Taking your children out to lunch or dinner can be about as pleasant as a dog poo sandwich. It can be done though; I’ve done it and I’ve seen other people do it. Though to be sure in my own experiences there was a fair bit of trial and error before I hit upon the recipe for eating out with my children in a pleasant manner; though even then we often leave the establishment impotently vowing “Never Again” , just like you do after too many chardys at dinner, only to turn to your featherweight friend, sav blanc, a few short days later.
Here’s what I’ve learnt in the art of getting the following equation right: Restaurants + Children = Good Times.
1. Prime your children. I find the best way to do this is in the car on the way where I put the fear of God and restricted Ipad access into them in return for unruly behaviour at the restaurant. You can temper this with mention of a bribe, I mean reward, for quiet and calm behaviour, such as dessert or a play on whatever device you’ve brought along.
2. Choose a ‘child friendly’ (*see note) restaurant and position yourself in an open area near the toys/playground. Yes, it’s kind of like dining at home except there’s different décor but hopefully another parent failing to control their kids will be there so you can a) feel better about your own dodgy parenting or b) look on with sympathy and feel grateful it’s not you… this time.
3. Try and engage in dinner conversation with your children. This is only for hardened parents who aren’t afraid to stare Frustration in the face and say “Hello old friend.”
4. Be prepared with LOTS of distractional activities. Colouring-in books, small toys, books, tablets/Ipads and the like. In the interests of feeling a bit smug about your awesome parenting, try the non-electrical activities first, but feel free to bring out those devices the minute a) the kids even look like they might become unruly b) your meal turns up or c) the wine arrives.
Crisis averted with timely use of cartoons loaded onto a phone.
5. Contrary to popular belief, red lemonade shouldn’t really be a part of any meal, especially one in an enclosed space with lots of other people trying to enjoy their meal. The only time this is appropriate is when you’re about to throw your kids into a fenced play area.
6. It’s not cool to let your children run around a café or restaurant. Never ever. Ever. It’s annoying for everyone. Unless of course you’re at McDonald’s in which case go nuts. Anyone ‘dining’ at a fast food outlet has missed the point of the exercise and should be encouraged to move along by your ratty children as quickly as possible.
7. Go early before anyone else turns up at the restaurant to witness it all going pear shaped. For example when you’re dragging your children from out underneath their ‘cubby’ by their feet, two tables over from you.
8. If going with your partner or friends, organise yourselves into 15 minute supervisory time slots. You’ll get at least 15 minutes of sit down wine time before you don your battle gear and wage war with constant interruptions.
Success with one sleeping in the pram and the other on Youtube. Time to drink seriously for 15 minutes.
9. Oh, did you think you would actually have a meaningful conversation with your partner at this meal? Ha ha ha! Good one!
NB: Restaurants and cafes are NEVER ‘child friendly’ as we the parents understand the term. It doesn’t matter what they’ve got on their kids menu, the quality of the pencils in their up-cycled colouring-in tins or the whiz bang attraction of their attached playground. The truth is these things are provided for two reasons: a) So you the parental punter believes your children are welcome (which they’re not) and thus spend loads of money on food you could probably make better at home and b) To try and contain your children in some kind of quiet activity (eating, colouring-in or away from everybody else in a playground). It’s admirable, but really if adults were the only people to ever grace their doors, then restaurateurs and café owners would rejoice and declare it Easy Waitering Day. On one hand it’s a health and safety thing, what with hot food and drinks, sharp utensils and breakables everywhere. On the other side, kids are a pain. They make noise, mess and confusion and no waiter needs to deal with that and parents operating on a half functioning neurological system thanks to years of sleep deprivation.