How to encourage your child to behave well in restaurants

You might think, as my husband Giles [Coren, the restaurant critic] goes out a lot to eat, that Kitty is very good at sitting in restaurants – for some reason, restaurants suffer less from that ‘thing’ that puts children off other people’s houses (as I wrote about in my previous post). You’d be mostly right.

Here are my tips for getting children to behave well in restaurants:

1. Children don’t really differentiate between home and elsewhere until they are really quite old. If you allow them to fuck about at mealtimes at home, they will fuck about in a restaurant.

I’m not that bothered about what or how much Kitty eats (see above), but I am strict about throwing food, putting hands in food or water, playing with food generally, feet on the table, standing on chairs or other animalistic behaviour.

If she throws food (which she hasn’t done since she was tiny), the plate gets taken away. If she puts her feet on the table, I take her food away. If she stands on her chair, I take her food away. You get the picture.

Little things, I don’t mind: if she wants to stack up her chips on her plate, or take a bite of chicken and then put the chicken on the table rather than back on her plate – whatever. But basically good behaviour in a restaurant starts at home.

2. Don’t arrive with a really hungry child. Get there in good time to order and for food to arrive. Do not dither when you get there. Collar a waiter and say ‘We need some bread, stat’ or ‘We need to order for the kids in the next thirty seconds.’ If anyone looks at you like maybe you’re a bit neurotic, give them your iciest death stare and scream ‘AVADAKEDAVRA!’ at them in your head.

3. Do not expect too much from small children. You’ve basically got about 45 minutes, maximum. Bring a few things for them to do – colouring in, a story book or whatever. If you’re eating with other people who don’t have kids, warn them it’s going to be a swift one.

Make sure you and your husband are on the same page about how long you can expect to sit about swilling wine and gassing on. But in the end, if you hear faint alarm bells ringing and your kid looks like it’s about to throw an almighty tantrum and your husband looks like he’s digging in for the night, don’t be afraid to get your angry face out. After all, you’re the one in charge.

4. Don’t give up. If you have a couple of bad experiences, leave it for a few months and go back. Children are stupid and need to do things about a million times before they get used to it.

Needless to say, start small with a pizza joint or fish and chip shop before working your way up to Le Gavroche, and be sure to leave a big tip if you’ve left a shitty awful mess.

  • This extract is taken from Esther Walker’s new book Bad Mother. We’re going to be serialising it over the next few weeks but if you can’t wait for the next instalment, buy and download the whole book here

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