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Do you think eating out teaches children anything valuable about food (or anything else)?

When I was a child, we ate out every single friday night, and maybe once on weekends (with extended family or family friends). My mother did all the cooking for the week on sunday afternoon. When my Dad, sister and I got home, it was our job to reheat the food, make a salad or prepare some other vegetable, and start the rice cooker. My mother wasn't a particularly good cook and hated doing it, so every friday night we went out, it was her break and a chance to eat some tasty well prepared food. As a family, we loved this ritual. As soon as my Dad picked us up friday, the debate on where to eat would start.

Fast forward to today...we have 3 kids, and my DS1 has food allergies, and right now I'm not working. We eat out maybe once a month, if that. Every time we do, I pay the bill and think "yikes, that is X % of my monthly grocery budget". I am wondering whether I should try to budget some funds for eating out more regularly/often. My kids really enjoy food, but they also enjoy special outings, new toys, new clothes, books, DVDs, etc. I mean, a good book, or legos, museum membership, etc. can be enjoyed over and over. A meal is over pretty quickly.

So I am interested in hearing what CHers think. Do you take your kids out to eat regularly? Why or why not? If you don't have kids, do you think eating out as a child had value? Or would you rather have had more toys/piano lessons/space camp/etc.? Thank you for sharing.

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  1. If finances allow once a month, then that's what is important, not overspending to eat out. That said, there are a lot of foods I'd never make at home and we explore--Viet, Ethiopian, Korean, fried food, etc. It expands their horizons. I think once a month is more than enough for that and do think there is value in that, as much as piano lessons or books (actually, given how good our public library is, I think spending money on books is a much bigger waste). There is a whole world out there, beyond what our kids see, and exploring the foods from different cultures is a big part of it.

    2 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      "It expands their horizons". I definitely agree. I cook fairly often but there are things that I don't/can't make at home, such as sushi. I get such pleasure when I see my 6 year old daughter eating sushi. Granted, it gets rather expensive, but we go out for Thai, Peruvian, Korean food too, and those are not that expensive.

      1. re: chowser

        I agree with everything you said. I'd also add that going to restaurants teaches kids how to behave in public, how to be considerate of those around you. Even if you just go to hole-in-the-wall places with little ambience, kids realize they can't make a scene, or run amok or treat waitstaff rudely. It's a real "teachable" moment.

      2. If it's an either one or the other question then I don't know about your situation so I can't answer. But if it's a question of whether taking children to eat out has value, it definitely does. It teaches children how to behave in social situations.

        1. I would hope that eating out with children teaches children how to behave in public, how to eat with forks and knives and spoons (versus fingers) and maybe, quite possibly, expands their palates.

          1. I don't think you should wreck your budget for the educational or social benefits of eating out. How old are your other kids?

            4 Replies
            1. re: Steve

              Oh, don't worry, I don't wreck my daily food budget. The money for eating out comes out of fun money...the question I'm grappling with is how to prioritize the fun money, and what/whether restaurant eating provides/teaches other than food. I can make a tasty dinner at home for under $20 easily. If we eat out, depending on what it is, it's around $50-$60 (generally family friendly ethnic places). When I pay, I can't help thinking we could have eaten at home and had $30-$40 to blow on something else.

              The kids are 2, 4, and 6 yo. They are not picky, have good table manners, and behave well in public. Friends, family, and acquaintances say they are a joy to eat with and to watch eat. They know how to use fork, spoon, knife (not the 2 yo), and are starting to develop skill with chopsticks (not the 2 yo) and fingers (DH's side is Indian and eating neatly with fingers is an important skill too). I guess I am just interested in thoughts on what (if anything) eating out teaches that you don't get from eating at home (or the homes of friends). Maybe I am just fishing for reasons to eat out more LOL. Thanks for everyone's thoughts so far.

