The etiquette of dining out with kids

An incident reported in newspapers in July 2015, that went viral, brought attention to the issue of dining out with children. The restaurant owner at Marcy’s Diner in Portland, Maine, lost her temper with a fussing child, slamming her fists on the table, yelling “this needs to stop”. The topic of dining etiquette, perhaps considered a relic of the Downton Abbey era, was back on the table, so to speak.

Every parent knows that eating out can be cause for stress, and embarrassment. Other patrons stare or complain when children make a fuss or noise in a public dining area. With all the pressure to act in a certain way, parents can clash with children, non-parents, restaurant management, or even other parents. Some establishments are strictly kid-free zones, for this very reason.

But what’s a hard-working parent to do? Everyone needs a break from cooking and the confines of the home. Besides, eating out as a family is a healthy social thing to do. Parents shouldn’t avoid eating out – they should prepare for it. Teach your kids eating etiquette from a young age, as part of their socialisation, to save yourself drama down the line. Here’s how…

At home
Eat at the table, as a family, as a regular practice so that your kids grow accustomed to the basics of polite behaviour. They must learn to not shout, but use a tone of voice suited to an intimate sharing experience. Gently remind them to try sit still; to contain their energy and restlessness and focus on the food and company. Teach them how to use their cutlery properly, to close their mouths when they chew, and not to talk when chewing.

Dinner time is also an opportunity to establish the often unspoken rules of conversation – respond to questions asked of you, avoid touchy or off-putting topics, and so on. Guide them which topics or kinds of talk are not suited to the table, and get them to practise the art of small talk, encouraging them as they grow older to know how and when they should join in table debates.