We’ve all been there. Spent a fortune on a meal out on the town with that someone special only to have a screaming child take the romantic out of our rendezvous. What are the parents doing? Ignoring the offending behavior. Trust me, Tatjana had her moments – all children do until they learn otherwise, but it was not tolerated, so she had impeccable table manners at a very early age due to our persistence.

With Nick and Tatjana at one of our favorite restaurants in the South of France

Agreed, sometimes ignoring bad behavior is a way to send the message that it will not get the desired response (attention), but those are lessons taught at home, in public it is not appropriate. Have you ever wondered why people are giving you the evil glare instead of the child? You’re the parent! It is your responsibility to teach your children what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to social etiquette. Lane has illuminated us with the bag of tricks she employs, and the rules she governs her little man by in restaurants with another great guest post just in time for the most social of seasons.

 By Lane Buckman

We don’t come into this world with an understanding of table manners and etiquette, which fork to use for salad, and which spoon to use for gelato.  We have to be taught that our bread plate sits to the left, and our drink to our right and that shouting is verboten, much less shouting, “Gross! I don’t eat that!” at the sight of escargot. No matter how carefully our parents trained us at home, there comes the time to test out our skills at someone else’s table. Sometimes this happens accidentally.

Recently, a girlfriend of mine, our children and I wandered into a strip mall storefront Italian restaurant, only to find that we had stumbled upon a fine dining experience.  We were whisked in and seated before I had the presence of mind to suggest we might be in a situation over our respective 4- and 6-year-olds’ heads.  The mark of a truly well trained, and truly service oriented staff, the gentlemen serving us never blinked an eye at the mini-diners, and treated our daughter and son with as much grace and interest as the other patrons around us.

Dinner with daddy

My husband, Bryan, and I have worked overtime at teaching manners quickly. Since I am only just learning to cook and have been known to set the kitchen on fire, we used to take most of our meals out. Thor (our son’s nickname) has been visiting restaurants since he was three weeks old.

Bryan and I are also formerly single and childless, and remember well what it was like to save up to go out to a really special dinner, only to have its shine dulled by a toddler’s throbbing vocal cords.  Before the boy was born, we talked about how we would manage the situation in the event we should ever find ourselves in care of our own personal screamer (okay, during meals when we were being screamed out of our elements, we judged parents and said, “These are the things we will never do…”).

Salsa Sampler

Our list, and I am verging on the vice of pride that we’ve stuck to it, goes like this:

  1. If a restaurant doesn’t have a kiddie menu, we don’t visit it with our kiddie after 5 pm.
  2. If our child ever raises a ruckus, one of us will remove the child immediately, and the other will collect our food to go.

  3). If our child makes an inordinate mess, we will

  • Clean it up
  • Tip very, very, very well

4).  We will always make our child’s behavior our priority, and remember that everyone else in the restaurant is paying for their meal, and they deserve the same consideration we would expect.

  • He will sit at the table
  • He will not cruise the restaurant
  • He will not turn around and aggravate the people behind him

In other words, we really expected him to behave as we did but were prepared to help him out if the age gap left him hanging.  Now, I’m not going to tell you that Thor has never cried at a restaurant.  He’s a kid—they aren’t known for keeping their emotions in check.  We have had to employ rule #2 one time when he was two-years-old, but because we were sticking to rule #1, the people around us at Chili’s didn’t seem to notice.

Take a little bag of tricks to keep them entertained

To keep stress levels low, parents have to plan ahead.  If we were going out with Thor, we always had a battery of items on hand.  Usually, in the time it would take to get his meal to him, we could run through our whole bag of tricks.  If he seemed abnormally antsy or it was taking a long time, Bryan or I would take him for a walk until the food arrived.  Whatever it took.  We just wanted to have dinner without getting stink-eye from other people.

We carried:

  • Prepped bottles/cereal/baby food when he was an infant
  • Prepped pre-meal snacks when he was a toddler—he loved cereal bars and the standby Cheerios
  • Small, soft toys and little board books (books about cars with wheels that would roll were Thor’s favorites)
  • A mini-photo album with pictures of Thor in action and with family, and friends
  • My iPod nano, or smartphone full of games when he was a little older

Practicing at Home

I was honestly not sure how Thor was going to handle the restaurant we found ourselves in.  It was hard not to laugh when we sat down and he started explaining what he knew about table manners to his friend.  My girlfriend and I used it as an opportunity to tack on some etiquette they hadn’t had an opportunity to practice yet, and I was pretty pleased that Thor picked up on our cues and put on his very best behavior.

