10 tips for restaurant dining with teams or first, you confiscate the salt shakers

Team dinnerA time honored youth sports tradition is the whole team dinner outing. Take 15 or so sweaty, hyperactive kids and a bunch of parents who just want to go someplace warm (or cool) and sit down, cram them into a busy, understaffed restaurant and you’ll learn a lot about the make up of your team. Like which parent completely ignores their little sweetheart, who just squirted mustard into a teammate’s drink. Or which parent is rude to serving staff. And which parent you can split a pizza with because they totally hate mushrooms, too.

Team dining can be a lot of fun and a great bonding experience, but it can be disastrous if you don’t know what you’re doing. So, take some advice from The Trophy Mom, survivor of many team dinners, and former truck stop waitress (yes, folks, the sass is legit) before your entourage heads out to dine.

1. If at all possible, call ahead. Even if it’s 15 minutes ahead, you’ll give the restaurant a chance to batten down the hatches and get some tables lined up so you don’t have to stand around in the entry way while other diners give you the stink eye. If you can make a reservation a few hours ahead and give the manager a chance to call in extra waitstaff, they will really appreciate it.

2. Try not to underestimate your group size. It’s way easier to take away tables than to find extras in a crowded restaurant.

3. Pick an appropriate restaurant. A kid-friendly restaurant with a big menu to satisfy a variety of tastes and picky eaters is the best. This is not the time to hit the trendy bistro, or the sushi bar or the 5 star place in your guide book.

4. It’s more fun for the kids to eat together and the parents to eat at another table. But you’ve still got to keep an eye on the little darlings. If you’ve got a team of boys, I highly recommend confiscating the salt and pepper and all those little packets of sugar and jelly. I watched in horror once as a kid downed about  5 sugar packets then followed them up with a grape jelly chaser. He was, predictably, a little out of control the rest of the meal. I’m not saying girls won’t do the same thing but in my experience, they are too busy talking and giggling.

5. Quick, get the kids something to eat. Even if it’s chips or breadsticks, a little something to tide them over before the meal comes will help.

6. To keep the bills separate, I recommend ordering by player number. This is especially helpful for when the kids are at another table or two servers are handling your group. You tell the server your player’s jersey number and they use that for the order. So, player number 5 and parent of player number 5 go on one ticket, which is easy to sort out at the end of the meal.

7. Pay attention when the food comes out. One of my personal pet peeves is when the poor waiter is standing there with a plate, calling out “Greek salad, no beets ” like an auctioneer while you jabber away with your dining partners, to finally realize that’s your dinner they are sending back to the kitchen. Make sure your player has their order, and alert the waiter if items are missing or wrong. It gets a little crazy with big groups so have some patience.

Waitress courtesy of flickr user Meagan Fisher by a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license

8. As soon as you have all your food, start asking about the bill. It can take a long time to get it all rung in, and standing around waiting for the check while trying to keep bored kids under control is challenging. Double check your bill, and also look to see if the restaurant automatically added a tip. Many restaurants will add a 15% gratuity for parties of a certain size. Feel free to add a few more bucks. Trust me, while your server is wiping ketchup off the seat and re-screwing on the tops to the salt and pepper shakers, he or she will appreciate it.

9. Leave the poor coach alone. This is not the time to inquire about your kid’s playing time or harass him or her about changing the lineup. Just let the coach enjoy the meal and be sociable.  And if kids are getting rambunctious, handle it. Don’t make the coach be the disciplinarian during the meal.

10. Remember that you and your player are representing your team. You probably have on team apparel and everyone in the restaurant is watching you, so make a good impression.

Follow these tips and you will survive your team dinner. You may even have some fun! Have some tricks of your own? Share them in the comments.

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4 Comments on “10 tips for restaurant dining with teams or first, you confiscate the salt shakers”

  1. pat coutts says:

    I know what you are saying about the salt shakers but the guy at Lafayette Coney Island last year showed us how to make a balancing beam out of 2 forks, a toothpick and a salt shaker….works pretty good at keeping them entertained.

  2. Great advice! We do the player number thing too. Let me tell you that girls are just as “creative” when it comes to sugar packets and salt shakers. Ha-ha!

  3. […] parent who ever wanted to walk an entire team into a restaurant for that special bonding session. Check it out here before you go. Some wise wisdom indeed.  (A quick personal tip – stay away from Red Robin, Canadian steak […]


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