7 Things Toddlers Should Never Be Allowed to Do at Restaurants

toddler eating at a restaurant

As a mom who can't cook, I often find myself in the unfortunate position of eating out with my toddler. If you're a parent with a toddler and want to avoid dirty looks when you eat out, keep in mind that there are certain things toddlers should not do in a restaurant, like the following from experts, parents, and yours truly.


I typically creep into the restaurant and give our server a sheepish, apologetic smile ... then pray my daughter will remain well behaved enough that I won't have to grab doggy bags halfway through and run. Because in my mind, restaurants are establishments where kids should be held up to certain standards to avoid annoying other guests or the staff.

Here are the things your toddler should never, ever, do in a restaurant:

toddler restaurant etiquette manners rules

1. Run around. "No child should ever be allowed to have full reign of a restaurant and run around during mealtime -- not only because it's dangerous, but because it's disrespectful," says Emma Jenner, author of Keep Calm and Parent On: A Guilt-Free Approach to Raising Children. Think about it: Waiters are often carrying heavy, hot trays and plates. With a kid underfoot, they might trip, endangering all involved.

2. Distract other guests. Sure, while you might think it's cute that Junior's trying to play peekaboo with the people at the next table over, not everyone will share your enthusiasm. This is particularly important to keep in mind if you're in a booth. As one restaurant guest confessed: "One 3-ish kid in the booth behind us kept throwing herself into the seat, so it shook ours every time she did it. Then she proceeded to tear up her napkin and throw it over the booth, landing all over us. I turned around and nicely asked the parents to have her stop. They apologized and told her if she didn't behave, she wouldn't get dessert. Long story short, the behavior never stopped ... and guess who got ice cream?"

3. Throw a tantrum to get what they want. "A particular challenge with bad public behavior is that parents are so desperate to prevent a scene that they will do anything to prevent it," says Jenner. "Children know this. If your son wants a chocolate pudding, he'll wait until you're at a restaurant to ask, knowing you'll be more apt to give it to him in order to prevent a scene." Don't let your children's meltdowns handicap you: If your child is misbehaving, say, "We're at a restaurant and you need to find your manners and sit nicely. If you can't, then we're going home." If they don't make the change, it's time to pack up and leave. The next time you go to a restaurant, remind them of what happened the last time and lay out your expectations before you even leave the house.

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4. Leave a food mess in their wake. It's a fact: Toddlers are messy eaters. Drinks spill; food drops (or gets thrown) to the floor. But that doesn't mean the wait staff should suffer the consequences. Instead, parents should try their best to clean up a bit. You don't have to break out a mop, but you can at least pick up those stray bits of food so that your area doesn't look like a disaster zone when you leave.

5. Have their diaper changed within eyesight of others. Sorry, but people are eating here. Take diaper changes into the bathroom where they belong.

6. Turn condiments or other tabletop items into toys. Bring toys, if you must, to keep your little tyke occupied. Don't let them create "snow" on your table with the salt shaker, or build pyramids with the creamers. As another restaurant guest recalls, "I was eating at a restaurant and saw a kid at the next table put the Tabasco sauce and other condiments on the table in her mouth repeatedly. And, yes, the parents saw too and did nothing. Ick."

7. Arrive around naptime or bedtime. Much of the aforementioned toddler snafus happen purely due to poor timing: Parents take their kids out right before naptime or bedtime. Those are exactly the times to avoid -- instead, consider right after a nap or well before bedtime so that your kid isn't sleepy, cranky, and primed to make trouble.

What are some things you think toddlers shouldn't do in a restaurant?

Images ©iStock.com/TerryJ and ©iStock.com/ArtisticCaptures  

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