Dinnertime drama

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Every once in a while you escape the clutches of your howling brood for a rare meal out with a loved one. You choose the restaurant carefully, dress up and prepare for a night of childfree relaxation and adult conversation. Yet wait ג€“ what’s that? You’ve just been seated next to a table of fourג€¦ and two of them are children!

One of two things will now happen. Either your evening will be marred by the complaints of young, tired and unreasonable voices, spilt drinks and more bustling trips to the loo than is strictly necessary. Orג€¦ perhaps the children will be perfectly behaved, have excellent manners, appear to speak only when they’re spoken to and put your own monsters completely to shame. Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s worse.

Many of us parents avoid restaurants like the plague once the kids come along, as even mealtimes at home where no one can see us can be a trial. Why put yourself on show for everyone to judge, or sympathise with? Yet this shouldn’t be the case. In Ireland and the UK there can often be a general feeling of resentment when children invade the adults’ public spaces, especially after what is deemed to be ג€˜bed time’, yet in other European countries such as France, Spain and Greece, children are positively encouraged to participate and their very presence isn’t just tolerated; it’s celebrated.

Perhaps the answer lies in establishing a few rules for the children, a few expectations for the parents and a little bit of practice. Here are some tips to consider when preparing your family as a whole for the great public restaurant challenge:

ג€¢ Practice. Encourage your children to behave at home the way they should in a restaurant or any public place. This means (as much as possible within their age range) eating with the correct cutlery, not throwing food, staying at the table and not hopping up and down, no raised voices, no interruptingג€¦ Ooh that’s a hard one, good luck.

ג€¢ Preparation. Firstly, check ahead that the restaurant is indeed ג€˜child-friendly’ ג€“ some aren’t and will literally refuse to seat you. While you’re at it, make sure the menu has something your little one will like to eat.

ג€¢ Distraction. Bring a whole bag of activities to keep your child happy while you’re waiting for the food. Some establishments provide activity sheets and crayons, but never rely on this, especially as they might not suit your child’s age. Sticker books, activity books and colouring books are all a great way to keep the peace while little tummies are rumbling. However, try to make it a shared experience where possible and include your child in conversation; after all, they’re there because you want them to be, not under duress.

ג€¢ Reason. Don’t take your kids out when they’re likely to be overtired or irritable. Just don’t. It’s not worth it!

ג€¢ Flexibility. Try to build in the ability to change your plans at the last minute. Kids are notoriously unpredictable, so always think ahead to what could go wrong (for example little Katy could upturn her entire dinner over her new jumper) and plan accordingly (bring a spare change of clothes).

Providing you plan ahead and accept the unarguable fact that dining out with small children is never going to be as straightforward an affair as it is for adults, dinnertimes need not be a drama for your family.

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