Depending on geography — and whether or not you hit the awesome mother-in-law jackpot, Mother’s Day can fill some people with a bit of anxiety. The vast majority of special requests associated with OpenTable restaurant reservations are filled with warm notes asking for a flower or some other gesture or accommodation for “my lovely mother-in-law.” However, there are more than a few of you who seem to be anticipating the day with the same zeal one might reserve for a root canal. A few of the standouts:
“It’s my first Mother’s Day with my new mother-in-law, so I’m trying to impress her.”
“Wife, mother, and mother-in-law will be there. Please help me keep them happy.”
“Have a stiff drink waiting for me because I am going to be with my mother and mother-in-law.”
“Bringing my mother and mother-in-law in for Mother’s Day – yes, I’m a saint!”
We checked in with expert Lizzie Post, cohost of the “Awesome Etiquette” podcast on American Public Media, for Mother’s Day etiquette tips for diners, so you’ll be ready to navigate even the thorniest of situations that could arise on May 10th.
Seat yourself strategically. As a first line of defense against any drama, Post says, “We always suggest strategic seating. Remember, this is your mother-in-law; this is your husband or your wife’s parent, so having them sit next to each other is a perfectly fine way not just to buffer it, but to allow them to have some time close to each other that, depending on where you live, they might not get very often.”
Shrug off any criticism toward your parenting skills, but… If your kids need distractions to make it through the dining experience and that doesn’t sit well with your mother-in-law, don’t take it personally — but do take it in. Post notes, “When I am out to dinner with a friend and their child comes along, it is nice to have those moments when their kid is focused on something else and we can chat. But, I am also an etiquette expert, and I’m going to come down hard on the side of you need to raise your kids in a way that you spend time at home preparing them for what going out to dinner is like. I do not expect a two-year-old to sit through an entire meal for an hour and a half, but I would expect an eight year old to get through that. So, you have to think developmentally.” Also, consider going old school when designing distractions. “Oftentimes what you’re dealing with when you get judgment from a grandparent is the child’s use of a cell phone. Your parents did the exact same thing — except that it was coloring books and small toys. So, I would suggest bringing something along that isn’t quite so criticism friendly from people of that generation. Try a small coloring book, instead,” she says.
Come prepared with polite conversation. In a perfect world, all of our dining experiences would be focused on the delicious food and warm hospitality, but sometimes conversations can veer to sensitive or unsavory topics. Post reveals, “We had people start talking at a lunch the other day about horrible deaths, and I lost my appetite over it. I thought, ‘This is ridiculous.'” When there was a break in conversation, Post seized the opportunity to steer things in a more lighthearted (and appetizing) direction. She says, “I just said, ‘Well, this is a totally different subject, but I’d love to hear about…,’ and I picked something that was a more upbeat conversation topic and redirected things that way – and I had back-up questions ready to go.” If it really becomes problematic and the subject matter isn’t appropriate for the kids at the table, she says, “It’s okay to say, ‘Hey, I’m just getting a little uncomfortable and I’d love to talk about something else.’ and then have something else to go to. You can say, ‘I know you and James just saw a new movie. Why don’t you tell us about it?'”
Be proactive, but not too prodding. If you observe that your mother-in-law has an issue with an order or seating during the meal, try to gently resolve the situation – emphasis on the gently. “You have to poke and prod a little bit. Ask if she’d like a different plate or table. And always say, ‘Hey, restaurants are really keen on getting you what you, want so it’s going to be no trouble to them to get you something better and it’s totally fine. What we care about is that you have something you enjoy.’” If she resists and says no, it’s best to just drop the issue. “If you force it upon her, that might get even more uncomfortable.”
Pick up the check. After all, it is Mother’s Day! Post counsels, “Generally, you’re the one who’s doing the asking and that should be very clear from the get-go. Don’t wait until the check comes to fight over it. Instead, make sure that you or your spouse say, ‘Mom, we would like to take you out for Mother’s Day,’ that way it’s really clear.”
Finally, remember that this is a day where you’re celebrating the relationship between that mother and child. She points out, “Take a backseat for the day and just be there for your spouse.”
Don’t forget to enter the #MomsFaveMeal Mother’s Day giveaway for a chance to win one of 10 $150 OpenTable Gifts — so you can treat your mother-in-law to a meal on us!
Still searching for the perfect table for Mother’s Day? Find a reservation at one of the 2015 Top 100 Best Brunch Restaurants in America!