It would never have occured to me not to take N into restaurants. But sometimes the media gets hold of stories about restaurants who refuse children entry. Or you hear stories of children running around while their parents don’t seem to notice and certainly don’t say anything. What’s the deal with children eating out in restaurants or not? Has everything changed so much from when I was a child that people just don’t expect children to be able to behave anymore?
I think I’m a fairly relaxed parent about alot of things. Especially at home. I’m not going to bust a gut if N hasn’t tidied up (I try, but things still take days of nagging before he might make an attempt to tidy up). But behaviour when out and about is non-negotiable. Luckily N is even termpered and generally well behaved. I think it probably helps that he doesn’t have a sibling to wind him up or lead him astray (although even when out with all his cousins at Christmas they’ve never got over excited and run around).
I’ve never needed a second thought whether he should or shouldn’t eat out with us. N’s been taught manners, how to behave at the table, how to use cutlery, and sit at a table from a young age. We only eat as a family on four evenings a week, but at nursery and school they repeat the same values about sitting nicely, eating with teir mouths shut and asking to leave the table. It’s just instilled in him.
That’s the expectation. And it’s reinforced whether we’re eating at home, eating at Granny’s or elsewhere.
N is nowhere near perfect – no child is, and we certainly aren’t as adults – but I’m proud of how well he can behave.
Our expectations aren’t that great:
1, Sit at the table before the meal arrives, during the meal and until everyone’s ready to leave. Sometimes he wants to move around to sit with or speak to sometone else, but he’s expected to return to his own seat afterwards.
2, No running around
3, If there’s a play area (rare where we eat out), he can go there but should walk carefully through the restaurant. Children aren’t the most aware around waiting staff, so he does need reminding frequently.
4, Don’t keep getting up to go to the toilet. Without fail, N will need to go as soon as our food arrives. He can go on his own if it’s a restaurant he knows, otherwise one of us will take him.
5, Keep the noise level down. Don’t copy other children’s volume. Yes, children get excited and N’s volume does increase, but he knows he’ll be told to quieten down a bit.
Entertaining kids while eating out
Now N is 7 years old, it’s a lot easier to keep him entertained while we wait for food to arrive. And yes, he does have a tendency to ask too loudly ‘how much longer will it take?’ and discussing how many people are ahead of us. Now we can have proper conversations. At home, the OH moans when we chat at the table, but surely that’s one of the points of family meal times). So eating out lends us time to do that.
So many restaurants nowadays provide colouring or activity packs for children while they wait. There’s not much else needed. In the past I used to try and remember a notepad and pens, and a book. N was happy enough with those. He doesn’t get my phone because he doesn’t need it, I’d rather try and get him talking to us instead of him taking up my phone battery.
While we don’t feel the need for N to have electronics to entertain him, if others want to do that it’s their choice. I’d rather children were entertained by any means than playing up. Interestingly, Frankie and Benny’s are trialling a phone ban, with people offered free children’s meals for those who gve up their phones while they’re in the restaurant.
Frustration with unruly children
I don’t have a lot of patience and never had. So trying to have a meal out as a family but sitting by other tables who have children who wander around or scramble over seats and tables isn’t my idea of fun. When children who don’t seem to have an off or low volume button. And worse, when parents sit and ignore the fact that their children are going wild and aren’t trying to calm them down.
Obviously not all children are capable of sitting for a length of time or following instructions. I understand it’s hard for children with autism to be out in restaurants. But in my experience these parents are catering for their child’s needs and aware of what will help their child cope better.
It’s the children whose parents don’t care and don’t try who’re frustrating. It’s not fair to exclude all children on the basis of a few who might be a pain. And unfortunately that happens all too often because like everything, it’s the attention seekers and those who shout loudest who get noticed, while the good kids are passed over meaning everyone is tarred with the same brush.
I’m certainly not going to stop taking N into restaurants with us. He’s eaten in pubs, fast food places, 5 star hotels for breakfast (not dinner because the menus aren’t usually my type of thing), and everything in between. I trust that’ll he’ll behave appropriately, and if he doesn’t he’ll be told off, and then we would leave.
Hopefully as N grows older he’ll appreciate the meals out we’ve had. The conversations, the laughter and the experiences. If I didn’t think he’d be able to behave, he’d have missed out on a lot of restaurant experiences.
How do you feel about children in restaurants? What are your expectations of your children when eating out?