7 Awesome Games To Keep Kids Occupied in a Restaurant

Those chicken fingers will be there before you know it.

by Alexis Barad-Cutler
A bored kid sitting at a table at a restaurant in front of an empty plate with his head in his hand

Some parents bring their kids to a restaurant by choice (i.e. enforced family time), while others find themselves there by accident (i.e. everyone’s starving after the soccer game). Whatever the reason that’s landed them across from their kids at a restaurant table, most parents realize quickly that unless they’ve come prepared, it’s a challenge to occupy kids at a restaurant with bare hands. Between waiting for a table, waiting to order, waiting for food, and then waiting for everyone to finish eating — kids have to do a lot of waiting when families go out to eat. And they’re not always patient about it.

To cut the whining down and up the enjoyment factor, its ideal to have surefire ways to keep the youngest diners occupied. So short of handing off that iPhone it’s better to line the ol’ parental tool belt with some can’t-go-wrong games that don’t require any props from home. Here are 7 games to keep kids occupied in a restaurant, that can be done basically anywhere, in a pinch.

Play the “What’s Missing?” Game

Prep Time: Less than one minute

Entertainment Time: 5 – 10 minutesWhat You’ll Need:

  • Whatever you can find on the restaurant table (i.e. salt and pepper shakers, sugar packet holder, ketchup bottle, etc.)
  • Optional: Objects you might have on hand, from your pocket or bag.

‘What’s Missing’ is a memory game you can play almost anywhere there’s a table with stuff on it — from waiting rooms, to the classroom, to your own kitchen. But it is especially useful when you’re at a restaurant and you’ve forgotten to bring your own supplies to keep the kids busy. Simply line up about 4 things (like the objects mentioned above) so all players can study them, and then have everyone close their eyes. While everyone’s eyes are closed, the Hider gets to disappear something from the table and everyone else has to guess what thing got hidden. To up the ante (for older kids), use more objects and don’t line the objects up — instead — arrange them randomly on the table.

Play “Menu Letter Race”

Prep Time: None

Entertainment Time: 10-15 minutes.What You’ll Need:

  • Some menus and players who can identify letters, and possibly count. For reading-aged kids, you’ll need players who can read.
  • A watch, or something with a timer.

To play the ‘Menu Letter Race’ game, one player chooses a letter and counts how many times that letter appears on the menu — but keeps that information to themselves. The other players wait to hear which letter it was that that player picked, and when they do, they race each other to find as many of that letter that they can on the menu. Players are given a certain amount of time (3 or 4 minutes) to find as many of that letter that they can. When the timer is up, each player says the number that they found, and the person with the closest number to the correct number, wins that round (and gets to be the next Letter Chooser). For reading-aged kids, you can choose a word from the menu instead of a letter (but try to make it a word that doesn’t only appear once or twice!).

Make A Straw Wriggly Worm

Prep Time: 30 seconds

Entertainment Time: 5 minutesWhat You’ll Need:

  • Straws with paper wrapping still on them.
  • A cup of water

This classic restaurant game won’t earn you or your party any points for manners, but it certainly will entertain your kids for at least 5 minutes. Let the haters hate (and also, tip your server well). To make a Straw Wriggly Worm, start with a straw that has the paper still on it. Carefully tear open one side, and scrunch it down toward the other side carefully. Keep the paper on the straw until it is scrunched down really tightly. Remove the straw and place it on a dry part of the table, and do not get it wet yet. Now, dip your straw into a cup of water, and then drip two or three small drops of water onto your compressed paper. As soon as the water comes into contact with the paper, you’ll see it start to squirm and wiggle to the delight of all your spectators.

Build Sugar Packet Houses

Prep Time: 30 seconds

Entertainment Time: 10-20 minutesWhat You’ll Need:

  • Sugar packets

If you know how to build a house with a deck of cards, building a house out of sugar packets is the same concept — except the fact that since they’re packets of sugar, the weight is different and you’re working with a smaller format. This can definitely be more challenging for younger children, but for ages 6 and up, it could be a great way to keep them occupied for quite some time as they puzzle out how to keep their tower standing.

Play Straw and Sugar Packet Tic Tac Toe

Prep Time: 1 to 3 minutes

Entertainment Time: 10 minutesWhat You’ll Need:

  • Straws
  • Sugar packets in two different colors (3 of each color)

You’ll need to ask your server for some extra straws to help set up this game to help create the “game board”. Line your straws up to create your tic tac toe board, and then use different colored packets instead of X’s and 0’s to mark your spot on the board to win three in a row (i.e. three yellow sugar packets in a row is a win).

Play “Never Have I Ever: Food Edition”

Prep Time: None

Entertainment Time: 15 — 20 minutesWhat You’ll Need: Nothing

‘Never Have I Ever: Food Edition’ is a fun game to play — even with your not-so-foodie kids. At the very least, they’ll have fun asking you about the adventurous foods you have eaten over your lifetime. If your kids need some prompting, they can simply play off of the menu in front of them. The rules of the game are: The first player says a simple statement starting with, “Never have I ever”. Anyone who at some point in their lives has done the action that the first player says (i.e. “eaten frog legs”), must drink a sip of whatever drink they have (water, juice, etc.).

Entertain Them With Alphabet Spy

Prep Time: 1 minute

Entertainment Time: 10-15 minutesWhat You’ll Need:

  • A paper menu (ideally a kid’s menu) or any food liner with letters on it.
  • Crayon or drawing utensil.

To play ‘Alphabet Spy,’ have your child use the kid’s menu or whatever paper you have on hand that happens to have lots of words on it, and ask them to find a letter, and circle it. Each time they find the letter, they must make a circle around it. For the preschool set, this counts as an “activity.”