10 Restaurant Waiting Games to Play with Kids

Before we had kids, my husband and I would eat out all the time and enjoyed our time together discovering new foods and restaurants. Now that we have two little boys, eating out isn’t so easy or enjoyable. We are now mostly limited to kid-friendly dining and even at the most kid-friendly restaurants, we are susceptible to melt downs, whining, crying, and restlessness among other things. So I made a list of restaurant table games to play while waiting for your meal, or even during meal time when the kids are done eating but the adults aren’t. These fun little games can be played using items found at your table and have really helped us keep the kids busy and calm while dining out.

1. Origami Fortune Tellers. I used to make these all the time when I was younger and they were always a camp favorite. If you don’t know how to make one of these, HERE is a step by step tutorial.  All you need is the kids menu and crayons. Colors go on the outside, numbers in the center, and a fortune on each of the 4 inside flaps. Here is how to play: First your child chooses a color. If it’s red, then spell out R-E-D while moving the fortune together and apart with your fingers 3 times. Then choose a number from the center. Again, count while moving the fortune teller. Then pick another number and whichever number they choose, lift up the flat and that is their fortune. Here are some fortune ideas: “You will have good luck today” or “You will go to a party soon.” Or they could be a direction like “Give someone at the table a hug” or “Make a silly face.”

2. Sugar Packet and Penny Trick. This is a restaurant table version of the old cups and balls magic trick. Take three of the same color sugar packet and a penny or small coin. Show you child which packet the coin is under and then quickly mix them up while they are watching. See if they can follow which sugar packet the penny is under and when you are done mixing, ask them where the penny is.

3. Guess Which Hand. Hide a sugar packet/piece of a napkin/coin (or other small table object) in one of your hands. Make a fist with both hands and have your child guess which hand the object is in. My son likes to play this game on us! He (not so) discreetly hides something in one hand and then we get to guess. Of course I like to humor him and pick the wrong hand :o)

4. Straw and Sugar Packet Tic Tac Toe. Here is a fun way to play Tic Tac Toe. Ask your server for a couple extra straws and use them to make the game board. Use sets of two different color sugar packets as the markers for each team or player. Three in a row wins!

5. Straw Wrapper Worms. When you are unwrapping your straws, scrunch the paper up. Lay it on the table and drip a drop of water on it. Watch it wiggle and grow! See our Straw Wrapper Worm video:

6. I Spy. Choose an object at the table or within view of your table and using the phrase “I spy with my little eye, something ___” Provide a descriptive word about what you see and let your child guess what it is. Then let him/her pick something and you try to guess!

7. Dot Game. This is also called Capture the Squares. The object of the game is to connect dots to get as many squares as possible. Start by drawing a grid of dots and take turns connecting two dots at a time with a vertical or horizontal line. When a person is able to finish a square, put your initial in it. When all dots become squares, count the initialed boxes and whoever has the most wins!

8. ABC Spy. Using the kids menu, or in this case we used the fry basket liner, ask your child to find an “A” and so on. Each time they find the letter, they can circle it. This seems too simple, but believe me, this kept my 3-year-old occupied for a good chunk of time and he really liked searching for each letter I called out.

9. Disappearing Objects. Arrange a group of objects together in the middle of the table. Tell your child to look closely at all the objects on the table then tell him to close his eyes. Take an object away and see if your child can tell you which object is missing.

10. Table Football. There are actual rules to this game (that we don’t follow). We just like to make a paper football and enjoy flicking it around. To make the ball: Start by folding a piece of paper in half longways and fold the corner down into a triangle. Continue to fold down, making triangles until you get to the end of the paper. Tuck whatever excess paper is left on the end into the “pocket” on the top of the ball.  The object of the game is the flick the football across the table and if it is hanging over the edge when it comes to a rest, you get a touchdown. We like to hold our hands up into a field goal and try and flick between the posts (aka fingers and thumbs).

I hope these games help you at your next meal out. Happy Dining!

Going on a long flight? Check out my 10 Airplane Travel Games for Kids for ideas on how to keep your little ones occupied during long flights.