              1. re: little.tiger

                I agree with a lot of what's been said, and I also would like to point out that some of my favorite "family" times together were when we ate out as a family (of course, some of that might have been that my mother was not particularly known for her cooking :-)

                But I was particularly interested in your comment about eating with the fingers; that is one battle I'm not sure I ever mastered. My husband is also East Indian, and it is very hard to explain to a four year old why its ok and probably expected to eat with fingers at Auntie X's house, but definitely NOT at Grandpa's. Now that my husband and I are empty nesters, I too have gotten into the habit of eating with my fingers. I have arthritic hands, and sometimes its just easier to grasp the food! Its especially something I do when eating Indian food, naturally, even if I'm at a restaurant or have invited friends over. I have caught myself eating with my hands in front of friends recently, and have wondered to myself if they find it rude or gross. If you have a special code word you use to remind them that its a silverware situation, maybe you could share it and I could teach it to my husband to use on me :-)

                1. re: janetofreno

                  Janet, we don't have a special code word, the situation at hand usually clearly dictates what we use. I have actually never had one of the kids ask me why they can eat dosas with hands but not spaghetti (or whatever), it has always been the way things are to them I guess. If we are with Indian relatives and friends and eating Indian food, they can use hands. Thanksgiving turkey dinner, fork and knife. Chinese/Korean/Japanese/etc. is an opportunity to use chopsticks. I guess you could ask your DH to give you "the look". "The Look" is what the kids get when they know they are doing something they shouldn't ;)

                2. re: little.tiger

                  I haven't found a thing to disagree with here - but I do feel that if times are tight, maybe dining out isn't that important, especially if you're a good cook who enjoys it. I think it's important for kids to learn gracious guest/customer behavior; how to tip; how to behave in a scenario that's a cultural norm, but they can learn that at home, whereas they might not get a chance to see Picassos again...

              2. I wouldn't pick dining out per se as a way of educating kids, if that's the only reason. On the other hand if you dine out at whatever frequency, I'd say include them. It teaches them interaction with "authority figures" (waitstaff)--even learning to order is an important experience, it exposes them to options in food, it exposes them to a broader social context involving food, it might even be FUN but that's of course a gamble. All I can say is that as a child I loved going out to restaurants and my parents wisely deferred to my choices. My grandchildren now very much enjoy restaurants and are allowed to say yes/no and it works. So, long story short, I'd say it's a plus but not a must.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Masonville

                  I like how you phrased this. In our house we rarely eat out because I love to cook. It's my hobby, and the kids get a fair bit of "broadening" from that. But when we're on vacation, we eat out, and splurge. We've always treated our kids like "young adults" and they have pretty sophisticated tastes. So as Masonville said, if it's part of *your* life, include them, but don't feel like you have to do it as an educational process. I'm not sure it's "worth" the money for its own sake.

                2. Eating out teaches a lot of things .

                  -Patience (waiting for the orders to come, ...)
                  -Good manners. (no screaming, running around, saying "thanks" "please" ,,,,)
                  -Open their eyes to other cultures (if eating in ethnic (other than your own) restaurants)
                  -Help them understand they have to make choices (and live with it!) (menu selection...)
                  -Interaction with other kind people (not teachers, friends or family) in a different context.

                  And the most foodie value :

                  -Let them try and taste different flavours, food, ingredients, preparations...

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Maximilien

                    wonderful response!
                    I don't have children of my own, but ate out very often as a child. I think I gained all of these things at a young age as a result and now as and adult I appreciate the experience of dining out a lot more than some of my friends.

                    1. re: Maximilien

                      I agree with all of the above. It's important for kids to learn how to interact with others and learn how to react in all types of social situations.

                      Another great benefit of taking the kids out to eat is the creations you can add to your dinner menus! If the kids love sushi, let them help in preparing "sushi bowls." If It's Indian food they liked, make an easy curry for dinner. The 4 and 6 yo are definitely old enought to help out in the kitchen. Eating out once in a while is a great way to expose kids to new tastes... and bringing home the new things too.

                    2. When I was a child, my brother and I were the only two children in a medium-sized extended family ( I say medium sized as I was first generation in NZ, so my Dad's brothers, sister and mother were it as far as family went. Think 10 adults and 2 children.) The family group would rouinely eat out in restaurants together, anything from Denny's to fine-dining. We learnt the following:

                      1) Behave yourself in public or you won't be asked back again.
                      2) Trying different types of food is fun.
                      3) It's not all about you. Don't get me wrong - two kids amongst a group of childless adults? We were spoilt rotten. However exceptions were not going to be made for us. Hungry? Eat what is on your plate. Thirsty? Drink some water. Tired? Curl up under the table, sleep in Grandma's lap, sleep in your chair leaning on your Dad's side (but dear God, not on the side of the hand he uses for his fork!).
                      4) Waiters are not servants.
                      5) Good company can always overcome bad food and make you laugh about bad service.

