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
If you're like me, looking around your house in the weeks before Christmas will probably have you convinced that the last thing your kids need to find underneath the tree is a pile of new toys.
I spend a lot of time talking to my kids about how lucky we are to have what we have. Though our house is tiny and our van is unequipped with automatic doors, we have all we could ever need, and a lot of what we want.
On the evening of Nov. 6, a throng of people gathered at Monona Terrace. They were there to attend an impressive anniversary shindig, but the real buzz of excitement centered on the event's guest of honor.
You may call them "play dates," but I like the term "mom dates," especially since my kids are still too young to really care that there's another small person to squabble over toys with.
If there is an excuse for not working out and eating healthy, I have used it: I don't have time. I'm too tired. I'll start tomorrow. I'm no good at this, I give up. I don't know where to start. Yes, I have used all of these and more.
At almost a year old, my kids are in the blissful stage of life where they'll eat nearly anything that I put in front of them (at least as long as it doesn't require much in the way of molar action).
My family recently went through something that we have not experienced in over eight years. We have become a household that no longer harbors a crib or a changing table.
"There really is no wrong way to do it." That's how Madeline, age 13, describes creating artwork. She and her classmates at Prairie View Middle School in Sun Prairie are honing their artistic skills by participating in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art's Art on Tour program.
I'm having trouble enjoying the season, because I can't keep myself from thinking about the miserable weather that's sure to be following close on the heels of the crisp, pleasant fall we've been having. I am not at all emotionally prepared to be the parent of two toddlers during a Wisconsin winter.
I've always been a supporter of companies that empower women and girls, and when the creator of such a company is a fellow Wisconsinite, I get even more excited. When Melissa Wardy of Janesville got fed up with stereotypes found in clothing for girls, she started her own company.
Do you have a little reader or an aspiring teenaged writer in your house? If so, you may want to venture to the Wisconsin Book Festival this weekend, to whet their appetite for wonderful words as well as your own.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I had two names picked out. Upon her arrival we had not yet come to a conclusion on what that name would be. Everyone told us that when we saw her we would just know. We didn't.
At age 10 months, my kids have seen the zoo a lot already. I was a zoology major in college, and I have something of a zoo addiction still, so the twins (and their dad) are more or less condemned to a future rife with zoo visits.
Home-schooling can be a lonely proposition. Even as a college professor, Juliana Hunt remembers struggling to find support to home-school her now-grown daughter. "I was always hoping to find like-minded people who were in the same position as me," she says. "I know that children learn best through a give-and-take, question-and-answer process of teaching and learning, but where do you find mentors who can make that happen?"
After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?
As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.
The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.
I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?
Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.
Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.