  1. says

    Such cute ideas! I remember what little nightmares my brother and I were at restaurants. It wasn't until we discovered paper football when we settled down… sort of. :)

    Thank you so much for stopping by my blog the other day! That was really sweet of you to do so. I'd love to see the progress you are making on your scoreboard!

    • says

      Kirsten, Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving me a comment :o) I now know why you traced your stencils on your scoreboard. I attempted to paint over them and the paint smeared all over the place. I am going to have to do a lot of touch ups. Hopefully I will be done with it by next week and can post it on my blog!

  2. says

    You're a genius! I don't have any kids, but my friends' kids are always in need of entertainment when we go out to eat. Thanks for the ideas!

  3. says

    I love these ideas, where were you when my kids were young? (probable not born yet, lol) I just pinned your ideas for my grandbabies. I am hopping over from Newlyweds on a budget and am now following you.

    • says

      Hehe, thank you for making me feel young for a minute :o) Thanks for pinning!! I hope these ideas help your grandchildren. I'm following your blog as well! My husband was just talking about wanting to buy an RV someday.

  4. says

    What fun (and useful) ideas! Thanks! I would love for you to share this (and any other creations) at my new linky party "Pin It and Win It Wednesday" @www.cheapcraftymama.com!

  5. says

    These are all great ideas!!! I have an especially hyper little one when we are at restaurants! I will save these ideas!

    Thanks for sharing this at The DIY Dreamer.. From Dream To Reality!

  6. says

    Hi! I stopped over from the Catch a Glimpse party. These are such great ideas for keeping the kids occupied, but also engaged, during dinner time. I love that these are social activities, and they make a nice alternative to just pulling out the iPad or DS. Thanks for sharing!

  7. says

    Love this list! I totally forgot about the worm/straw wrapper – my kids will LOVE it. Now we just need to actually go out to eat! :)

    Thanks for linking this up to Kid's Co-op!

  8. Anonymous says

    as a mom of a very active 3 year old- I thinks it's always nice and necessary to have games for toddlers when you take them out. however, I have been in the service industry for about ten years and know that children can abuse, damage and destroy items on a table or around them without intentional supervision. i encourage every parent to consider the work employees will have after you have left. I also encourage all to bring their own items from home and help keep the waste to a minimal. something to consider! Rachel

    • says

      Thanks for your comment Rachel. I have a very active 3yo as well and have to watch him and his little brother like a hawk! Most of these game ideas are intended for the parent to lead which cuts down on the temptation to destroy table items (which could happen whether or not a game is being played). We always bring our own disposable table topper placemats with us so when we are finished, I can ball them up with the table scraps and waste inside. I am also under the mentality that you should always tip extra when eating out with kids. Because you know someone is going to have to sweep under the table after we leave. I have a lot of friends who work in the food service industry and I would hate to be disrespectful to them or their place of work. Thanks for stopping by my blog! I appreciate all comments.

    • Anonymous says

      Thank you for this comment!..while enjoying the ideas with the child menus and crayons..I too had a few shivers wondering if I were the next guest to sit at a table where the sugar packets, salt and pepper, condiments were used by children as play toys…and agree with "please bring items from home" comment..thanks:)

  9. says

    These are all such simple and yet fabulous suggestions. I love that you don't even have to remember to bring anything – everything is right there at the table. Thanks so much for sharing at our party this week.

  10. says

    This is WONDERFUL! Even for my daughter, who is 12, there are plenty of times when we can ALL use a little more activity while we're waiting. The added bonus on a lot of them is it keeps us interacting with each other, instead of all of us staring at our phones or the menu or whatever!

    Thanks for linking up to Homeschooling on the Cheap!

  11. says

    Love these ideas! Pinning this all over the place (I have a gazillion boards!) and I want to share this. Thanks for all the great ideas, I'm always trying to find alternatives to the iPad / iPhone when we eat out.

  12. Stacy says

    Nice list, thanks for the ideas, and the reminders of some of the games I used to keep myself occupied with when I was a kiddo

  13. says

    Fun, fun!! We play the dot game, tic-tac-toe, eye-spy, and guess my animal. Just picked up a couple of new ideas!

    Jen from
    Creative and Curious Kids!

