Every so often you will delude yourself and think we are a pleasant, civilised family, of course we can go to nice restaurant.

It will be a joy – the children will charm the waiters with their polished table-manners and my husband and I shall gaze lovingly into one another’s eyes and bask in the admiration of fellow diners as they admire our Christmas-card-perfect family scene.

Three hours, two domestic disputes, one meltdown and a dozen disgruntled diners later you change your tune:

 “This wasn’t worth it, why do I bother?!”

But fear not, despondent mums and dads. Below we have the ultimate list of clever, crafty and downright devious games you can use to distract your little cherubs while you wait for your food and try to avoid attracting unwanted attention to your table.

  1. Sugar Penny
    Just like the old fairground ball and cup game – hide a penny under one of three sugar packets and mix them up to see who can follow the penny. Even just guessing and taking turns is fun for younger kids.
  2. Change Towers
    Empty all the change out of your pockets and ask the kiddos to find and stack up the ones that match.
  3. Letter Hunt
    Take the menu and ask junior to find all the letter As. It’s a surprisingly engaging game and if the restaurant uses a disposable kids menu you can let them circle all the letters they find.
  4. Ones and Twos
    Line up a row of condiment packets. Each player takes turns to remove either one or two packets from the row. The person who gets the last packet in the row is the winner.
  5. Vanishing Act
    Line up different items on the table e.g. salt, pepper, ketchup packet, spoon, napkin. Player one covers their eyes while player two secretly removes an object. Player one uncovers their eyes and tries to work out what went missing.
  6. Guess the Hand
    The oldest game in the world probably. One object, two closed fists, is it in the left or right?
  7. Pipe Cleaners
    Pipe cleaners are a great toy because you can mould any shape you like and let other players guess what it is. Add a time limit to make it more challenging.
  8. Straw Worms
    Take the paper sleeve from a straw and twist it up tight. Then drip one or two drops of water on it and watch it wriggle and move – it really works.
  9. Tic-Tac-Toe/Noughts & Crosses
    A simple classic. Make a grid with four straws or pieces of cutlery, then use coins or sugar packets as your noughts and crosses.
  10. Placemat Fun
    Design your own placemats at home. It takes a little more prep but it could really pay off. Draw a network of streets for a toy car to drive around, or even just some simple shapes for colouring in. The best part is you can tailor the design and even save it on the computer to print off before every restaurant visit.
  11. Story Books
    Don’t forget about good old story books. They work just as well during periods of boredom as they do at bedtime.
  12. Play-Doh
    Another classic. All you need is a little tub of Play-Doh and your imagination. It keeps little fingers very busy and you can take turns guessing the shapes.
  13. Table Football
    Take the paper cover from a straw and roll it into a ball. Now all you need is to arch your fingers on the table to create a goal and your opponent shoots at goal by flicking the ‘ball’. But be warned, this could get messy if there are too many drinks and people around.
  14. Phones and Tablets
    Some people are a bit reluctant to give their child something that they consider ‘anti-social’ like an iPhone or iPad, but if it keeps them entertained for a little while and means everyone can have a nice time then that seems pretty sociable to us.
  15. Sensory Toys
    If you’re the parent of a sensory-seeking child, then you probably already have one of these with you. Let them at it.

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