                      I don't think dining out is essential, especially if it squeezes the budget. These 'lessons' were similar to those we picked up from dining at home with and without company, staying with relatives, how we were told to behave in shops, while playing sport etc etc. The overall theme being 'don't shame your Mother'. I'm very grateful that I got to try so many different types of food and methods of cooking from a young age though.

                      1 Reply
                      1. The mere act of taking kids out to eat at the local fast food or at a sit down restaurants does not teach kids anything about food or life.......what ever they learn will be a result of any conversations you have with them during the meal itself, whether you answer any questions they ask...or explain to them something they should know.......whether it be manners, other educational information or how lucky they are to be able to dine out at all.

                        Buying your kid a good book or a dvd has no value if you are doing so to keep them occupied at the dinner table...whether at home or out for dinner........quality time is where the value is achieved.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: fourunder

                          I might have no business saying so, considering I don't have children, but I totally agree with your statements. Restaurants and shopping centres are not schools, they're perhaps testing grounds, at best. It's very frustrating to hear an excuse (unfortunately too often given for bad behavior) "how else are they ever going to learn?". These things have to have a solid basis at home. And kids aren't going to learn much about dining out either if they have to be entertained constantly with DVD players and video games the whole way through either (although i'm sure it makes things easier)

                          Saying that kids need to be taken out to eat constantly in order to learn, ignores the fact that there are numerous people (myself included), who weren't, but yet surprisingly enough, know how to behave in public.

                          Taking well-mannered children out to dinner, btw, is very much noticed as well, and can give the rest of society a bit of hope that the world (and restaurants) is not full of heedless children and oblivious parents.

                          1. re: im_nomad

                            You would be surprised to know how many people believe....since they are paying as a customer, they can do whatever they want without reproach if the house want their continued business. what they do not realize is that there are good customers and bad ones......unfortunately, they are in the latter group and they are setting poor examples for their children. I would argue the parents often do not know how to behave in public as well.


                            1. re: im_nomad

                              I don't disagree with you (about learning at vs. learning at the restaurant), im_nomad, but kids can be weird. My child has impeccable restaurant manners, so much so that even I'm surprised. She double-checks which fork to use for which course if she's not certain, she folds her napkin neatly and pushes her chair in when getting up, she's polite to waitstaff, speaks in an appropriate tone of voice, etc. At home we constanly have to remind her to actually sit in her chair to eat and to use utensils, not fingers.

                              She clearly knows what proper behvior is. We only seem to get it when we're out, though. :-)

                          2. I actually think you're doing great things if you are all eating together at home. Family dinners often seem like a lost art, the more that piano lessons/space camp increase.

                            The best lesson of all, aside from the manners and the other stuff, is appreciating time spent with your family.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: im_nomad

                              Yes, we do eat together every night and every weekend at home, and are very close as a family. I just wonder whether they are missing something sometimes, as I so fondly remember many of the things/places we ate.

                              1. re: little.tiger

                                Don't give up on the family meals. That's more important than everything else, as far as I'm concerned. We're one of those overbooked families and yes, we have sports, music, and religion classes 4 nights a week. However, I make it a point as much as possible that we all sit down together, whatever the hour and even if it's only take-out. My child didn't even know what a drive-through was until she was 5 and eating in the car is an alien concept. I hope I can keep it that way.

                                There will be time to create the memories and introduce new experiences. Enjoy the time at home with the family now and realize that you are building other important memories and habits which your children will carry with them forever.

                                1. re: little.tiger

                                  I think, in addition to the other good points people have made above, dinner out feels like a special occasion in a way that a trip to the museum doesn't. Maybe because the setting demands that you sit and talk and enjoy each other's company and the food in front of you, instead of trying to make sure everyone is eating their veggies and having to serve each of the kids. Others have mentioned how eating out helps teach kids proper manners, but I also find that we are more relaxed as parents when we eat out . Since it's not a regular dinner, we just order whatever we think our son will like and don't worry about what or how much he actually eats, as long as he has good table manners. So I do think it's a worthwhile family activity, but once a month seems like plenty. (But if you're looking for excuses to eat out more, then I change my answer -- to get the maximum benefit from eating out, you should do it at least twice as often.)

                              2. I don't think eating out should be meant as an educational experience for a child.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: beevod

                                  whether meant to be or not, it is. we learn to be people in society by being, well, people in society.

                                  restaurants are not some sacred ground, and children are not some unclean semi-humans.

                                  1. re: thew

                                    The world is a learning opportunity and those who turn on learning in only certain instances lose out on a lot.