  14. says

    I pinned this earlier in the week but didn't get to really stop by and read it. Saw it on TGIF Linky this week and am stopping by. Lots of good ideas. Thanks for sharing because we all have kids that need to be occupied sometimes when service is slow at the restaurant:)

  15. says

    Congratulations! Your post will be featured this coming week on Busy Monday at A Pinch of Joy! Please feel free to stop by Sunday afternoon and grab a featured button. This is a great idea and it works well even for those spur of the moment stops. I like that it keeps the family interacting. Great post and hope to see you again soon!

  16. says

    I love this. I saw your blog and I immediately knew I had to follow you on Pinterst. :) Glad to find you through The NY Melrose link up.
    Jessie at JessieGunderson.com

  17. says

    Fun! I can't wait to go out to a restaurant with my kids! Thanks so much for sharing at The Creative Spark – I'll be featuring this on my Facebook page. I hope you are having a great weekend!
    Jenn :)

  18. says

    What a great idea for a post! We plan most of these same games & have a great time with our kids. But I am always surprised at how other parents just ignore their kids and still expect them to enjoy eating out & behave. I hope this inspires lots of parents to have some fun WITH their kids at restaurants!! =-)
    I shared this with my Facebook readers here: https://www.facebook.com/LivingLifeIntentionally – Thanks for linking up to TGIF. Have a GREAT week,
    Beth =-)

  19. says

    So cute! Thanks for sharing at the Sassy Sunday Linky! Some of these are old favorites and some I'd forgoten all about! Thanks for the reminder!

    Jen @ sassypantsstudio.blogspot.com

  20. says

    What fab ideas – thanks for sharing them with the Kids Co-op (I've pinned you!). My girls especially love the fortune tellers and like to use them to predict that job they will have when they grow up. I noticed they include 'blogger' as one of the options now!

    • says

      Cathy, that is too funny! My older son calls blogging "e-mailing." He hasn't quite figured out exactly what I am doing. Thanks for pinning and for giving me the chance to share at the Kids Co-op!

  21. Anonymous says

    I think we may have to go out and eat tomorrow so we can try these out!!! Do they work on husbands too???

  22. Anonymous says

    Working in food service for a lifetime I see that these ideas are are good ones, but as having a different point of view on it is that food cost at an establishment are very high, which using the tables offerings are not free by any means. I myself would not waste the offerings for in the long run it will make the food cost go up because the packets would probably be thrown away after the waitstaff witnesses the use of them. Sugar packets cost about $40 to $60 a box (bulk). Not only the fact as who wants to use them after they have been on a football field, passed around with many hands in contact with them and dropped in the carpet like a grassy football field. I will bring my own sweetner from now on and I feel sorry for the owners of the establishments to have to provide straws and etc. to keep your children occupied. Most offer crayons etc. If not I feel it's your responsibility to keep your own children entertained while waiting for a meal. If you do not like that the establishment does not offer entertainment I suggest you eat elsewhere or make a suggestion as to how to get some.

    • says

      Hello, thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your point of view. I do want to point out that 4 of these games exclusively use the crayons and kids menu. Other games that use sugar packets can be played with other items. For instance: Tic Tac Toe can be played on the kids menu with crayons, or instead of straws, use your silverware as the game board and pieces of paper from the kids menu as the markers. Although, I have found that some of the restaurants we regular pass out straws like they are candy. A straw for the waters, ice tea, soda, etc. My husband hates using straws so we always seem to have extras sitting on our table. In fact, the ones pictured above were the ones that came with our drinks! I appreciate your commitment to the food service industry. I would hate to think I have done something to offend you or your place of work.

    • Anonymous says

      Anonymous, I appreciate your perspective too (it makes me think). At the same time, the games don't involve excessive amounts of any supply. 3-5 sugar packets per party is not an unusual amount, as I'm sure you know. Whether parents are dumping them in their coffee or using them to help little ones stay entertained is beside the point. And touching a sugar packet that has been touched before is really no different than touching the salt shaker, ketchup, menus, chairs, or doorknobs. That's my two cents.

