The meal begins innocently enough, but hissed parental threats provoke howls of childish protest before the server has a chance to ask 'How is everything tonight?'
Dessert? Out of the question.
A 2003 survey conducted to find out more about kids' attitudes to eating out revealed that nearly 90 percent of families with children dine in restaurants at least once a month and 44 percent try their luck on a weekly basis. Then why does the whole process continue to seem so complicated? Some smart choices, reinforcing good manners and maintaining realistic expectations will help make these family forays satisfying experiences for everyone involved.
'It's not that people aren't interested in etiquette,' says Susan Marino of The Etiquette Center, 'but it takes time to model it.' Marino notes that families dining out face a disconnect between the lax habits of home and the higher standards parents have for public behavior.
The bottom line: If children aren't taught at home through example and practice how to wield silverware, handle a napkin, or make polite conversation, you can't expect them to wow the outside world with their impeccable table manners. 'When children can use utensils, it's time to start teaching etiquette. The sooner, the better,' Marino says.
In fact, Marino has encountered 11-year-olds who weren't sure how to use a knife. In her etiquette classes for children, Marino starts by teaching kids how to set the table. She then introduces practice food, runs through proper utensil technique and tells kids 'all about the napkin.'
Fearing my own napkin skills had lost their starch, I asked Marino for a refresher course: 'Well, the napkin goes on the left, with the open edge on the left. A child should learn to open it and put it in his lap without losing or playing with it. After the meal, the child should wipe his face and set the napkin, unfolded, to the left.' Some of Marino's classes culminate with a trip to a restaurant.
'Make a nice meal out a reward for practice and improvement at home,' she suggests. 'Preparation is the key.'
Prepared parents also bring several other dining strategies to the table. Some opt for booths to shield fellow diners from mayhem. Others seek outdoor seating or request a spot where they are less likely to disturb other guests. Wherever the family winds up, Marino recommends holding kids to one rule above all others: Stay seated. Should collisions with free-range children occur, servers risk spilling the contents of their trays.
Most children find it difficult to resist the charms of small, cleverly packaged objects like butter pats, jelly squares and mustard, ketchup and sugar packets. Etiquette experts are unanimous on this point: Don't let them go there. Marino says it is perfectly acceptable to occupy the youngest kids with your own bag of tricks, as long as noisemakers and other sound effects stay at home. When harmony and order reign over your table, fellow diners won't begrudge your children a few books or quiet toys.
There are other distractions you can use to your advantage. Take the potent novelty of a kiddie cocktail, for example. If it comes with several cherries and narrow straw (for slow-paced sipping), you can usually buy a couple of minutes of delighted compliance ' before the sugar rush hits, that is.
Admittedly, treating children to fancy soft drinks is the first step down a slippery slope ' it's just a matter of time before maraschino cherries take over your fridge or your child starts requesting orange juice in a wine glass before you've had your first cup of coffee.
Many restaurants offer crayons and paper, but a few go to greater lengths to capture the imaginations of their youngest guests. Catie Tollefson is a firm believer in keeping children occupied at all times. She works at Ella's Deli, where a dizzying collection of mechanical objects clicks, clacks and spins across the walls and ceiling. Even the tables come equipped with buttons that make things go.
Another strategy ' make it quick. Ten minutes feels like an eternity to a toddler, so the time it takes to get food to the table is important. Red Robin tries to pare order-to-table time down to just eight minutes. A strategy you can adopt at any restaurant is tightening the timeline of your meal by dining out early in the week or by arriving early in the evening, before the kitchen gets slammed.
When my friend, a coffee shop proprietor and fellow parent, heard that I was writing about dining with kids in Madison, he looked stricken. 'Please,' he begged, 'whatever you do, don't mention my shop.'
Too bad ' once you brush aside the scone crumbs and over-the-laptop glares of the creative class, coffee shops make ideal stops for families. Counter service ensures that you can sit down to lunch or a snack in a matter of minutes. Plus, you've already settled the tab, so there's nothing to stop you from sailing out the door as soon as the wind changes.
Other family favorites require more commitment than coffee shops, but you can pay any of them a visit without spoiling someone's big-ticket, child-free dinner date. (That said, do tip generously.)
These days, Roman Candle tops my family's short list. Our four-year-old adores the little serving tables that fold down from the wall, but she really flips for the pepperoni pizza with a blue moon ice cream chaser. On our most recent visit, the timely delivery of a small Lego box kept her occupied while my husband and I sipped wine and savored a few minutes of uninterrupted conversation.
Families with a taste for adventure and healthy fare will enjoy The Dardanelles, where children are made to feel most welcome. As soon as we sat down, our waiter presented my daughter with a small teapot of fruit punch. Delighted, she dubbed the treat 'princess juice' and spent the next ten minutes daintily (and very quietly) pouring herself mug after miniature mug. Fresh vegetables play an important role in this restaurant's flavorful Mediterrean dishes, but the kitchen will gladly accommodate less-developed palates with simple meals of parmesan noodles or shish kebab.
If it's Friday, it's fish fry for many families across Wisconsin. Irish Waters scores with crisply battered fish and reasonably priced kids' meals. Bonus point: The wait for a table is rarely as taxing as it can be at other Madison-area fish fries.
Benvenuto's dishes up a crowd-pleasing menu of Italian comfort food. Portions are generous, so you may not need to tap into the children's options at all if you ask for an extra plate. Well-spaced tables and crayons for the kids mitigate your family's impact on the rest of the dining room.
Believe it or not, children hunger for family traditions and generally behave best when they know what to expect. When you find a place that everyone in the family enjoys, stick with it ' there are benefits to becoming regulars. A warm welcome from a restaurant's owner or waitstaff adds a special dimension to family meals away from home.
