You've come to the restaurant to enjoy a pleasant meal outside the confines of your own kitchen. But the experience is marred by the table of what you can only describe as wild animals, recently escaped from a nearby zoo. The children grab food with their hands, leave their chairs repeatedly, bicker, spill, and -- well, you can't even bear to watch anymore.
And these are your children!
We've all been there, stuck in a very public place, watching in horror as our kids go crazy for everyone to see -- and criticize. But you can actually have an enjoyable restaurant experience with your kids, if you do just a little advance planning.
Insist on good manners at home.
You can't expect kids to differentiate between situations the way adults do. So if dinner is a free-for-all at home, that's what they'll expect -- and do -- when you eat out. Teach kids to sit at the table, use indoor voices, and follow other basic rules.
Of course, you also need to bear in mind that kids are not small adults -- they're kids. So they're not going to sit quietly through a seven-course banquet. Set reasonable expectations for mealtime behavior -- but be firm about those expectations.
Set yourself up for success.
In general, this is a cornerstone of good parenting. Don't take your toddlers to the kind of restaurant where meals take hours and a dropped fork brings a glare from other patrons. Don't expect them to feel at home with ethnic food they've never experienced if they won't eat anything more exciting than PB&J at home.
Choose a family friendly restaurant with a decent selection of kids' meals. And here's a tip learned from a mom of 10 children: discuss choices with your kids before you leave the house and call in their orders. That way, when you walk in and sit down, their food will be ready in moments, and they can dig in. If you and your spouse can also pre-order, even better. You can have a restaurant experience and be out the door before the meltdowns begin.
Bring along a coloring book and some crayons to keep kids occupied at the table. Do not make the mistake of bringing a bagful of toys and games, though -- things will be thrown, lost, or soiled in moments.
Eat at off times.
Don't walk into the dinner rush with your easily over stimulated child. Aim for quieter times when you'll have a little more room and a little less pressure. A weekend brunch or a late lunch can be a better restaurant experience than an end-of-the day dinner when kids are bound to be tired and cranky.
Reward your server.
If your pre-ordered meals are ready when you arrive and your server helps make your experience as pleasant as possible, thank him or her and tip generously. If, despite everyone's best efforts, your kids aren't cooperating, it's not the waiter's fault. Apologize sincerely, thank him or her, and tip generously.
Eating out with kids can be a great experience. You'll get better with practice, and before long you'll find yourself beaming when someone complements you on your well-behaved children.
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