Wait until after placing your order to go wash your hands together. This will eat (pun intended) into some of the wait time and give your child a chance to explore the restaurant.
Bring a deck of cards and turn the wait into an opportunity to have fun. Teach your kids a few games at home (doing so in a restaurant is a challenge, what with everything else going on). You can rotate the selection so that everyone gets to play a favorite game.
If you choose an ethnic restaurant, look up some fun facts about the country or culture and discuss them. Pretend you’re in that country, and talk about the food in an accent (just don’t speak so loudly that you offend nearby diners or the waitstaff). What kinds of sports do they play? Where is the country located? How many people live there? Use your smartphone to point out the country’s location on a map.
Bring paper and markers or crayons and draw while waiting for your meal.
Help your child order his own meal. (This is where his natural tendency for role-playing and acting will come in handy!)
Establish a rule that your child must try at least one new food on the table in order to have dessert.
Take turns picking the restaurant for family events, and start a tradition of letting your child pick the restaurant for his birthday. He will feel more excited and invested in having a good time. (And if one of your kids ruins the experience for another, she loses her next turn to pick.)
At home, make a game of pretending to eat at a restaurant, with each person playing a different character. Have one child play Mom or Dad ordering, paying the bill, or doing something silly. It makes for good for a laugh and is something to talk about when dining out. Everyone can observe and learn, so your kids can play more parts in the future.