The Etiquette Center, theetiquettecenter.com, 800-647-4086
Benvenuto's, benvenutos.com, 1849 Northport Dr., 241-1144, 2949 Triverton Pike Dr., 278-7800
Ella's Deli, ellas-deli.com, 2902 E. Washington Ave., 241-5291
Roman Candle, theromancandle.com, 1054 Williamson St., 258-2000
The Dardanelles, thedardanellesrestaurant.com, 1851 Monroe St., 256-8804
Irish Waters, foodspot.com/irishwaters, 702 N. Whitney Way, 233-3398
Red Robin, redrobin.com, 2440 East Springs Dr., 301-0435, 522 Monona Dr.comments powered by Disqus
I think the first time in recent years that I've felt a real sense of shame, as both a parent and community member, was last Tuesday evening as I sat in a crowded elementary school LMC to listen to Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and his colleague, Torry Wynn, present key findings from the 2013 Race to Equity report to our PTO group.
It's Wednesday morning at Allis Elementary School on Madison's east side, and 16 third-graders " 10 boys and six girls " enter into an open-space classroom in typical wiggly, giggly style. Some are making goofy faces at one another, some are bouncing around hand-in-hand with friends, and others are just trying to stay out of the whirling-dervish path of activity.
Of the 789 poorly-composed, way-too-dark and out-of-focus photos currently living on my iPhone, I can count on two hands the number that show my kids and me together. And my husband is in probably no more than three or four of those.
Something kind of magical has happened these past two weeks during the Sochi Olympics. There is no question, debate or disagreement on what will be watched on television once all homework is done. Everyone in the family makes time to sit down together to watch an hour of so of the primetime televised games.
Truth be told, though, this month I'm feeling a bit cinematically fried. In some ways, I already feel like I've spent the last week or so at a film festival. A festival specializing in minute-long glimpses of ordinary lives all ending with credits that feature the ubiquitous blue thumbs-up. Yes, it's been the February of the Facebook movie.
Just last week, on precisely the same day the Momastery post was getting over a million well-deserved views, Madison mom Suzanne Buchko was telling a similar story. Not on a blog but instead in the confines of the modestly circulated Franklin-Randall Elementary School weekly newsletter.
Late last month, the Madison Metropolitan School District adopted a five-year, $27.7 million technology plan calling for all district students, including those in the primary grades, to have significantly increased access to their very own tablet or notebook computer by 2019. Some parents, as well as education professionals, questioned whether elementary-aged kids, especially kindergarteners who aren't even able to read or write yet, will gain much benefit from introducing yet another screen into their lives.
This past Monday, had winter's unrelenting weather allowed, Middleton Cross Plains School District teacher Andrew Harris would have once again been at the helm of a classroom. After nearly four years of fighting his dismissal from Glacier Creek Middle School for viewing and passing on sexually explicit material on district computers, MCPSD has been legally forced to reinstate Herris, this time as a seventh-grade science teacher at Kromrey Middle School.
In a study published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics have found that the 16 and Pregnant series may have played a significant role in the recent decrease in U.S. teen pregnancies.
In our house, sad but true, we've rarely spent the Martin Luther King holiday discussing race, social justice or the power of non-violent civil disobedience. Instead, the third Monday in January has historically been treated as just another day off school, just another long weekend. And it's been a missed opportunity.
It's not something that happens very often, but last Friday, as news of the impending arctic cold snap reached our house, my kids were rooting for Governor Scott Walker. They were rooting for him to take Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton's lead and cancel school throughout the state. They couldn't care less if he had the authority to do such a thing -- if he called off school, he'd be their hero.
Late last semester, as students were packing up their backpacks one final time before winter break, Middleton High School principal Denise Herrmann and assistant principal Lisa Jondle were co-authoring a note home to parents informing them of a widespread cheating scandal involving nearly 250 calculus students at the school.
Breathe in, breathe out. Have you ever been in the heat of a parenting moment with these words ringing through your head? Then you're on the right path toward mindful parenting.
The week between Christmas and New Year's is famous for all sorts of things. Malls are packed with folks exchanging those holiday sweaters that don't fit just right. It's the week those same folks pledge to never again eat another frosted sugar cookie or candy cane (hence the sweater issues). It's also the week the media saturates the public with dozens of "Best of Year" lists.
This will not (although it could) be a treatise on the value of "alone time" for a healthy marriage, though. Nor will it be an ode to how nice it was for me to have a few days off from lunch-packing, carpool-driving and homework-nagging.
For those of you who haven't yet seen it, the eight-week-long transit campaign, placed both inside and on the outside of buses, features a photo of an orange tabby with a stainless steel bar drilled into its head accompanied by the line "I am not lab equipment. End UW cat experiments!" Just as PETA hopes, the image is shocking and demands an immediate response.
If I had my druthers, I'd sit out the entire shopping week that follows Thanksgiving. Black Friday, for starters, has corrupted the fine art of bargain shopping and turned it into a gladiator sport. There is no percentage off that is worth losing sleep, or even worse an eye, over. Especially if you have kids in tow.
When you shop for toys, there is always the conflict between what you think is appropriate/adorable and what the child being shopped for might actually want/play with.
Many of the pop-culture seasonal touchpoints of my youth are completely lost on my kids. You see, while I may have memorized every word to both the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser's songs from The Year Without a Santa Claus, I'm pretty sure the only Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas special my kids have ever seen has been Rudolph.
I am so thrilled that the United Way is sponsoring a Teen Gift Drive this holiday season. Sure, teen "wants" often aren't as fun to shop for as precious baby dolls and sweet Lego sets. But middle and high school kids still "need" to feel valued and loved during this time of year. And helping a family in need to provide this for their child is a wonderful way to get in the spirit.