Take your kids out to eat.  The only way to learn how to behave in public is to be in public.  Be aware that your little people don’t come complete with the same filters adults have, and they might need practice at controlling themselves—don’t be upset with them if they act like kids.  But, do take responsibility for being the filter yourself.  As I have always said to Thor, “Look around.  Do you see these other people?  They are paying money to eat here.  We need to respect that.”

Still enjoying those good table manners while in Thailand last August

Thank you so much for the advice, Lane! What tricks do you have up your sleeve to keep your children entertained and well behaved when eating out?

This post was first published November 14, 2011

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  • November 14, 2011
    11:20 am

    We, like Lane and her husband, had the same rules for dining out. We only had to actually leave a restaurant one time because the princess was being a class A BRAT. Now that she’s a bit older, she LOVES going to restaurants and the threat of leaving will straighten her right out if need be.

    I would add one more “trick”, Either bring food to keep the kiddo busy, or, tell your waiter/waitress to bring the child’s food when it is ready and not wait for your dinners to be ready as well. Most waitstaff in kid friendly restaurants will automatically ask, but make the request if they don’t. There’s nothing worse than a hungry kid. Hell, I’m cranky when I’m hungry!

  • November 14, 2011
    11:43 am

    Great suggestion!

    Tatjana was always pretty well behaved in restaurants, because it was the norm since we were on the road so much of the time, but boring flights were sometimes a real doozy to contend with (especially since leaving midair was not an option). You should have seen the carryon luggage (thank God it was allowed in those days) we had to lug in hopes of keeping her quiet and in her seat. We brought everything but the kitchen sink.

    • November 14, 2011
      12:01 pm

      Airplanes…oy. Thank goodness for portable DVD players and Curious George DVDs.

  • November 14, 2011
    9:06 pm

    My sister and I were taught at a very early age (like Tatjana) table manners, especially when out in public. It was something our parents instilled in us, just as it had been in them. My Mother loved telling a story of how when we were very young (probably about 3 and 5) were out to dinner with our parents and how an elderly couple came up to our parents and praised them about how my sister and I had been raised, and our behavior despite the screaming tantrums from other children in the restaurant. My Mother was so very proud of us and frequently told that story over the years. For us, it never was an option…it just was not tolerated.

    I’m not saying we were perfect children and our behavior was always spot on (far from it) Allow me to regale you with another story from my youth if I may…

    My Father loves telling this story almost as much as my Mother loved telling the prior story. We were about 4 and 6 and My father took us to McDonalds. (Bare in mind I can NEVER imagine myself EVER doing something like this!….tee hee) I (allegedly) DEMANDED and TOLD my father exactly what he was buying me at McDonald’s for my lunch one day. He informed me that no…that was not the case, I was getting what he bought for me like it or not. Well…according to him (although like I said I find it hard to believe!…(ya right!)) I threw a full on hissy fit and was promptly removed by my Father post haste from the Golden Arches and NO ONE got McDonald’s that day. My sister has NEVER forgotten it, and I have never lived it down. In fact at my sister’s wedding a few years ago my father gave my sister a gift certificate for McDonald’s during his speech he made saying he still owed HER a McDonald’s lunch because SHE had behaved….Dad always did like her best. 😉

    • November 16, 2011
      9:57 am

      I played the same role in my family – black sheep!

  • November 14, 2011
    1:47 pm

    It’s disgraceful how many people don’t even try to control or subdue their children. My little princess is only 4 months old, and we get such disapproving looks when we walk into a restaurant or board a plane – but then when we leave, we are always complimented on how good she is. It’s as if people are just waiting for all hell to break loose and for us to just roll with it. We established the same exact rules as Lane before I was even pregnant. I also feed her a bottle either en route to the restaurant or right after we are seated so she usually slips into a milk coma by the time our food arrives.

    • November 14, 2011
      5:31 pm

      Unfortunately children do not come equipped with good parenting user manuals, so we learn by trial and error – often at someone else’s expense.

