9 Table Etiquette Rules for Kids: Make Eating Out Fun Again!

9 Etiquette Rules for kids that help everybody enjoy eating out from https://smartkids101.com #manners #dining

You’d love to go out to eat as a family — let someone else do the cooking and clean-up for a change!

But you get there and somehow it becomes a chore. Cutting food into smaller pieces, older kids using sugar packets and ketchup bottles to play table football, the preschooler “finishing” after a mere three bites and leaving his seat to run around the dining room. You just want to eat your dinner. Like, sit and have a conversation, and get some food in your mouth fortheloveofpete.

Years ago, I heard a parent say, “All I want is a nice, family outing at my favorite restaurant. But it feels like I am herding cows to a feeding trough. Am I raising kids or cows? Can’t we enjoy one meal without having to open up 17 packets of ketchup? My kids need to learn good manners for restaurant dining.”

I totally get that. Does it sound familiar to you, too? Thank goodness, it’s never too late for children to learn restaurant table etiquette. Don’t think of it like etiquette rules… more like etiquette RULES!

Basic Table Etiquette RULES!

Here’s the rundown on what children need to know:

1. As soon as you sit down, put your napkin in your lap.

2. Don’t play with anything on the table — sweetener packages, salt, or pepper? Nope.

3. Never re-dip chips or vegetables into common bowls. It’s called “double dipping,” and — ew —  it’s really gross.

4. Please wait until everyone is served before you begin eating your meal.

5. Remember to use your best table manners — this includes elbows off the table, taking small bites of food and chewing with your mouth closed. Also, please chew and swallow before you talk. Nobody wants to see your food in your mouth while you eat. That’s why our family has a “no see-food” policy. (Get it? SEEfood?)

9 Etiquette Rules for kids that help everybody enjoy eating out from https://smartkids101.com #manners #dining

photo credits, creative commons: #4 beaulawrence, #5 Marina K Caprara

6. If you drop something, leave it on the floor. Move it only if it is in the aisle. This includes utensils — simply ask the waiter nicely for another one!

8. Ask for food to be passed to you rather than reaching. You don’t want to accidentally drag your sleeve — or hair! ew! — through someone else’s plate.

9. Always pass the salt and pepper together. They’re buddies like that. (And it keeps them from getting lost. Or crying.)

10. Don’t take a dirty plate to the buffet line. Use a clean one for a second helping. Yum yum!

Want your kids to have great restaurant manners? It's easy with these tips from https://smartkids101.com #kids #polite #etiquette #manners

Here are my hints for the adults in the family… What? You didn’t think I’d forgotten about us grown-ups, right?


Have practice dinners by pretending to be at a restaurant over dinner at home. The best way for parents to teach good manners is to model them! After you have taught, modeled and reinforced etiquette rules, reward them with a trip to their favorite restaurant! (And I don’t mean Chuck E. Cheese. Ahem.)

Be Firm

Remember that time you endured sitting near a table of someone else’s rowdy, unchecked children? Sometimes to avoid making a scene, parents overlook their child’s restaurant behavior. Trouble is, they’re already making a scene. Gently correct inappropriate actions right away and have a peaceful dinner!

Be Patient

Kids — especially younger ones — will make some manners mistakes. Hey, even I do from time to time. You’ll need to correct them, sometimes more than once. But getting angry or exasperated won’t make anyone feel good about being mannerly. Developing good manners is much like learning to ride a bicycle. You fall a few times before you ride on your own.

Want your kids to have great restaurant manners? It's easy with these tips from https://smartkids101.com #kids #polite #etiquette #manners

Most cowboys will tell you that once the cows learn the proper way to the trough, it doesn’t take as much herding the next time. Setting basic expectations for good table etiquette — and making them habits — will help your children develop manners become “polite kids” which will serve them throughout their lives.

Got a restaurant story to tell? Share it in the comments below!

READ NEXT: New Etiquette Classes That Will Change Your Child’s Life!

About Aubrey Hunt
Before hopping on the crazy ride we call motherhood, I studied engineering and taught math and science to middle and high school students. Now, perhaps like you, I fill my days singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider and praying my preschooler will eat a vegetable — any vegetable!

8 thoughts on “9 Table Etiquette Rules for Kids: Make Eating Out Fun Again!”

  1. We are practicing “no seefood” with my daughter. She remembers unless she’s really hungry. Then it is smack, smack, smack. This is a great list for parents and kids. Parents should also be sure to set a good example at home and away. If I keep my elbows on the table, so will my little ones follow.

    1. Aubrey Hunt says:

      Yes! Oh, this is embarrassing to admit, but I can be kind of bad about forgetting my elbows should stay off the table. Manners is for everybody and modeling is important. You are so right!

  2. Lana says:

    Great suggestions. When my boys were little we dreaded taking them out because they would inevitably start fighting with each other. We practiced a lot at home around the dinner table! Being consistent is the key, and it really does pay off.

    1. Aubrey Hunt says:

      Absolutely. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Wonderful suggestions. We manage most of them, but our toddler is drawn to those darn sugar packets on the table. They’re colorful, and they catch his eye. Baby steps!

    1. Aubrey Hunt says:

      I know! Those sure do look like fun. Baby steps for sure. If he’s still a toddler, you’ve got plenty of time to teach him! You’re doing a great job. 🙂

  4. I love the no “See Food” and “pass versus reach” rules. We refer to the “reach” as the boarding-house-reach (a term leftover from my own parents and their child hood during the post-depression era). As many times as we eat out, my husband and I always have to remind ourselves of these rules: we try to be the best model for our girls – these rules are a great reminder for everyone. Keep up the great posts!

    1. Aubrey Hunt says:

      That’s awesome. I’d never heard the term “boarding house reach” before, but I can imagine exactly what you mean. (Kind of makes me think of that scene in the movie Hook where all the lost boys are eating dinner together??) I know from your blog that you have really cultivated a wonderful appreciation of the culinary arts for your family — so I’m sure they are well on their way to having dazzling table manners. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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