10 Ways To Keep Kids Happy And Quiet (ish) In A Restaurant

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By Ellie Barker

When we enter a restaurant/pub my husband and I have a countdown procedure in place.

No, it’s not the time it takes to get the first round in from the bar (my husband I am proud to say is a master of this. He’s sipping his first pint before I’ve had a chance to say ‘mines a spritzer.')

Instead, more sadly is the amount of time before technology is whipped out of our bags and our two sons plugged in, thus ensuring there will be no conversations until either the technology or us as parents run out of charge.

Yes it is nice to enjoy a conversation with my husband over shouts of “where are the crisps?” And “do they do pizza?” But we both feel we are cheating in some way, that we are not teaching them how to sit nicely in the restaurant, and are we really paving the way for them to have a chatty dining out future in latter years when face to face with their own spouse?

So I consulted the most expert people I know, the grandmothers and mothers of older children who used to have to bravely venture into a Berni Inn when a ipad was merely a little booklet you used to make notes to yourself.

1. I Spy

"It sounds silly and old fashioned but it never fails. We have different themes depending on what restaurant we are in. It gets them looking up from the table and noticing their surroundings." Jenny, mother of 2.

2. Design Your Own Placemat

"You need to be organised." says Jean, mother of two, grandmother of four. "Put some sheets of paper and crayons in your bag. Let the kids  decide what they are in the mood for or match their mat to the food they have ordered. They have the time it takes for food to arrive to complete it."

3. A Portable Box Of Bricks

"Make sure they are all different colours and sizes and give them different building tasks. Maybe a house, maybe a replica of something in the restaurant -  ask the waiter to be a judge." Jane, mother of three.

4. Noughts + Crosses

" You can’t beat good old x and o, play on a scrap piece of paper or in a book. I had an A4 pad I used to carry around so we had an ongoing tournament. The boys still talk about it now and who won." Kathryn, mother of two grown-up sons.

5. Dobble

"My grandchildren love playing this and my grown up daughters do too." says Amy. "It is good for all the family and is not too noisy. Time flies by."

6. Art Competition

"This is something we all still like doing, even more now my husband who I must say is better at it now he is a granddad." says Sylvie. "We have a theme as we wait for each course. Maybe a person, then a house or something in the restaurant, we all have to draw. We appoint a judge, maybe someone who works there or someone sitting nearby and ask them to pick the best. The winner gets an extra scoop of ice cream."

7. 20 Questions

"I played this with my mother and now I play it with my grandchildren." says Christine. "Even the 3 year old can join in. Pick a theme and ask 20 questions. You have 20 questions to guess it but the person choosing can only say yes or no."

8. The Fame Game

"Write the name of a famous person on a post-it. " (remember to pack, says Charlie, father of three). "If you don’t want to stick it on your forehead in a restaurant you can just stick it on the menu and hold it in front of you. But no cheating, you can’t know who it is, you just ask questions until you guess the right person. You can limit it to ten, if you play one at a time between courses."

9. Travel Board Games

"My children always loved Connect 4 or even Monopoly so I was delighted when these came out in travel form." says Val. "My grandchildren love them. I find new ones for them at Christmas to help us through the festive trips to pub."

10. Card Games

"In my mind you just can’t beat them. I can remember playing with my mum and dad (although not often in a restaurant back then.) Snap is always a favourite and then Trumps as you get older. My grandsons love Uno and my husband does now too." Joyce, mother and grandmother

What’s your favourite way of keeping the kids entertained – and semi quiet – when you’re eating out?