One of the more harrowing experiences for parents with young children is going out for dinner. There is also no better way to get your fellow patrons attention than walking into a restaurant with three children under the ages of four. Indeed, our family’s entrance, depending on the restaurant and time of day, can be a real attention grabber and usually goes one of two ways. Fellow patrons either give you the “we’ve been there before” look or they give you the “My Gaaawwwd, for the love of humanity, I’ve seen enough already, you two are horrible parents” look. The latter look is the same look one would get if you gave your child a cigarette in public. For the most part people are cool but on occasion you do run into those other folks.
Like most things involving your children and spouse there is a process and system to follow. One never deviates from the plan even if one isn’t fully informed as to what the plan actually is. That is at least one thing that ten years of marriage has taught me. The restaurant plan therefore was never discussed beforehand, rather it just appeared organically and naturally through trial and error over the course of numerous dining experiences. The first order of business once seated is a drink for both parents. Actually the first order of business is sizing up your server. Within five seconds any half competent parent can figure out if their server will be able to handle the unique demands that will be thrown their way over the next hour or so. Once seated I immediately ask myself whether our server will be able to deal with the F5 tornado that will surely touch down in their section very soon. Upon analyzing the server we apologize ahead of time for the impending debacle and explain to them that they will surely earn their tip, then of course order drinks and begin the process of ordering food.
Now this is where it gets tricky. For my children it usually is a steady dose of mac & cheese and chicken fingers. That order almost immediately goes in but here’s the deal too. . .we always tell our server that we, the adults will order once they come back with our drinks and to bring out all the food all at once, even though we ordered our children’s meals a bit earlier. And this is done for a couple of reasons.
Could we have ordered the kids meals after drinks are served when we order our adult meals? Of course. But by ordering their meals first we now can encourage and leverage a little bit better proper restaurant behavior. Also too, my kids get the same thing no matter where we go pretty much. Therefore, by ordering first they can see we have ordered for them and like I said we can buy a little time regarding their inevitable antsiness.
So hopefully by the time our drinks come we have been able to look at the menu and place our food orders. The food comes, hopefully all at once. It is hell on wheels if it comes out piece meal (no pun intended). There is nothing worse than having your kid’s meals come out first. It guarantees that they will finish early, which means your meal will be severely strained and interrupted. I never quite get when servers say “do you want the kid’s meals first?”
“No. We don’t.”
Once children finish their meal it is game over. The restaurant all of sudden becomes this awesome playground to explore. We eat dinner at home together, we eat dinner in a restaurant together. This is why too, once our food has arrived I almost always ask for the check right then and there. You ever try tracking down a server to pay a bill with three little kids? It’s a disaster. To avoid all of this, once food arrives payment occurs.
Like clockwork within a few minutes of sitting at the table a number of things happen in any particular order. The tornado funnel begins to form and take shape. Fighting happens regarding crayons and colors. A drink is spilled. Or multiple drinks are spilled. In fact I have gotten to the point where I think it is a sign of bad luck if a drink isn’t spilled. Someone has to go to the bathroom. Once they are escorted to the bathroom and return to the table the other one has to go to the bathroom. And then God help you when they decide to go “rabbit.” Rabbit means run. I have had the privilege on a number of occasions of having two of my children go rabbit in a restaurant. These episodes were coordinated, deliberate, well timed and planned out. One goes one way, the other goes the other way, cackling and giggling ensue in both directions. Little bastards.
So the dining experience with children is just that, an experience. . . and will be for the foreseeable future.