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The Five Commandments of Dining with Kids

Sara Deseran | October 14, 2014 | Story Restaurants

Republished with permission from

When you work in the food world and you’re planning on having children, you imagine all the amazing things they will eat when they’re born. Egotistically, you assume some kind of genetic/osmosis situation will occur wherein your mini me’s will inhale everything set in front of them with relish. (Mmmm, broccoli raab with anchovies. Thank you, Mama!) Of course, your children will also have amazing dining manners, because you will coach them patiently, boldly bringing them to restaurants instead of leaving them at home to exist like most American children who are kept in cages and fed chicken fingers.

And then you give birth—to two boys. And you realize that this image of your children, napkins in laps, happily twirling uni pasta onto their forks, was but an elitist pipe dream.

This is not to say that once I had children, I gave up the dream entirely. It’s just that my role as their inspirational gourmet leader turned out to be more akin to a Navy Seal commander. On the way to restaurants, I would determinedly bark out the five commandments of dining and ask my minions to repeat them back.

1. No running!
2. No screaming!
3. No throwing food!
4. No going under the table!
5. No stabbing each other with chopsticks!

The finer points of dining weren’t even on the table. With Silas and Moss, I was aiming for the basics. (On the other hand, Mia, my stepdaughter, who came into my life at age five, has always had amazing manners and good eating habits. Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for it.)

The establishments where we chose to dine—if you can call it that—were selected, not for the fine food, but how tolerant they were to heathen behavior, and also how loud. Dining in a rowdy restaurant is ideal for masking the shrieks. (Come to think of it, eating out with kids isn’t unlike eating out with a bunch of drunks.) I also chose restaurants that could deliver food with speed, praying for servers to see the panic in my eyes and immediately hand out crayons and other forms of distraction. If they brought the bill swiftly and forgave the snowstorm of rice on the floor, I was their customer for life.

Today, Silas and Moss are 13 and 9 respectively—which means that eating out with them has become easier, though by no means relaxing. Over the weekend, we all went to Izakaya Roku, along with my friend Sona and her two similarly-aged kids Rishi and Priya. Though the boys are older now, I still choose restaurants fueled by alcohol, in this case sake and beer. Thus, it was delightfully loud at Roku, and the food offered our more adventurous kids the choice of seaweed salad and cold eggplant with bonito flakes, and our less adventurous ones endless rounds of chicken karaage. However, they all agreed on the bacon-mochi skewers.

About half the way through the meal, the kids discovered that the bathrooms had Japanese toilets, which made for a good diversion (“Best moment of my life,” said Silas). And then, just like always, the minute they were done eating, they asked to go play outside on the sidewalk, which in this case was Market Street—in the dark. Like always, I weighed the chances that they’d be picked up by child services and the pleasure of a few moments of calm with my friend and my beer.

But this time—admittedly, just this time—I said no. Because, despite being worn down over the years, I haven’t completely given up. I figure at this rate, by the time they’re 21, they should be restaurant ready.

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