It doesn't have to be this way.

Growing up in a family of frequent-flyers, there was little dispensation for kid-friendly restaurants when we were traveling. My parents did not tolerate table-side nonsense, but that didn’t stop me from snatching the pepper shaker and snorting its contents at a Moroccan restaurant in Paris. I was an infant at the time, but it was decades before I would eat black pepper Boursin. 

Dinner drama inevitably befalls the best of parents, and even the most well-behaved children. It can be mortifying for the parents and unpleasant for fellow diners. As the mother of two boys—8 and 2—I’ve learned that preparation, common sense, and a little bit of human kindness go a long way.

Living in Houston affords us the chance to introduce a world of cuisine to our children and to establish public behavior expectations early. Parents, choose restaurants wisely. You don’t have to spend your children’s formative years relegated to Chuck E. Cheese, and family-friendly doesn’t necessarily mean you have to only dine near playground equipment.  I don’t recommend taking your toddler to Tony’s, and waiting for an hour to get into the latest trendy restaurant is borrowing trouble. Use common sense about when and where to take your kids for a meal. We like to avoid crowds and eat when the Luby’s crowd is out and about. If you see a lot of octogenarians and few cars in the parking lot, you’re doing it right.

SEE ALSOA Growing Family's Restaurant Guide, from Tots to Tweens

Don’t expect the restaurant to cater to your kids. Bring your own pre-dinner nibbles, lidded cups, and crayons. If a high chair isn’t available, most infant carriers will fit snugly in a booth. Our toddler gets squirmy quickly in a high chair, so we sandwich him in a booth until the food arrives.  Changing stations in restrooms are helpful, but I’m not opposed to dealing with diaper disasters from the front seat or back end of my car. At least I know where it’s been. Keep the kids at the table, or walk them around the outside of the dining area. Nothing draws the ire of fellow diners like unsupervised kids on the loose. Know your child’s temperament and warning signs. But just because your child was an angel the last few nights out doesn’t mean they won’t be a holy terror the next time.

Above all, have a little self awareness, and take quick, decisive action if your kids are disturbing others. Nobody should have to tell you to control your child, but if they do, it’s not the best time to get defensive or pick a fight.

The author's son, Nico, entertaining himself at La Hacienda.

Everyone deserves to have a relaxing restaurant experience especially when you pay top dollar for a meal, but we can't remove every disruptive element in public. You can’t control the behavior of others, but you can control how you react.  If you allow a momentarily unruly child to ruin your whole night, that’s on you. Kids and parents aren’t the enemy.  I've also had meals interrupted by obnoxious, loud, drunk, and even lecherous adults.

Those who aren't parents can do their part to help out too. Don’t assume that every child who has a public meltdown is a brat, or that their parent is negligent. Maybe that child has a disability, and maybe it’s the first time that family has attempted a night out in ages. You don’t know their story, so don’t rush to judgment. We just need to remember that being in public means that we are stepping outside our own personal bubble of comfort, and that—as in the rest of our interactions with others—it can't hurt to have a little consideration and a lot of tolerance.

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