely fashion has opened once again! We’re so excited we’ve been making it a regular thing.

We consider it our responsibility to not intrude upon others’ dining experiences as well as to teach Roy how to be a good diner outer. A few things we’re doing to those compatible ends:

1) Instilling reverence for restaurant employees. If Roy starts to get screechy, or insists on getting out of his high chair, we tell him in a low, serious voice that that guy who keeps coming to our table? He does not like kids running around the restaurant at all. We need to be nice for him. And to tell him please and thank you. When he’s a little older, we’ll dig into tipping appropriately and not calling the server “sweetie.”

2) Bringing small, interactive toys. Not books that we have to read to him, or stuffed animals, which only function as good company. Toys that can be fiddled with. Crayons and small trucks with trailers big enough to haul a Cheerio or two are our big hits, as evidenced below at our awesome local Turkish restaurant.

3) Signifying eating time. When the food arrives, the toys go away and our portable plastic place mat takes their place. No Crayons in the mashed potatoes or trucks rolling through the baked beans. Same as home.

So those are a few things working for us, anyway. Feel free to add to the list.

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  1. by Rita

    On October 6, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    I love that video! How cute! It sounds like you could have helped me out years ago! A friend of mine brought a whole bunch of stickers along one time when we ate out together. Stickers and paper kept the kids busy until their food arrived. I love that you make him part of the dining out experience. So many times I have seen kids busy playing electronics while their parents ignore them the whole time.

  2. by Berit Thorkelson

    On October 9, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Thanks, Riti! Stickers seem like a good all-around solution/investment. (potty training on the horizon)

  3. by Eve

    On October 10, 2011 at 9:16 am

    Great post! I could not agree more. Since we grow most of our own food and have a chef in house, we don’t eat out a lot. We do instill the “please and thank you” rules. We are also working on emphasizing community and manners around eating. I love your suggestions as we will have to eat in a restaurant at some point!