Why We Pray in Restaurants

It wasn’t too long ago that I was mortified to pray in a restaurant (or any other public setting).

One day a couple of years ago, Bryan and I met a Christian friend for lunch. We went to my favorite restaurant, and when the food arrived, I could hardly wait to sink my teeth into my chicken enchiladas. As I gleefully placed the first morsel of enchilada goodness in my mouth, our friend asked if he could say grace.

Mortified.

Mortified that I looked like a fake Christian for not even pausing to consider saying grace. Mortified that I already had food in my mouth. (Do you stop chewing while someone is praying or chew and swallow as fast as possible?!) Mortified that everyone in the restaurant was going to watch us.

I can distinctly remember two other I-already-have-food-in-my-mouth-and-my-lunch-companion-wants-to-say-grace events, because I was equally embarrassed. Perhaps because I had experienced those moments, or perhaps because I rarely saw other people praying in restaurants, I was always a bit skeptical of public tableside grace.

If most Christians don’t do it, I reasoned, the ones who are doing it must be going out of their way to do so. They’re making a statement. They’re hoping someone will ask them about God. They’re hoping to look better than everyone else. Or so I thought.

Now, just a couple of years later, my family prays together before every meal, wherever it is – a restaurant, a kid’s princess birthday party, the (secular) pre-school’s Thanksgiving buffet. If we’re going to eat, we’re going to pray. And I’m not the slightest bit embarrassed.

So what changed?

It’s very simple: we pray before every meal at home now. If we say thanks before every meal at home, why would we NOT say thanks before meals anywhere else?

In the nine years Bryan and I were married before we had kids, we didn’t pray before meals. So, to be honest, I can totally understand in retrospect why praying in a restaurant was so foreign to us. Having not established a heart-felt habit of saying thanks at home, it would have been just plain weird to suddenly do so at a restaurant. When I was casting a skeptical eye on others praying publicly, I had no reference point for how praying publicly could simply be a natural extension of praying at home – because we weren’t praying at home.

But, as of a couple of years ago, we have been saying thanks before every meal every day with the kids. I remember the first few times we took our kids to a restaurant after we started praying at home. They stopped us from eating because we hadn’t prayed yet. Bryan and I looked at each other sheepishly, realizing that things had changed: eating without expressing our gratitude was now the foreign concept. The setting didn’t matter. The kids had it right: if it’s important to give thanks at home, what rationale would there be for making it less important anywhere else?

We’re not making a statement, we’re not trying to witness to others, and we’re not trying to be more pious, round-the-clock Christians than anyone else. We’re simply doing what we feel is important at all times: giving thanks to the One who gave us all.

What do you think about praying in restaurants? Do you do it? Why or why not?

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Comments

  1. I totally understand this, Natasha. Sunday morning, after church, we saw friends of ours at a local restaurant. We asked them to join us and before eating, we prayed. I always wonder if people are looking at us. I hope, if that is the case, that we set a good example of Christians in action. But, I observed that my kids weren’t uncomfortable praying, just holding hands with people they didn’t really know!

    • Thanks Chris! I agree – if in the process of doing what we feel is important for our family we set a good example of “Christians in action,” that’s great. I’ve noticed people looking at us but so far I have never had a negative experience where they are scowling or mocking. I’m sure it will come, and when it does, it will just become the first of many teachable moments about not being embarrassed of our faith!

  2. Kellie Titchnell says:

    What a great post! I always appreciate your transparency. It really gives the reader an opportunity to see that we are all on a journey to draw nearer to God and sharing the process encourages us all to peer into our own lives and see where we can come up higher.
    When my daughter began eating table food she was much to young to pray for herself, so I would pray for her. I would hold her hand and the bowl/plate of food while I prayed. When I finished praying I would give her the food. When she was about 18 months old I was getting ready to serve her the food and as I came up to her highchair I saw her bow her little head, utter words in her language that only she knew and then look back up at me as if to say “Ok, I prayed. Can I have my food now?” My heart skipped a beat and I knew right then that we would become a praying family.
    Then when we began going to church on a more regular basis we would go to Brunch afterwards. It only seemed natural to pray before we ate our meals. For one, we had just come from church, but also like you had stated, we were doing it a home therefore we needed to do it at the restaurant. A little while later a patron came up to our table and told my husband and I how impressed he was to see this “young family praying in public.” He said that this had “made his day.” and he insisted on buying our meal.
    It’s not very often we see other people praying in public, but we have committed to living out our faith boldly. Thank you so much for sharing your story and encouraging us.

    • Thank you so much Kellie, and what a great story! It’s interesting that it is so unusual to see Christians praying in public, that you become the anomaly when you do it. When I was more self conscious about it and glanced around to see if people were staring, I always noticed smiling faces. Probably for the same reasons as in your story. I don’t even think to look around anymore, but I definitely haven’t noticed any negativity.

      And I love the story about your daughter! Hearing those first few words in their own language of thanks is amazing. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I think it’s a good habit to be in. We need to be thankful in all things, at all times, and for everything. We should especially be thankful for our food and that we are able to eat in a restaurant. Glad it is your “norm” as well!