                                    1. re: chowser

                                      Our family motto is "Semper Eruditio" "always learning". To me if I'm not learning something I'm either stupid or dead and I don't wish to be either. Kids are just curious creatures by nature. It's our job to nurture and sometimes guide that natural desire to learn.

                                      1. re: just_M

                                        I love that--I think I'll adopt it. As I said to my kids, everything is a learning opportunity, down to every mogul you ski/snowboard down, even the one you sprawl out on and severely tear your rotator cuff on (told after I seriously tore my rotator cuff on a mogul). So, even being stupid, you can learn.-)

                                        As food and eating out goes, my children have learned you never eat with your hands, unless you're supposed to eat with your hands and then it's okay. It's never okay to slurp your noodles, unless you're supposed to slurp your noodles and then it's okay. You're supposed to sit in the chair, unless you're supposed to sit on the floor and then it's okay.

                                        1. re: chowser

                                          Yes, I love it because it especially applies to those unfortunate times in life and how you deal with them. It's never the end of the world, it just one or more things to learn :-) Love the rotator cuff/mogul analogy!

                                2. Eating out certainly expanded my son's food horizons, which I consider a positive aspect of raising a child. There were dishes that he tried when we went out , especially vegetables, that he would not try at home. And eating out certainly introduced him to foods that were beyond the range of what we typically prepared at home.

                                  In the first category, e.g., was salad -- i.e., dressed greens -- which he would never eat at home (he got carrot sticks) . He first ate salad at age 8ish when he split a seafood appetizer with my husband that was served on dressed greens. He loved the greens as much as the seafood and after that regularly consumed salad at home. Definitely worth the prize of the appetizer (pricey as I recall, as it was seared ahi tuna) to introduce him to a lifetime of consuming salad.

                                  In the second category was a wide range of ethnic foods -- Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mexican -- that just are not the sorts of things we prepare at home.

                                  As between more toys and eathing out, I'd probably opt for eating out assuming a middle class milieu in which the child has toys. In my experience most middle class kids have way more toys than they ever play with. As between piano lessons or family vacation, on the one hand, and eating out regularly, a strong argument can be made that the former have more value. That is really a judgment that you need to make.

                                  1. Interesting thread. If your kids were older, I'd suggest to get their input on whether they'd like to go to a museum or out to eat (or whatever the choice is). But they're young, and the decision is up to you.

                                    We don't eat out much; I think we're like DGresh. Most food, we'd rather make it at home. Dinners at restaurants are ethnic food we can't make (or can't make well) and splurge affairs. We probably eat out, as a family, less than once a month (I eat lunch out, occasionally, at work). But my kids are good, adventurous eaters, and enjoy the dining experience, even though we do it less than a lot of their friends, who seem to go to places like Noodles & Co. pretty often.

                                    It sounds like your kids are learning the table manners and socializing at home already. The biggest reason to go out, then, in my opinion, is because you want to go out to eat as a family, and to experience various ethnic foods. So if you'd rather spend the money in another way, go ahead and do that, or eat out less often than once a month.

                                    1. Your kids are probably too young at this point. But once they start learning about fractions and percentages, I think it's important to teach them about tipping at the appropriate places. My parents never did that when we ate out. When I started to eat out on my own at sit-down restaurants (high school), I was clueless about it. I knew people tipped, but didn't know how much. Luckily my friends had a better idea bout it than I did. In addition to percentage, I learned that even if you order a $2 breakfast special, it's customary to leave at least a dollar for tip.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Miss Needle

                                        This is a good point. Whether you're actively teaching children or not, they're watching. My daughter, a tween, has been going w/ friends to a place next door to dance and she's completely comfortable w/ everything ordering, passing back the menu, manners, and tipping well. I asked her the first time and she said it was easy for her to work out. She's seen us do it and we've talked about it. Some of her friends weren't as comfortable with it.

                                        I rarely ate out when I was growing up and it was all so foreign to me.