  • November 14, 2011
    2:43 pm

    Fabulous. Some great tips, I wish all parents were as conscientious, for the ‘village’ approach is now a minefield to step in to. I still do though. Does it make me evil that I relish scaring a tiny terror rigid with a look? I admit though, becoming a Nana Pink has softened me up to the point I am everyone’s indulgent Nana. Your comment on planes, Jewels, brought to mind one darling that was kicking my seat for two hours on an LA to NY flight once when all I craved was a nap. It was my only respite from a project I was putting in 18 hrs a day on at the time. When I politely suggested the parents curb their offspring the mother shouted to the entire plane that ‘the hooker in the seat in front of us is bitching at my child, thank god she’ll never have children of her own’.
    Looking her in the eye I very icily replied that actually, I was a mother, and what’s more, my child had been taught how to behave properly, unlike her own monster (to the applause of the cabin). Of course, I was lying through my teeth, my kid was a handful, but hey, I wasn’t flying with her. The crew kindly moved me 🙂

    • November 14, 2011
      5:36 pm

      Hahaha – oh Alison, I would never want to get into a battle of words with you – no one’s mastery of the language and quick, razor sharp wit could level a room faster! I’m sure the entire cabin were doubled over in fits of laughter as they cheered you on.

  • November 14, 2011
    3:34 pm

    Bravo Alison! You’re my kind of gal!

    • November 16, 2011
      9:52 am

      Alison is my twin sister born into another band. Love her dearly.

      • November 16, 2011
        10:48 am

        Gnashing my teeth because I can’t give Jewels a hug right now. Also laughing, remembering being in a Santa Monica food store and observing a rambunctious child climbing on the glass fronted cake counter. I bellowed at him. GET. DOWN. NOW!
        Unused to being yelled at by an adult, he slid off the glass and properly cowered. His mother shot me a look and I thought, oh, now I’m in trouble. She broke into a grin and said hey, it takes a village. I applaud her.
        Cyndi – if anyone gives you the evil eye, just smile nicely and remind them that you know just how to make your child REALLY loud. If you felt like it.

      • November 16, 2011
        4:39 pm

        Sending you a MASSIVE cyber hug!

  • November 14, 2011
    9:05 pm

    Alison? Can you fly with my toddler and I from Boston to SF next week? I need your quick wit when the hairy eyeballs are all turned on me 🙂 I used to always be the grumbly one flying with other people’s kids. Now, the shoe’s on the other foot and I pray bad karma may’ve booked the same flight!

    • November 16, 2011
      9:55 am

      I’m sure Dylan will be the star of the flight. He’s too cute for anyone to be perturbed with.

  • November 15, 2011
    9:34 am

    Wow, Lane! Where were you when I first had my brood??

    The fact that your husband was on board with you in providing consistent rules and enforcing them is such a key thing.

    What a fantastic post!

    • November 16, 2011
      9:38 am

      I am a VERY lucky woman. =)
      And thank you!

      • November 16, 2011
        9:58 am

        A man with his priorities straight!

  • November 15, 2011
    9:28 pm

    Omg julie anne..you and your daughter Tatjana look really beautiful and i love your smiles for you both. this is my favorite picture. did you have a good time in thailand?

  • November 16, 2011
    9:59 am

    We were only there for a couple days on our way home from Bali, but we love it there. It’s all about shopping and eating in Bangkok – the two are everywhere at all hours of the day!

  • November 20, 2011
    1:28 pm

    I’ve enjoyed this post way too much! I remember going to church with my parents when I was very young, maybe 2 or 3. This was a high mass, complete with choir, candles, incense, the whole long version. I was fascinated by the choir and wanted to sing too. But, since I didn’t know the words, I sang a song about a little donkey, full voice. I still remeber the look of horror on Mum’s face and Dad trying not to laugh. Guess Mum should have had a chat with me before taking me into the church. LOL

  • November 20, 2011
    1:30 pm

    Oh Ruthee – that is so cute! I could picture the entire scene from your words. Bless your little donkey singing cotton socks!

  • June 29, 2012
    7:18 am

    My kids do pretty good considering I have one with Aspergers and one with classic autism. Sometimes my daughter, the Autistic Princess, sometimes sings along with the music and its not easy to help her to understand that she cant sing. Meltdowns are another problem but if you prepare your children, even those not on the autism spectrum, things are easier. When we lived in the US in California, we went to a Greek place that was very nice but they would put paper on your table and give you crayons…it was fun. Also loud places are a good place to go as my kids just naturally tend to talk loud and my son, who has Aspergers, has a lot to say 😉