We are a family that dines out. A lot. At a week old, we took CJ out to his first restaurant. He’s now three and one would imagine he’s had plenty of practice honing his dining etiquette but let me tell you, the struggle is STILL real!
Sidenote: if you live or are visiting Toronto, check out my restaurant guide for families.
In our most recent vacation to Spain, we didn’t bother cooking in the tiny European kitchens so for 17 days, we ate at restaurants. That is 34 meals with a super rambunctious toddler. Yikes!
So how did we pull it off with just a few stained shirts?!?!
Well it definitely took more than a dozen trinkets to keep him entertained. And we obviously couldn’t keep offering his favourite foods — corn on the cob and chocolate cake!
Early in the trip CJ kept asking us why the waiter didn’t bring his ‘sert’ (that’s what he calls dessert). After several attempts of explaining that the ‘sert’ is the last course, and a round of endless ‘whys’ (yes, we are in that phase)… we took the opportunity to gamify the situation.
Each time the waiter walked by, we would say something like ‘oh he’s coming this way to see if your plate is cleared’… this prompted him to quickly eat his salad but then the veggie burger came and he got distracted with playing with the bun.
Since there was other patrons, it was easy to show him examples. ‘Look that lady finished her pasta so now she gets a big ice cream’ or ‘see that man with his half eaten soup? That’s what happens, the waiter walked right by and he didn’t get any sert!’
If the waiter did appear with a dessert, we would say ‘there he is, let’s see if you are the lucky one to get it’. And when he walked right by our table, we said ‘oh bummer, guess he doesn’t think you ate enough’ <– this got CJ really excited and he finishes his meal and was rewarded with chocolate cake.
The key is to have fun with it and get really creative involving the staff and customers (discreetly of course). Since our waiter had no clue that we were basically scheming to get our child to eat, it made everything that much more hilarious for hubby + I. And of course, it got CJ staying focused on his food.
We’ve been playing our dining game for two months now and it’s still working! Give it a try the next time you are at a restaurant and let me know how it goes.