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Table Manners for Kids: 7 Restaurant Etiquette Tips

Make dining out pleasant for you, your toddler, and the table next to you. Photo © Jodi Jacobson

By Anna Sachse

To borrow a simile from Forrest Gump, dining out with kids is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re gonna get. Even if your kid is the world’s best eater, restaurant meals require planning, patience…and consideration for your fellow diners. After all, every person who chooses to dine out (including you!) is hoping for a pleasant time, without having to cook, clean, or fend off a toddler gone wild.

For a sweeter experience the next time you decide to take the whole fam out to eat, consider these eight tips:

1. Practice Table Manners at Home First

Your toddler is going to handle themselves better in a restaurant if they get plenty of practice in basic manners at home. (Our educators teach table manners daily with meals—peppering lunches with “please” and “thank you” and modeling considerate behavior.) It seems simple, but even adorable attempts at basic manners can go a long way with servers and diners—so when your toddler inevitably knocks over a water glass, you probably won’t be met with exacerbated eye rolls.  

2. When Dining out with Your Kids, Resist the Urge to Feed Them First

Many servers offer to bring the kids’ food early, thinking that fed kids will be happier kids. But the reality is that fed kids often want to get up and leave "right now!" Which leaves you wolfing down your own meal under duress when it finally arrives.

Restaurant meals can take a while, so bring some healthy (non-filling) snacks to tide your child over, like fruit, dry cereal, or rice cakes. While you’re at it, throw in a few small toys and easy activities, like favorite books, crayons and notebooks, stickers, etc.

Photo by Nasos Zovoilis / Stocksy / 1353315
Photo by Nasos Zovoilis / Stocksy

3. In a Restaurant, Free-Range Children Are a No-Go

Even at kid-friendly establishments, it isn’t safe (or polite) to let your child roam around. Servers could potentially trip, spill food, or drop dishes, accidentally hurting them in the process. In addition, other diners may not be amused when your little ballerina knocks over their beers while practicing leaps in the aisle.

4. Be Prepared to Walk off the Energy

Sometimes the best solution for ants-in-the-pants is a change of scenery. You can usually buy some time walking around the block and pointing out flowers, birds, dogs, etc. It’s not conducive to conversation with your fellow adults, but neither is trying to chat while your kid is  whining or pitching cereal at your face.

5. Lend Your Server a Hand with Cleanup, or Hand Them a Big Tip

We’re not saying you have to pick up grains of rice off the floor, but try to grab the big things. The servers may even stop you, but trust us—they’ll appreciate the gesture. It also demonstrates to your children that you are considerate of others. If it looks like Hurricane Spaghetti hit and you really need to jet, tip big.

6. Be Ready to Cash in Your Chips Early

You’ve tried the snacks, the walk, the crayons, and building with forks, but your toddler is just plain miserable—and making you (and the nice couple next to you) miserable, too. Ask for a doggie bag and head home. You might discover that a little peace and quiet is the world’s best condiment.

7. Get Your Kids Excited about Trying New Foods

Adventurous little eaters will likely be more excited about eating out if they like to try new foods (which can be a boon for you, as that means you’re not going to the neighborhood pizza joint for the thousandth time). While the chicken fingers and the fried everything on the kids’ menu come at an appetizing price point, it might be worth a little extra dough to expand their palates. Try ordering small plates or sides from the grownup menu. After awhile, you might find your little foodie begging to go get sushi.

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