Raise Your Kid to Be a Great Restaurant Diner

Keep them seated, don't ask the server to babysit, and other advice from a longtime waiter.

A child holds a gourmet burger at a restaurant
Photo: Yiu Yu Hoi / Getty Images

Kids. Aren't they something? I absolutely love it when parents let their children run around a restaurant unsupervised, weaving in between the legs of servers who are carrying really heavy trays of really hot food. Oh, kids! There's a right way and a wrong way to dine out with children. The aforementioned behavior is definitely not the right way. While I don't have children of my own, I have been serving them for decades. The first kids who ever sat in my section back in the early '90s are now old enough to have children of their own who might grind Cheerios and Goldfish into the carpets of restaurants. It's this circle of life that has given me insight as to what it's like to dine out with kids and what should and should not happen from a server's point of view.

Do interpret for your child when they order.

If your two-year-old wants to order for themself, that's terrific! Just don't turn it into a game of Password and make your server figure out what they're trying to say. You know your child better than anyone and can easily decipher the mishmash of vowels and guttural consonants flowing from their mouths. Your server, not so much. If after two attempts, the order is still a mystery, congratulate the child on a job well done and then order the chicken fingers yourself.

We servers don't want to be the bad guy or the disciplinarian.

Don't make your server the bad guy.

We servers don't want to be the bad guy or the disciplinarian so please don't put us in that situation. If your child doesn't finish all the broccoli on their plate, we don't care, we honestly don't. So when a parent says, "You better eat all of your vegetables or the waiter is going to be mad at you," you're literally lying to your child. This unfortunate circumstance also happens when kids are crying or making a scene and parents will tell their child to behave before the server kicks them out of the restaurant. Another blatant lie. Good cop/bad cop may be an effective way for two parents to get what they want from a child, but we don't need that responsibly tossed upon us.

Do keep your child in their seat.

Unless you're at a restaurant that serves pizza and has a cheesy mouse named Chuck as a mascot, kids should probably stay seated at the table. This is easier said than done and I don't expect anyone to tie their offspring to a chair, but restaurants are not for wandering. More than once, I've seen a kid run through a restaurant only to plow into the corner of a table. When a grownup bumps into a table they might get a bruise on their upper leg, but think about the height of a three-year-old and where that bruise will end up. And when a server is delivering food through a crowded restaurant, the one thing you can be sure the server is not looking at is the floor to see if there's an errant child playing with toys. If you think it's bad stepping on a Lego at home, you should try it while carrying a tray full of Martinis. One star, do not recommend.

Servers aren't babysitters.

Do be prepared to distract them — quietly.

Fifteen minutes can seem like a lifetime to a kid who's waiting for food to come from the kitchen. Know what they want to eat and ask your server if it's possible to get their food out first. Like, order it when you sit down so it can come out as quickly as possible. That way, you can help them eat before your food arrives and then by the time your food is ready, you can focus on your own entrees. Coloring books, iPads, and cell phones are great distractions to keep the young ones occupied when they're not eating, but please turn off the volume and don't let them use crayons on anything other than what was meant to be colored upon. In other words, not the table, menu, or walls.

Don't ask a server to watch your child.

Servers aren't babysitters. If you need to run to the restroom or go outside to make a quick phone call, guess who gets to go with you: your child. It's astonishing how many parents are willing to ask a server to "keep an eye" on their children when they step away for a moment. We keep our eyes on coffee pots, the level of water in glasses, spotty silverware, and food orders. What we don't keep watch over is a child. If you don't trust a server to remember that you can't eat gluten and that you're deathly allergic to overcooked garlic, why would you trust us to take care of your baby?

Again, I don't have kids, but years of experience serving them in restaurants entitles me to an opinion. Waiting tables can be hard, but I can acquiesce that raising children might be even more challenging. Therefore, this advice should be taken with a grain of salt, even if that salt came from a shaker that was licked by a little girl when her parents weren't looking.

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