Dining Etiquette for Kids: 11 Tips



Hello!  My name is Rosey, and I’m the restaurant reviewer for our sister magazine, Forsyth Woman.  After over twelve years of restaurant reviewing, I’ve developed some pretty strong opinions about etiquette in restaurants.  The truth is, good manners never go out of style, whether you’re dining at home or in a restaurant.  So much of our time as a family is spent around a dining room table, sharing a meal, that the value and importance of table manners cannot be overestimated.

  1. Come to the table with clean faces and hands. Children are notorious for being messy and sticky. But at the dining table—whether at home or in a restaurant—they should understand the importance of arriving for the meal with clean hands and a clean face.  It’s understandable that young children, especially, will get food on their hands and face during the meal, but let’s agree to start off with a clean slate.
  2. Napkins go in the lap. Dining 101 tells us that napkins go in our laps; not on our heads.  Wiggling children do have a bit of a hard time keeping said napkins on their laps, so emphasis should also be placed on the need to keep a clean napkin, versus using one that keeps dropping on the floor.
  3. Inside voices at the table. We all know children can be loud when they are excited or upset.  And when it comes to being at a restaurant or seated at the family dining room table, they should definitely be well acquainted with their inside voices, as well as waiting for someone to stop talking before interrupting.
  4. Elbows off the table. And all other body parts, including feet.
  5. Wait for everyone to be served before you begin eating. It’s easy to say, “Don’t make the kids wait,” but this is a courtesy to your dinner mates.  Besides, it’s awkward to be the last one eating when everyone else is finished. And anyone with children knows that you don’t want an idle and bored toddler while you’re trying to finish your own meal!  Teaching them to wait also helps them pace themselves with others at the table.
  6. Don’t talk with food in your mouth.Encourage children to chew their food thoroughly and swallow before speaking. It’s not just about manners; it also is about safety!  We don’t want any choking accidents!
  7. Ask, don’t reach. Children should always ask for someone to hand them what they need, rather than reaching over others to get it.  And eating off others’ plates should be discouraged.  Share fries by placing a few on their plate rather than letting them reach over to yours.
  8. No double-dipping. In the event of a shared appetizer, make sure little ones understand that double dipping is a no-no.  Even if it’s just the family at the table, teach them this, so they know it’s not acceptable when they are dining with non-family-members.
  9. Our utensils aren’t toys. Another safety matter—knives, forks, and spoons seem innocuous enough, but handled recklessly, they can cause injuries.  Make sure your children know that there’s a time and a place to play with wands, swords, and lightsabers.  The dinner table isn’t that time or place.
  10. The floor of a restaurant isn’t a playground. This is perhaps my biggest pet peeve. It’s not only unsanitary, but also a huge safety hazard for servers who are trying to carry trays of hot food and drinks from table to table.  Understanding the need to help children stay focused and entertained, keep the entertainment on top of the table, not underneath.
  11. Please, Thank You, and Other Manners. “Please,” “Thank you,” and offering to help clean up are common manners that should be observed. Everyone should pitch in to help take the dirty dishes back to the kitchen.

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