Thursday, February 11, 2010

Family Restaurant Practice

Some of you may be lucky enough to have children who were perfect restaurant diners from birth, but my two are . . .let's just say if you took a dozen Rhesus monkeys, hopped them up on a case of Red Bull and put them in a burlap sack, the result would still would not be as squirmy as my children. They don't act up, exactly - there's no throwing food, crawling under tables, screaming, or anything, it's just stressful trying to keep them still and seated.

Most other parents I've talked to who have my type of active kiddo either (1) have resolved to just eat at home until they turn 6, or (2) force the issue and create misery all around. I don't like either of those options, because while I do want them to become accustomed to eating in nice sit-down restaurants (visions of elegant dinners with my two young daughters, dressed to the nines, clinking glasses of juice, other diners smiling in admiration at their poise and maturity . . .) I am not willing to ruin other diners' experiences or spend a bunch of $ on a meal I end up hating because I'm spending the whole time keeping them in their seats. And it's completely unfair to the kids, too.

Hence. . .Official Family Restaurant Practice. Aha! We've started doing this at, of all places, the IHOP. In particular, the one at Bee Cave and Mopac. Hear me out. Do I like menus with pictures of the food? No. I am not a big fan of the food at IHOP in general - it's just unimaginative and standard and corporate and all those things people who live in South Austin are supposed to disdain. However: they are lightening fast, cheap, and if you go at 5:00 on a weekday to the one I'm talking about, empty. I think it's empty because it doesn't get truckers and travelers - it's not adjacent to a La Quinta. Bee Cave and Mopac is an odd location for an IHOP. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I've ever seen one off of the highway before.

It's enough of a sit-down place that you can practice manners, but not much of an investment in time or money, and there will be no one there but a couple of tables of senior citizens to bother. We try to request tables a respectful distance away from those folks if they are available. We are very intentional about Restaurant Practice. We made a game out of it, and talked about . . . how to order, saying thank you to waitstaff, tipping, where the napkin goes, etc. I can't believe it took me this long to come up with this. The difference between being intentional about it and just practicing by going out to dinner with friends or on the fly is that when you give a name to something, ours take it seriously and enjoy it. And the food is all simple enough that they'll eat most anything on the menu.

School is closed tomorrow, so I think we'll try it out then. So stay out of the IHOP if you want peace and quiet tomorrow afternoon!


Maria Bergh said...

No one's gonna judge you if you like the IHOP. You don't have to come up with this "learning experience" excuse to get your Rooty Tooty Fresh & Fruity on!

Willa World said...

Willa is actually an enjoyable patient dinner companion when it's just the two of us at a table (and downright charming when Johnny takes her out to dinner.) Add another grown up and the squirms begin. Add another child and they're under the table, giggling, and oblivious to other people, much less restaurant etiquette before you can say, "You know what? Would you please go ahead and bring me two glasses of wine?"

I remember you telling me about a lovely lunch you and Emma had together at Mars and this was well over a year ago.

I agree that we want to teach them table manners and how to behave in public, but I also think it's important to remember how boring just sitting at a table and talking can be when you're a wee one. IHOP (and CM, P.Terry's, HomeSlice, Guerros) are all great family and friend restaurants. Maybe save the finer dining for when it's just the two of you, or a date between Emma and JP.

I am so glad you started this blog!

Laura said...

So true about that dynamic, Maya. We took Emma (alone) to New Orleans in December of 2008 when she was barely 3, and she ate at Galatoire's, Herbsaint, Irene's. . .and could not have been more perfect. We made this huge deal about "using your New Orleans Manners" and she was an angel. Now, off to IHOP! Where I darn well may have a Rooty Tooty.

Laura said...

Success! Tonight's IHOP Practice was great. And I remembered the other reason I like it - kids eat free from 4-8 p.m.