To say that I am passionate about managing children properly in a restaurant is an understatement. You see, I have been on both sides of the table—I've been the patron who arrives with young twins as well as the server who takes the order. So I know what works, what doesn't work, and what is sure to turn a nice meal out into a complete fiasco.
Prior to motherhood, I had managed, bartended at, and waited tables in restaurants off and on since I was 15 years old. My first job as a sophomore in high school was at a local McDonald's. I later worked in beach seafood restaurants, college bars, and the best steakhouse in town. And I will tell you that, for a server, there is no greater fear than that of the unknown quantity of a child—more specifically, a toddler or infant who is the "plus a highchair" at the table. (Except maybe the unknown quantity of two children.) You truly never know what you are going to get.
Over the years, I have witnessed it all. On one end of the spectrum, you have borderline neglectful parents who bring their 3-year-old child into a top-rated steakhouse at 9:00 p.m. in his pajamas, completely overtired and therefore bouncing off the walls while they enjoy a nice cabernet. On the other end of the spectrum, there are moms and dads who are apologetic from the moment they arrive, gracious to the point that no matter what happens you shrug your shoulders and hope their kindness translates into the tip (sorry, but verbal tips do not pay the bills).
Because of my experience in the restaurant industry, I am adamant that my twins always act appropriately when we are eating out. I will literally leave mid-meal if I feel that things are about to reach "meltdown" status. I refuse to be That Mom. Absolutely refuse. And furthermore, I want my children to, in restaurant industry speak, "have respect for the house" and always respect the environment that is feeding them. Eating out is a privilege people often take for granted.
So, here are my tips on how to successfully take your twins out to eat and live to tell the tale:
- Always dine based around when the twins eat. You should plan on arriving at the restaurant at least 10 to 15 minutes prior to the normal time you would feed your twins dinner. This allows for unexpected time spent waiting for a table or finding parking. You never want to enter a restaurant with two starving babies. Ever.
- Start venturing out in the first few months. For the first year of our twins' lives, my husband and I took the babies out every Sunday to a restaurant. Whether you go to Chicken Out or a nice little bistro, getting the twins out helps them to become comfortable dining in new environments.
- Treat the meal as an experience. Communicate to your twins that it is special and a big deal that the family is dining out. Even at a very early age, they will sense your happiness and appreciation and will feed off of it. Again, eating out should be viewed as a privilege, always.
- Pace the meal. Pacing is a term often used in the restaurant industry. The goal is to time things to maximize the customer experience—as a server, you never want entrees coming out a few seconds after you have delivered the appetizer. Use the same principle when managing your twins' meals out. Pace their meal from the moment you are seated. Have snacks prepared, and immediately determine what the twins will be eating from the menu. When the waiter arrives for initial introductions, ask for a glass or two of milk or water to pour into the sippy cups/bottles you have brought along, then place your drink order and the twins' food order. Their food should arrive with any appetizers. They will take longer than you to eat, and once they are full will be happy to people watch. When the drinks are delivered to the table, you should be ready to order your entrees. This helps ensure good pacing during the course of your meal.
- Ask for the check early. This is a simple pre-emptive move. Ask for the check when your entrees arrive. If the twins are doing great when the waiter brings it out, you can order dessert without an issue. But if things go south, you can quickly pay the bill and exit the restaurant prior to any major disruptions.
- Be gracious, and tip accordingly. Saying please and thank you makes a world of difference and will absolutely get you better service. And when tipping, be mindful of your overall experience, what you are leaving behind—including the mess on the floor under the twins and on the table—and how many items you had to box up because things were touch-and-go.
- Lastly, enjoy it. Have fun! And remember that dining out is a wonderful experience to share as a family!
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