    • says

      I'm going to disagree with this Anonymous poster. I am a server at a very popular family restaurant and I think these are WONDERFUL ideas (I found them on pinterest). Where I work, we keep the sugar/sweetener packets on the tables, and if they're unused we will put them back in the caddy. Exactly as this other person said, touching a sugar packet that is still sealed is no different than the ketchup bottle, which is also in the same caddy. If kids are not screaming, or making a huge mess for me to clean up, then what does it matter? Serving a table with happy kids is SO MUCH EASIER. Please, keep playing these games and share them with others.

  23. Anonymous says

    I completely forgot about the straw worm until I saw it on your list. My mom used to do that with us as kids! Thanks for the reminder!

  24. Anonymous says

    amazing how people in america and germany happen to not only have the same problems but also solve them likewise (:

  25. Anonymous says

    I have to agree about the service-industry side of things. Sugar packets are pretty much condiments, not toys. They're not there for entertainment purposes. We are trained that anything left on the table like that is trash. You don't put them back in the caddies and they get thrown away. If customers don't want their restaurants to raise prices then don't waste a whole caddy full of sugars to entertain your child. I do have a four year old so I understand how much you need to occupy your child in a restaurant but bring your own stuff from home!

  26. Anonymous says

    I cringe when I see parents had over a smart phone or other gadget to a kid at a restaurant table. They miss out on such a rich opportunity for exploring the world with their minds while also learning good social skills/ table manners.

  27. says

    I love these ideas. I have four kids and not only do I have to keep them from having a meltdown but rarely do they want to play the same game. I am so excited to have more options so that they can break into pairs and play different games.

  28. says

    Great post. This list of ideas is enjoyable and fun. I am going to share it in the Facebook site of SuperMe, because our little heroes need some help in the restaurants.

  29. says

    First time stopping by your blog. Love it! Love the design and the name is so clever. Love these ideas, I will be sure to use them the next time we go out to eat.

  30. Jennie says

    I love these ideas; thank you so much for sharing them. It seems that no matter what I pack to bring along to restaurants, the kids inevitably get bored waiting for the food to come, & finish eating before Daddy & Mommy. These ideas will keep us busy!

  31. says

    Thanks, these are great! I also have another idea, sorry if someone already suggested it, I didn't read all of the comments. We actually just played this this morning while getting ready for school. The "I'm going on a picnic/vacation/whatever and I'm taking in my bag…" So the 1st person says the phrase and somthing that starts with A. Then the 2nd person says the phrase& what the 1st person said & something that starts with B. You keep going all thru the alphabet. The trick is remembering & saying the whole alphabet list before the letter ur on. It gets hard but hysterical!

  32. Anonymous says

    These are some great ideas, thanks…for an older child I always keep a couple of pencils and a pad of paper in my purse. I draw a line, curved, squiggly, or whatever and the child gets to draw a picture of something with that line, then they draw a line and I draw a picture,keep going. This is very good while waiting for an appointment…

  33. says

    We also play 3 coin soccer. One person makes a goal with their fingers. The other pushes 1 coin in between the other 2. This repeats across the table with the goal of hitting one coin into the goal.

  34. says

    I love these ideas, where were you when my kids were young? (probable not born yet, lol) I just pinned your ideas for my grandbabies. I am hopping over from Newlyweds on a budget and am now following you.
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    Congratulations! Your post will be featured this coming week on Busy Monday at A Pinch of Joy! Please feel free to stop by Sunday afternoon and grab a featured button. This is a great idea and it works well even for those spur of the moment stops. I like that it keeps the family interacting. Great post and hope to see you again soon!Thanks.
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  44. Ashley says

    You should retitle this “10 ways to make your server hate you”. Never EVER let your kids touch the sugar packets. Salt and pepper and other condiments are frowned upon too. But seriously if your kid is messing with the sugar packets don’t expect tons of attention. And if your kid makes a big mess, your server has to clean it up. You better leave way more than the standard 20% and at least attempt to clean it yourself.

    Yes I’m a server. Yes I’m a mom. You can occupy your kids without making a big mess. And while most of us have kids and are pretty good at dodging rug rats while carrying plates that are scalding off our finger prints or huge trays full of expensive liquor, keep them sitting. It’s not my fault if your kid grabs a hot skillet and burns himself.

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