Marcy’s Diner in Main became famous in July of this year, not for its amazing food, but for its owner who unapologetically yelled at a two-year-old for excessively crying. The owner claimed the parents didn’t do enough to calm the child and the parents claim that the food took an extraordinary amount of time to get to the table. The owner claimed that as a local dining establishment, it’s known to the community that she has a small grill and full pancakes take a long time to prepare and the parents shouldn’t have ordered so much food for a small child. I remember discussing the incident with women in my mom’s group on Facebook. The absolute best part of that conversation was one woman’s remark – “You NEVER go FULL pancakes. Everyone knows that!” I think I may have peed myself just a little when I read that.
Some took the side of the Diner owner and some agreed with the parents, but I happen to think that dining out with kids takes an effort from both parents and restaurant owners. I’ve been taking my kids out to eat since they were babies. I’ve had other patrons stop by my table on their way out and exclaim, “When we saw you come in with that baby, we were a bit worried, but she never made a peep.” Do I have super kids with supernatural powers to calm themselves and behave in public places? Um, that would be a big HECK NO.” Here are 4 tips I figured out along the way to make dining out a SANE experience for my family, as well as other patrons.
1. Start Young – Don’t wait till your child is four and then expect them to understand the concept of dining out, i.e. that more manners and an inside voice are required and that people must remain at their tables till they’re ready to leave. If you teach them at a young age what the expectations are when they dine out with the family, it’ll be easier to reinforce them. Of course you also need to keep the next tip in mind too.
2. Know Your Kid’s Limits – If your baby has colic, it’s probably best to keep them home till it’s passed lest their crying jag occur during dinner. If your toddler has a really hard time sitting still for long periods of time it might be best to hit a buffet instead of a fancy sit down restaurant. Buffets are awesome because there is no waiting, which leads to a LOT less boredom. Bored and hungry kids make for a REALLY unpleasant dining experience. I would also recommend taking them out a bit before their typical dinner time so they aren’t starving and so it won’t be passed their bedtime by the time the meal is over because dining out is a much more lengthy process then eating at home.
3. Bring Them Outside During A Meltdown – It’s going to happen, just as surely as puke, poop and trips to the ER. Having kids means learning how to deal with very public meltdowns. When Hannah was a baby, we didn’t follow tip 2 and took her out to the Melting Pot. If you’ve ever been to this fondue place, you know you’re looking at a three-hour experience MINIMUM. We were on vacation and I just figured she’d fall asleep, which she did BUT not before a tired tantrum. I took her outside to nurse her without all the distractions of the restaurant. My husband kept coming out to see if I was done because I was missing dinner. I shooed him away till he got the point that I would return only when she was asleep. It took maybe 15 minutes max. I much preferred to wait outside rather than deal with the stress of trying to calm an overly tired baby with people around us getting annoyed. I’ve also taken her out of restaurants as a toddler during tantrums. When she calmed down, we went back inside. If you teach them early that it’s NOT OK to scream and carry on in a restaurant, it’ll be much easier when they get older.
I’ve seen parents get so worked up at their kids’ behavior at the table that they are actually louder and more distracting trying to correct their kids’ behavior than their kids were. So don’t stress parents; take a breather instead. Get some fresh air with your kids until they settle down. It’s not the end of the world if you miss some time at the table. The parents of the toddler at the diner in Maine claimed it was raining so they couldn’t take her outside. Well, there’s always the car. Should the world be understanding about normal kid behavior? ABSOLUTELY. Should the world be forced to listen to your kid carrying on in public for an excessive amount of time? No.
4. Feed Them First – I always have the waiter/waitress bring the kids’ food out first. Sure, there’s more fidgeting at the end of the meal when they’re done, but that’s when it’s easiest to bribe them with dessert for good behavior (even if dessert is at home). Again I say, buffets are great for families with small kids because there is no wait time and everyone can eat together.
It’s great to find kid-friendly restaurants with changing tables in the restrooms, play areas or crayons and activity books, and a more relaxed atmosphere where other patrons know it’s a family restaurant, but we as parents still need to teach our kids that dining out is a privilege, not a right. With the exception of my toddler throwing her food on the floor during dinnertime at home, my kids are expected to sit and eat without toys on the table, without throwing food, yelling, and they are expected to make a good effort at eating what’s on their plate, whether it’s their favorite meal or not. If you have similar rules for dinning at home, it’ll make dinning out so much easier. Now if I could just get my older kids to consistently use their utensils instead of their fingers that would be something, but that’s for a different post.