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Sooner or later, you’ll want to go out to eat and take the kids along. Probably you did this quite a bit when your first child was tiny… just a sleepy little bundle in a car seat. But now that your child – or children – is a bit older, and more opinionated, and more mobile, you might be wondering if you’re doomed to take-out forever.

There’s no magic formula for teaching restaurant manners and learning how to eat out courteously takes time to master. But there are steps along the way you can try. Here are 10.

1.   Choose your restaurant wisely. Aim for casual dining – even fast food – for first ventures out with children whose self-control is in doubt. You want a child-friendly menu, fast service, and forgiving fellow diners. It also helps if there’s plenty of space between tables.

2.  Choose a booth over a table. It’s easier to corral children in a booth and the high backs on booth benches shelter other diners from your kids’ noisiness.

3.  Bring along entertainment, in the form of books, small trucks, a stuffed animal or two, and whatever else seems reasonable. Don’t bring the entire toy box, however, since stuff will fall on the floor and need retrieval. Remember that you also are the entertainment. Play along, draw with your kids, play word games, and so on. This is not a quiet evening out for the adults, in case you hadn’t noticed.

4.  Bring along snacks. If your children are likely to be hungry and crabby before the food arrives, it helps to have some crackers or string cheese in your pocket. It’s also not a bad idea to feed your children something before leaving home. They’re not likely to eat much at the restaurant anyway.

5.  If your child is old enough to order on his own, let him do it. Ordering from the kids’ menu is sensible even if the choices aren’t 100% nutritious. The idea is to have happy children. Finger food is the way to go, if you can.

6.  This is not the time to crab about kids’ manners, yell about behavior or otherwise call attention to your family. Your kids are doing that just fine all on their own. Don’t add to the circus by acting like a child yourself.

7.  Make sure parents tag team the responsibilities. If you can, take along enough adults so there is one per child but, at the very least, take turns with your partner in cutting up food, feeding a child if necessary, taking kids to the restroom, and so on. It shouldn’t happen that one parent eats dinner while the other’s dinner goes cold. Work this out ahead of time.

8.  Leave when you need to. When the kids signal it’s time to leave, it’s probably time to ask for the check.

9.  Clean up your space as well as you reasonably can and leave a generous tip.

10.  Crazy as it might seem, go out again soon. Practice makes perfect!

As always, model good behavior and try to stay calm and cool. Smile. Laugh. These are what memories are made of.

My younger son nearly set a café’s curtains ablaze by sticking a sugar packet in the decorative candle until the packet caught fire. If your children don’t do worse than that, you’re doing fine!

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.