                                      2. I guess it has been more than a dozen years now, but I played the role of 'stepdad/uncle' in a 6 year relationship. we had taken Boy with us to numerous dinners at 'family appropriate' restaurants, and even a few that were a bit more upscale. He knew how to behave in public, and was becoming more adventurous in trying new food. When asked what he wanted to do for his 12th birthday his father and I were rather surprised when he said he wanted to go to a well known and expensive restaurant. Well, if that's what Boy wants... (admittedly with a bit of trepidation)

                                        The maitre'd was most gracious and seated us at a nice table, made sure Boy had a seat that allowed him to watch the entire room, and seemed pleased to have someone of that age dining there. The waiter not so much. Brought two menus and said "you will be ordering for the child wont you?" His father replied, "of course not, he will be ordering for himself." After pouring wine for the adults and a 7up for Boy, the waiter was ready to take our order. He looked at us, and we looked at boy, who took a casual glance at the menu and said in a clear confident voice "I think I'd like the Lobster tonight." The waiter reattached his jaw and looked at the father who said "he would like the lobster." At that point Boy snapped the menu closed with just a touch of attitude and handed it nonchalantly back to the waiter. Talk about proud parents! I have no idea what I ate that night. i do know that Boy enjoyed his Lobster tremendously, handled the implements (with a little instruction) like a pro, and from that point on received excellent service from the waiter and the busboys. Not to mention some attention from the adults at surrounding tables who had been watching the exchange not so surreptitiously.

                                        So yes, they learn, and given the opportunity generally rise to the occasion. If all you can afford is Denny's once a month, or once a quarter - thats fine. At least restaurants won't be a foreign experience when they go out on a date, or for a job interview, or a seminar.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                                          Love your story! At that age I was taken out on New Year!'s Eve for fine dining by an indulgent aunt/uncle & got a quick tutorial in menu French. They then advised me to get the waiter's name so I could request the server's name, implying return visits to the establishment. I still try to do that decades later & get good results, especially mom-pop places.

                                          1. re: KaimukiMan

                                            Relevant also, Kaimuki to another scenario: When dining alone, I always had much better luck if I went high-end and let them know that I understood good food and wine. The level of service was always much better immediately.

                                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                                              That is simply fabulous - especially the snapping of the menu with just the right amount of attitude.

                                            2. Thank you everyone for the thoughtful replies. Lots of great points brought up for DH and I to consider as we crunch the numbers and work out next year's budget.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: little.tiger

                                                That's the smartest thing you can teach your children--enjoy only what you can afford. No educational enjoyment is worth doing into debt for.

                                                1. re: chowser

                                                  Smartest thing I've read all day. I grew up in an area with many free educational sites to visit. That didn't stop my parents from taking us to all sorts of paid activities; they just never went in debt to entertain us or to educate us. And yet they did both.

                                                  I grew up, and now maintain, a lifestyle I can afford based on their depression-era ethics.

                                                  Thanks mom and dad.

                                                2. re: little.tiger

                                                  Let me just add one more idea, as I agree with most of what's been said here about the value of taking kids out to restaurants: one parent can go out (maybe for lunch) with one child once in a while. It's cheaper, of course, and the value of individual attention from a parent in a special setting (even if it's Friendly's!) can't be overstated. And you will get the best behavior ever, I promise.

                                                  1. re: sciencediet

                                                    I'm fully behind this idea! The times we did this when the kids were small were wonderful and still are now that they are in their teens. Just like date night with my husband, that one on one with no interruptions is priceless and can be as cheap as a sandwich on a park bench.

                                                3. Your own memory of the excitement of going out to eat is something I had as well. We were very poor so the dining out thing was never in anyplace fancy or particularly expensive, and it wasn't as frequent as every week but it was special and fun and nice to do something different. I do also recall manners lessons while dining out that I didn't get from other settings. No matter how much you enforce and teach manners at home it's a different ball game when other people are nearby, the noise and distractions of a restaurant, and teaching children to behave in these settings (and that it's a normal thing, and maybe a fun thing) is a unique experience. And as you've learned, can be a shared, fun thing to look forward to and a break.

                                                  Almost no restaurants are so inexpensive that it's ever going to be cheaper to dine out than to eat in. But all things in childhood have limited shelf life of usefulness, be they meals out, toys, books or clothing. Doesn't mean any one thing should or shouldn't be included. I mean, a trip to the circus might only happen once but the memories could last for a very long time. Same with certain vacations.

                                                  I personally think it's important to try to budget to go out somewhere at least occasionally. My baby is only 17 months and doesn't have perfect manners or the ability to learn them, but we still take him out about twice a month even though it's sometimes a rushed, not fun meal, because I want him to have the experience and get used to it. No, Boston Market is not cheaper or better food than what I could make, nor is Chipotle, or the few other places we've taken him, but I think it's a valuable lesson and as he gets older he'll get better at it. WE don't go just for the "lesson," we go to have a meal out, to get away from home for a change, and to give us a break on cooking. It's also sometimes a necessity depending on what we're doing - running errands, traveling, etc, so I think it's a valuable experience and worth budgeting for if that's possible.

