Thursday, 17 February 2011

Eating out with children

There was a fascinating article on the BBC News Magazine site yesterday discussing whether small children should be allowed in restaurants. As they pointed out there are two main sides to this story:

1) people who want to enjoy a nice quiet adult meal out

2) parents who want to enjoy a meal out with their children

So the question is how do you balance the two sides? Is it down to the first group of people to only dine in child free zones or up to parents to make sure they only go to child orientated restaurants?

As a parent I want my children growing up knowing how to behave appropriately in all sorts of situations. This means both at home and when out and about. I am trying to instill in them the basic rules of behaviour when eating:

  • sitting in their chairs properly
  • using cutlery
  • not being rowdy
  • keeping the food on the plate and not throwing it around!
From a very early age I have taken my children to various places to eat ranging from McDonalds to pub chains to curry houses. These all have varying degrees of child friendliness associated with them but I expect my children to maintain an acceptable level of behaviour. Being on my own now it can be harder to make sure that both children are not getting bored or misbehaving but it is possible. I find it very gratifying when the behaviour of my children is complemented by diners at other tables (not that they are perfect!!).

Having something to occupy the children whilst waiting between courses is essential. Restaurants such as Pizza Express provide activity packs for children but it can be as well to carry something in your bag/pocket to keep them out of mischief. Even lending them your phone to play games or letting older ones take a handheld games console (make sure the volume is muted or using headphones!). 

Planning ahead and choosing to dine out at a time that fits in with your children's normal routine is always a good idea. If you arrive at a restaurant with tired or "starving" children then you are fighting an uphill battle from the start. Someone in the BBC article suggested making sure that your children have been physically active before dining out so they don't want to run around inside the restaurant.

Be prepared to remove your children if they're behaviour becomes unacceptable. I have taken mine out of a restaurant before dessert when they have pushed me too far. Don't get yourself and your family a bad reputation by letting your kids run riot!

Last week I had lunch with 27 children from my son's nursery at a local Chinese restaurant. I was so impressed by how well they all behaved and quiet they were:

So as long as children are well behaved there shouldn't be any problems with them dining out with their parents. If people want to make sure that they are eating in a completely child free zone then by dining later they should be able to do this especially in top class restaurants.


  1. Wow, 27 nursery children in one restaurant. theres a brave restaurateur! I really think its important to get your children used to eating out. If you start at an early age taking them out and expecting them to behave well then they won't grow up to be the child running around screaming and upsetting all the other diners.

  2. I totally agree. How can children be expected to know how to behave in resturants if they never get the opportunity to practice. We have taken Snaffles from a young age and thankfully he now knows what is acceptable behaviour.

    Taking something to occupy them is a must.

    I also talk to him before we go in, set out exactly what I consider acceptable and not accetable behaviour to be and like you say dont be afraid to take them out if they are not behaving. There is no point letting them behave in a way your not happy with just to "prevent a scene".

    Love our little family meals out.

  3. Visiting from blow your own blog horn.

    I have two kid: one with Asperger's Syndrome and the other with sensory processing problems. We still manage to eat out fairly often, though it does take quite a bit of preparation. Our kids are generally well-behaved, but I think timing is crucial for them, and going to suitable restaurants. We tend to stay away from the kids of places where we think people would be bothered by kids anyway.

    We're moving later this year to South Africa, where there is a very family friendly culture, with play areas in many restaurants- that is something I'd like to see more of!

  4. I am in complete agreement with you and I love eating out with my children who consider it a treat an behave appropriately... mostly! I try to forget the occasion when my my two year old in a busy and noisy restaurant was kept waiting a little too long. I was unprepared in terms of distractions and gave her little sips of her sister's Coke to keep her happy. A caffeine and sugar induced high had her screaming enthusiastically above the noise to make herself heard. Very embarrassing. I have learnt my lesson - strictly NO Coke and a handbag full of discreet yet interesting playthings!

  5. JM: the nursery go each year to same restaurant so must like the well behaved kids!

    SnafflesM: good tips

    SpectrumM: Welcome! Good luck in South Africa and yes restaurants with play areas can be a God send

  6. QWERTY: amazing how quickly we learn from our mistakes!!

  7. Eating out is a big treat for our kids. They are older now, but we set the bar high for going out behavior when they were little. Now I hate it when other ppls children are out of control and they just don't leave!

  8. Here via Blow Your Own Blog Horn!

    Play areas can be good, but a friend and I went to a particular buffet near us specifically because we read that it had a play area. When we arrived, we couldn't find it, asked where it was, and were directed down into the basement, through a box-filled storage area, and into a small room with a few pillows, a handfull of books, and an easel in such a poor state, I was afraid for splinters! I'm far from a hovering heli-mommy, but sending my two-year-old there while I ate was not an option, and the area wasn't nearly exciting enough to justify being there when I wasn't eating. I don't understand what they thought they were accomplishing by making such an area!


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