1. Give them sugar Play the restaurant version of the classic shell game: Grab three packets and mark an X on one of the packets. Flip them over and quickly slide them around. See if your kids can follow the X.
2. Put math on the menu Ask your kids to find the most and least expensive items on the menu. Then have them count up the dishes between $8 and $12. For the bonus round, tell them they have $48.75 to spend—what can they order?
3. Disappearing act Arrange the salt and pepper shakers, condiments, drink lists and so on in the middle of the table. Ask your kids to look closely at the objects, then close their eyes. Take one object away and have them guess what's missing.
4. Play with knives Set up an ad hoc tic-tac-toe board with cutlery. Use sets of sugar and sweetener packets as the markers for each player, and see who can get three in a row.
5. Screenwriting 101 It’s time to play pretend. Ask your kids what might happen if the restaurant was a movie set. Have them subtly look at the other diners. Is that woman eating pasta a fire-eater who has run away from the circus? Is the toddler in the booth an alien in disguise? The weirder the story, the better.
A version of this article appeared in our October 2015 issue with the headline “Restaurant rescue,” p. 45.