                                                  1. As a child of a single mom who loved eating out, I was often her DC as I was growing up. I learned a lot from our occasional "treat meals" including how to interact with servers, make a menu choice, stick with it, restaurant table manners, etc. But mostly I learned that the experience of dining out is about so much more than the food -- it was always a great opportunity for us to connect and chat without her scrambling around to do a ton of other things while trying to get me to eat my brussels sprouts at home. We went to burger joints and nice white tablecloth sit-down places and everything in between. It was VERY clear that I would be on my best behavior or would be sitting in the car while she finished her meal solo. She was the hammer and could correct my behavior with one sharp look.

                                                    We also had a tradition of the birthday girl (me) being able to decide where to have my bday meal out. For years, and much to my mother's chagrin, I favored "The Hawaiian" -- a Polynesian restaurant with a fantastic indoor "rain storm" on 15 minute intervals in the dining room. I don't remember the food, but I do remember how lucky I felt to be there as guest of honor, drinking my juice/punch from a tiki mug, and taking it all in.

                                                    Was it educational? Yes. Was it an occasional splurge for her? Yes. But it meant something to me and probably was very influential with regards to the hound I am today. Some of my best, and most long-lasting memories are of eating out with my mom.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: yumyum

                                                      Great story. My parents were the same way, and I did spend a few meals in the car. Now you're not allowed to do that or someone calls the police. grr.

                                                      I also had the special birthday meal each year at a horrid place, but it was always me and my Dad. I thought this was like the best restaurant in town and came to realize when I was an adult it was nothing but a crappy, steam table cafeteria, but I thought it was FABULOUS. I think it was all you could get on your plate, or maybe AYCE, and I would get salisbury steak and mashed and mac and cheese and all from these huge trays, and jello desserts with whipped cream and all kinds of lovely stuff, I thought it was fabulous. My Dad always acted like it was indeed the best restaurant in the world and we'd always have this fancy, proper dress up meal there. We didn't have the money for fancy, and there were very few fancy places in my small town anyway, so in retrospect this was genius. We never ate there any other time except my birthday.

                                                    2. It offered me a taste of the world. I grew up in a small town in upstate NY, and going out to dinner was a big deal, since we didn't often go. I remember very well that when I got to choose what restaurant we went to (which only happened on my birthday, and not every year at that), I would inevitably choose the only Japanese or Mexican or Thai place in the area. My siblings would groan, but for me, it gave me access to a world that only existed in my fantasies and on TV, since we didn't have the means ((or the vision for that matter) to travel to any of those far-off "exotic" locales. I went on to have a career that now often takes me to one of those far-off places (not so far-off anymore), so it's really interesting to speculate on how who we are as kids really shapes who we are as adults.

                                                      1. I will say that eating out does teach kids to calculate 20% of a total.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: beevod

                                                          Like my daughter told me, "double the tax and add five bucks..." (but make sure they haven't already calculated in a service charge, which circumstance once had her leaving about a 40% tip. Not the worst karma, though - not like she never worked in food service...)

                                                        2. Hi little.tiger - just read through this thread. It sounds like you have really special memories of your family's dinners out and want to re-create that for your kids. But it also sounds like you get to re-live those memories in a special way when you go out with your DH and kids, no? So I think you should keep doing it, and budget the dining out dollars in a "preventative medicine/family therapy" part of your healthcare budget :-)

                                                          I take my kids out to lunch ~twice a month, usually by myself (or DH by himself). We stick to casual and hole-in-the-wall places. My 4 year old is very active, so keeping him focused can be challenging but he loves to eat out. My toddler is much easier & is happy as long as I remember to bring a toy truck. We rarely take them out to dinner because they're just too tired later in the day.

                                                          I'm the youngest of 3 kids spaced apart like yours. I don't ever remember going to a restaurant when I was a young child, except for a rare trip to a pizza parlor. We didn't even go to Friendly's until I was in junior high! My parents were very frugal. My mom was a pretty good cook but she didn't really enjoy it. She had a pretty good deal, though - my Mennonite great-Aunt lived with us, and every morning my mom would tell her what the plan was for supper. Auntie would do all the chopping and prep work in the afternoon so that when Mom got home from work, all she had to do was throw everything together.