  4. Oh Natasha, I have so been in the midst of those food in the mouth moments time and time again. Honestly, we run inconsistent with prayer in restaurants. I think it really depends on who we’re with and what the circumstances are. That’s not an excuse. Just a reality. When our kids are with us, we pray before our meal almost every time. When they aren’t, we’re so excited to be grown ups for a meal out that we tend to get swept away in the moment. You’ve given me something very convicting to think about. It’s that whole Crazy Love concept. We are either passionate followers of Christ or we’re lukewarm. Thanks for a very important reminder. :)

  5. We pray in restaurants, too. Sometimes, I even ask my kids to lead. It’s not showing off, but I’d like to teach them to honor God wherever they are, no matter what is thought of them.

  6. My father was a well educated fully ordained minister. Never, ever would he make others uncomfortable by praying over food in public. He was always considerate of others. Have you ever thought how this disrupts a busy waitress? My father’s feeling was, if we wanted to pray we could do it in the car as there were no rules regarding the timing of it. Did you know that praying over food goes back to ancient hebrew when the rabbis would inspect food in the markets for contamination of insect and meat for worms. They were the ones who blessed the food, which meant it had been inspected. Praying at the dinner table came much later, a Jewish custom as people doubted the quality of the food they’d bo’t. Praying is a restaurant is arrogant. Why not wait until you get home and give thanks that the food didn’t make you sick.

    • Hi Noah, We have never once disrupted a waitress. Perhaps you think we’re saying our nightly (longer) prayers at the restaurant table?! We simply bow our heads and say, “Thank you Lord for this food. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” It’s a simple acknowledgment of where it came from. We aren’t blessing the food (I’ve never understood that, but if you say this is the origin, that would make sense). We are THANKING God for the food, because we thank God for all we have. This would only be arrogant if our intention was to show others what we are doing. Our intention is nothing other than thanking God for what is before us and if done privately at our table, we are not making anyone uncomfortable any more so than someone within earshot being engaged in an uncomfortable conversation on a topic I personally don’t like.

  7. I struggle with were the line of appropriateness/awkwardness is drawn. I get the prayer in our own home no matter who dines with us (Christian or not) but what about dinner in someone else’s home? Picnic out with non-Christian friends? Dinner in a restaurant with a non-Christian family? You mention praying at a kid’s (perhaps not Christian) birthday party and school’s secular holiday meal. I personally would find both of these situations to be inappropriate for displaying prayer and don’t know why silent prayer wouldn’t be acceptable to God in these cases. Do you hold hands in the restaurant to show the server not to interrupt or do you make as little of a visual display as possible? When it comes to the argument about “doing it for the kids”, I actually worry that this display will make my kids (especially when they’re teenagers) NOT want to be Christian if it means doing awkward things like praying in a restaurant or non-Christian friend’s home etc.

    • Hi Sarah, No, we don’t hold hands in a restaurant. There’s no need to show the server anything, as we’re not praying at any length where they would need to be shown something! As I mentioned in the other comment, we’re simply saying, “Thank you Lord for this food. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” We’re not doing it for the kids, we’re just doing it because that’s what we do as a family at home. I would never push it for the principal of the thing, however, in someone else’s home. I agree that there are times when that could lead to awkwardness that is unnecessary. Any prayer is acceptable to God, that’s not the question. When it’s just our family, we pray together out loud wherever it is. If it goes beyond us, then it’s a case by case situation. But I would not avoid it out of fear that your future teenagers will not want to be Christian over it. They’ll have far greater battles in their faith. (See for example my post about 6 Keys to Raising Kids Who Aren’t Ashamed of Being Christians.)

  8. It’s not a habit for me to pray before I eat but I wish it was. There is absurdly nothi my wrong with saying grace and thanks before your meal. I actually admire people when I see them praying before they eat. They don’t disturb others and they don’t yell it out or make a scene. I would like to address what Noah said about waitresses. What is annoying to them is cell phones! Actually they are annoying to everyone in the restaurant! People yell into them (why I have never understood), they won’t get off to order and some stay on them so long talking that they take too long at a table. I keep saying I am going to do a better job of giving thanks before eating regardless of where I am.

  9. Jashlyn Canon says:

    You go girl! Do not teach your family to be ashamed of being Christian. Being Christian isn’t just about church on Sunday or private prayers. Our children need to see our walk as Christians in everything we do. They will learn to stand out for Christ and not allow the world to form them or their actions. Bless you.

  10. I have no issues with saying grace in public restaurants, but I have to admit that when I have meals with my Korean parents, the prayers become 5 minute events, and I am truly embarrassed. And when the waiters come by, my mom’s voice becomes louder and more passionate and honestly it is truly disgusting act of over-piety. I often will comment to them that the prayers are too long and they just dismiss me and make me feel like a less of a Christian because I said something that needed to be said.

    So there IS a fine line between praying for thanks vs praying for showboating.

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