We have always encouraged our boys, from the time they could talk (and be understood), to order their own food. They read their menu, decide what they'd like and order. We remind them to look at the waiter or waitress and speak clearly. They have gotten great about asking for substitutes, asking for things to be left off their plate, and even about being able to answer any questions the wait staff might have. I never really thought of this as a huge feat but a waitress we had actually complimented me on the boys ability to address her and speak clearly. She reminded me that not all kids can do that. I guess I'm just so used to my boys speaking up I didn't dawn on me that this is a really helpful life skill. It reminded me of a girlfriend I had in high school that was petrified to order food at a restaurant and at the last minute would say "I'll have what she's having" no matter what I ordered; even if she didn't like it! I'm glad to know they won't be timid like that.
On top of the reading (which even Evan attempts to do now!), they do math too. Ian, in particular, will always try to guess the total of our bill when it arrives. He's usually pretty close too. I've stared including him in helping me figure out the tip to leave. We all have talked about how little wait staff is usually paid and how they rely on their tips for their income. I've told them that while tips are optional they really shouldn't ever leave NO tip unless the waiter or waitress was beyond horrible (probably to the point you'd want to speak up to the manager-- and then I've tried to emphasize that they should). We've talked about what makes a good waiter/waitress and that it is never their fault if the food does not taste good or it isn't cooked properly. We base tips on the timeliness of the wait staff, the eagerness to help, the attitude and the way they handle any trouble that may crop up during dinner. I have also reminded them that they need to speak up if something is wrong; waiters and waitressed can not read minds. We always point out when a waitress has gone out of her way to make our meal even more special. I have started having Ian figure out 10% of our bill and then I tell him if we want to leave a 15% tip, which is customary, that we need to halve that number we got and add those two numbers together. I also told the boys that they can double the 10% and leave a 20% tip or anywhere in between and up to whatever amount they want. We often round to whole numbers and leave bills instead of change but some people prefer to leave an exact amount and that's OK too. It only takes a few seconds at the end of our meal and we don't discuss it every time but I've noticed how much they're picking up on it.
To pass the time while waiting for our food we often play games like Tic Tac Toe, I spy or even hangman (which adds in some great spelling fun!). If the boys get a kids menu we'll sometimes work on those too and since the menus all vary greatly from restaurant to restaurant we might be doing anything from dot to dots, to mazes, to word scrambles, to word searches, or crosswords and mad libs. Most of the games require some form of writing and spelling practice. In rare instances the boys will play with the items on the table. Alec has gotten really good at building pyramids and towers out of creamer containers. Just look at the double sided one he managed to make a few weeks ago!
|He was so proud of himself.|
I find meal times and eating out good opportunities to talk about nutrition too. Though the boys rarely worry about nutrition when ordering food at a restaurant (often sticking to French fries and chicken fingers/ nuggets or else burger and fries), I do talk to them about what are better choices and why. They know they should eats lots of fruits and vegetables and there was a time when Ian ordered a side salad in place of his French fries. Alec went through a phase when he asked for raw broccoli with ranch dressing for dipping and Evan will, on occasion order apple sauce in place of his fries. We talk about why home cooking is usually healthier than eating out too but the boys always argue that the food tastes better when eating out. I do agree, most of the time, but I still try to stress that we can't eat out all the time and remind them that even if we could afford it, it's just not healthy to eat out all the time.
We even get to add in a little geography/ culture lesson at times. We try different types of food when eating out-- we eat Chinese food, we've experienced Japanese Teppanyaki grilling, Greek, Italian, Moroccan, and even Norwegian foods. When dining at "regular" restaurants around our house and when we're out on vacation we've talked about dishes that are native to certain areas like stuffies. We talk about which foods are available locally and why. We've pointed out all the different names for grinders/ subs/ heroes, soda/pop/ soft drink/ coke, frappe/ milkshake/ thick shake, etc. With the addition of our cell phones and Google we're even able to look up why and when certain foods started being popular, how they were made or who invented them. Again, these aren't things we talk about a lot or all the time when we're eating out but over time these small mini lessons here and there add up and the kids remember and retain that information they find pertinent to them or particularly interesting.