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How to Be a Better Diner, Part 4: Bring The Kids Early and Often

Welcome to our third guest blogger series written by Ella Lawrence, who works as both a freelance writer and a server at a popular restaurant in San Francisco. Lawrence has been published in Travel & Leisure, Time Out, and the San Francisco Chronicle and has her own blog, Restaurant Girl Speaks. Every Tuesday for six-weeks, she’ll be dishing out the tips on how to be a better diner, something about which she has a lot to say. Listen up.

Whether you’re an eye-rolling guest who wonders why parents can’t feed their rug-rats at home, or a harried mom trying to keep your kids entertained through a main course, everyone knows that dining out with children is hardly a breeze. I asked several co-workers who have children and work in restaurants for tips on how to take the kids to dinner and live to tell about it.

1. Go out early. Don’t make them wait until your 7:30 reservation. Kids are usually hungry as early as 5:30 when the restaurants aren’t full, which means that there are less people to bother and your waiter will be able to give you more attention.

2. Go out often. The more you dine out with your kids, the more they’ll be exposed to restaurants and learn how to behave.

3. Don’t linger. Ask your waiter to bring your dinners “as ready,” or in whatever order the kitchen prepares it. Recently a young couple with a charming two year old dined in my section. They warned me that their toddler was “a ticking time bomb” and asked me to box their dinners to go when they were a little more than halfway finished. I was so grateful (it meant I avoided having a screaming child in my section on a very busy night). And when your waiter remembers you fondly, it means you’re going to get special treatment the next time they wait on you (which this family is).

4. Bring stuff. A coloring book, a doll, a book to read, the DS, or maybe some fun applications or podcasts on your iPhone will buy extra time with the little one while the adults converse.

5. Call ahead. Ask the restaurant what kinds of foods might be kid-friendly so you’re not stuck ordering plain buttered noodles every time you go out.

6. Don't dine just anywhere. Select places that might not mind a little noise and a bustling environment and save fine dining for date night.

7. Tip accordingly. It’s not always easy to wait on a family, and the final bill for a family of four is about half as much as it would be for four adults.