I remember when I was a teenager, we went to IHOP for breakfast one morning, after I'd had a sleepover with my friend. She was one of eight kids and, back then, families didn't dine out very often... especially families of that size. We were served our pancakes and my friend, who had literally never been out for breakfast in her life, picked up her fork, sliced into the scoop of butter on top and took a huge bite, thinking it was ice cream. Her face! She was stunned. And embarrassed! It was at that moment that I decided that my kids would have dining out experiences and be taught restaurant manners.
Here's a family home evening idea. Set a pretty table and pretend you are dining out. Help your kids learn how to order, how to treat a server, what not to do and what to do while dining out. Teach them well, then take them out for a real dining experience the next week and let them practice what they learned. It doesn't have to be a fancy, expensive meal. Lots of places even have "kids eat free" days, if money is an issue.
Here's a few rules that should be taught to kids about dining out...whether it's a McDonalds or Applebees or the best steak house in town. And remember, manners apply to the parents, just as much as kids!
- NUMERO UNO RULE FOR DINING OUT: Treat the servers/hostesses/bussers/anyone who is helping your experience be pleasurable as YOU would like to be treated. Be respectful! Don't be demanding. Be polite. Use your manners. Say Thank you and PLEASE every time they come to your table! And Doug is really good about always asking their name, and calling them by name everytime they come to the table. If you are personal and friendly, they will return that friendliness!
- When ordering...make up your mind before you order. If you aren't ready to order, ask for another few minutes. Then, be patient until the server comes back to you. Don't change your mind a dozen times. Know what your kids want before you order. Make sure that they understand what they are ordering so that they don't get upset when it's not what they expected. Don't be afraid to ask questions about it.
- Make sure to place your napkin on your lap before eating. And use it while dining!
- Place straw wrappers and any other items of waste in one place on the table, not all over the floor and in the seats.
- Utensils, chopsticks, salt and pepper shakers, menus, signage are not toys. Don't let your kids play with the things that are on the table for the guests' use. Would you want to clean up a tablespoon of spilled salt from every corner of your own dining room after each meal? Do you want your table dinged up from knives being "drummed" on the table? Do you want to hear drumming at the table next to you? No one else wants to either. Shhhh. Use your inside voices and sounds in a restaurant.
- If your child is screaming or throwing a fit, take them out. People pay for sitters, for the meal, to get a night out and away from their own kids. Its not fair for other guests to have to sit and listen to your screaming/whining/cranky child when they've paid not to hear their own. One of my favorite BrighamYoung quotes: "Crying children are like good intentions... they should be carried out."
- Teach your kids not to reach across the table for things out of their reach. Teach them to ask, "Please pass the salt" instead of standing up and spilling four things or dragging their sleeves through food before they reach what they need. "Please pass..." love those words!
- Chew with your mouth closed!!!! Period!!!! ALWAYS!!!!!
- Elbows, books, cellphones in use, toys do not belong on the table. Kids should learn early that the table is the place for dining and visiting, not being entertained by "Stuff".
- The general rule of thumb is that for eight or less people at the table, everyone should be served before anyone begins eating. With little children, this is harder because they are hungry and bored by the time the food arrives. BUT, if they don't eat until everyone else is eating, they don't finish as soon and aren't ready to leave and getting cranky before you've eaten your salad. For very young children, who aren't old enough to understand this yet, it might be helpful to ask for a bowl of fruit or a roll. NEVER ASK FOR CRACKERS... kids never really eat them and they make the biggest mess possible everywhere... all that mess for nothing. Just sayin'.
- KEEP KIDS IN THEIR SEATS! A restaurant is the worst place possible to let a child run around. There are people running around with hot food on trays or plates, not expecting a short person to be under their feet. Also, KEEP THEM IN THEIR SEATS! Not standing, not crawling over the back of a booth seat, not crawling under and out and back into a booth. IN THEIR SEATS. There's nothing worse than being kicked in the head or sitting in a booth that is continually being kicked and knocked by a child sitting behind you.
- Speaking of sitting, teach them to sit up, not lie on the table with their arms all over, or feet in the seats or legs all over. Teach them to keep within their own personal space and to keep their food and place setting within their personal space.
- If the food is not prepared properly or not what you expected, let the server know. Their goal is for you to have a positive dining experience so that you will return. They do not want you to walk away disappointed and never come back. They'd much rather you let them know that the meat isn't cooked enough, the potato was cold... than have you unhappy. There's nothing wrong, at all, with letting them know, but do it nicely!
- If your kids spill or make a mess, clean it up, as best as possible. Ask for extra napkins, wipe up any spills. Don't just sit there and expect someone to do it for you. If you drop a utensil, make sure it's not going to get stepped on where someone could slip. Leave it on the floor, but out of traffic. But, spilled liquids should be cleaned up immediately, calmly and quietly. No need to "freak out" on your child for spilling and ruining the experience for everyone. 99% chance that it was an accident! Treat it as such, calmly. Don't embarrass the child. They are already embarrassed enough without your adding to it. And don't be embarrassed yourself, as most people have kids or were kids at one point and understand. Over-reacting only makes the situation worse!
- Have a reward for good behavior in a restaurant. Let the kids know upfront, "This place has the best_____ for dessert! If you use your best manners, we'll get one!" Even if you have to split it five ways because money is an issue, a few bites of something wonderful is better than nothing and it encourages great behavior!
- TIP THE SERVER accordingly! Twenty percent is the average today. I feel strongly that if you can't afford to tip the server, on top of paying for your meal, eat someplace more affordable to your budget. Servers generally get paid about $3 an hour or less. They depend on tips! Consider the fact that you come in with a few kids, make a larger mess, take the table space for longer than a couple without children and then leave more cleanup. Servers who serve families should be paid even more than the norm! Especially servers that really try to make your dining pleasure as a family more pleasurable!
- Don't stay forever. Kids can only tolerate so much for so long. Enjoy your meal and be on the way before the kids get bored and start acting up. Thank the server one last time! Keep it a positive experience!
Bottom line is that if we teach our kids good manners at home, they'll have better manners when out. AND if we teach them by example, we are already ahead of the game. Grace is going out to her first semi-formal dinner and dance tonight. I was lying in bed this morning, thinking about these things, wondering if there was anything I needed to remind her of, and it was a great feeling to know that she already knows them! BUT... These are basic people skills that we all can use the reminder of every once in a while!
Life is good!