Teaching your child or teen how to dine instead of eat can be done!
It is much easier to begin when they're young instead of waiting until they're 13. You must accept the fact that the process of changing what has been acceptable behavior, will not be corrected in only one week or one fancy night out. Where do you begin?
Here are 12 possibilities:
1) Begin at a casual-dining restaurant. I don't mean Red Robin or Burger Barn, but one that has place settings and cloth napkins.
2) Avoid peak hours. The servers may be less patient, you may feel rushed, more eyes will be on you, more distractions, longer wait for a table, etc.
3) Be sure that no one is starving! Don't arrive to the restaurant with ravenous appetites. Your child or teen may be more likely to attack the bread basket—a bad start to your dining experience.
4) Establish a length of time. The meal should be the evening’s event. A surprise visit to the bowling alley or ice cream parlor can add a nice touch to the evening. (If they know in advance, they might rush through the meal.)
5) Allow the child or teen to order a 'special' drink from the bar. They will learn how to speak to a server and properly hold glassware.
6) Dine early; not near bedtime. A tired and sleepy person can quickly turn into grumpy and impatient one. Not a good outcome.
7) Allow them to place their order. Again, giving them an opportunity to gain confidence and learn from the interaction.
8) Do not embarrass your child or teen by openly giving them an “etiquette lesson” at the table. That should have been discussed prior to dining out. A subtle non-verbal reminder can get them back on track. Later, ask them what they would do differently. Calmly offer suggestions and move on.
9) Prepare conversation topics. Don’t cross-examine them about the unfinished book report, how they'd better improve their grade or else...Talk about their interests, upcoming family events or holidays, ask amusing questions like, “Would you rather live on top of a mountain or in an underwater mansion?" Silly, yes, but dinner conversation should be light and pleasant.
10) If you need the server's attention, allow your child or teen to make the appropriate gesture to call him or her over. Doing so in a respectful manner. (“please” and “thank you”)
11) Tech gadgets: Set the example by putting yours away—not on the table. Don’t rely on tech devices to entertain your child or teen. They are learning conversation skills from you. When you pull out your phone, the message you send is, that they are boring you or someone else is more important.
12) If your child or teen successfully followed most of the rules that you set for them, please do not point out the few missteps; instead tell them what a good time you had.