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The Case for a Screen-Free Family Dinner

Parents should be training their kids to be good diners, and that means putting away the digital devices. 

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Let’s be honest: “No screens at the table” should be a hard-and-fast rule during any meal, whether you’re at the kitchen table or at a restaurant. But take a look around next time you are out to eat with your family. You’ll find kids, from toddlers to teens, plopped in a chair with their hands and eyes glued to a smartphone or tablet. But screen time during mealtime may be setting your kids up for poor dining habits down the road. We talked with Josh Wolkon—owner of Vesta, Steuben’s, and Ace Eat Serve—about why saving the dinner table from digital takeover is critical for raising the next generation of diners.

5280: What’s your feeling on the ever-present technology, especially when it infiltrates the restaurant experience?

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Wolkon: As a parent, it’s important to teach kids how to dine out at an early age. I get it; sometimes a babysitter cancels on parents heading out for a nice dinner. But if you are going to take your kids out, treat it as a fun learning experience. Let them look at the menu. Let them take in the design and architecture of the building. Ask them to look at the presentation of the dishes. I get it, a nine-year-old doesn’t want to sit at a restaurant for two hours. But wait at least a half hour before media comes out. Make sure conversation is a highlight of the meal.

What are the most important things kids can learn when they go out to eat with their family?

It starts with really simple things. Start with teaching kids how to look a server in the eyes, how to order their own meal, and “please” and “thank you.” Explain all the jobs of the people who work in a restaurant. Teach them how to pay a bill and tip.

You are really passionate about this.

If we stick kids with phones during dinner, we are robbing them of the opportunity to learn how to dine out. Kids are losing the ability to learn how to have simple dinner conversation. It’s a really sad change for this generation. How will these kids handle taking a client out to dinner when they land their first career job? Will they even know how to hold a conversation? Will they know how to politely pick up the bill? They won’t if they’re not taught.

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Besides encouraging all family members to be fully present during a meal out, what else can parents do to make it an enjoyable time?

Know your kids and what they can tolerate. Every kid is different, but I’ve found kids around eight years old can start handling more fine dining experiences. It’s key to do your homework on the restaurant that fits your family, and it doesn’t have to be fast-food. Also, head out to dinner early before the kids meltdown. If they are starving when they arrive, and a server rushes out their food, it’s no surprise when they get bored waiting for everyone else to finish.

Is there anything else you’d like parents to teach their kids about eating out?

Teach kids about the “No Thank You Bite.” When kids are offered a dish they’re not sure they’ll like, teach them to try at least one bite. If they don’t like it, they can politely decline with a “No thank you.” This is an easy way to encourage your child to be a little more adventurous when eating out, which is one of the points about eating outside the home. Besides the fact that parents don’t have to cook and clean up.

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