You're dying for a candlelight dinner, but the kids are more interested in Crayolas and playground equip-ment.

You've got three options: hire a baby sitter, follow the kids' lead and dine at Burger Heaven or take the family to your favorite romantic bistro and hope for the best.More American parents are choosing the latter, making children one of the most important segments of today's restaurant market.

"Most families have two working parents, and they want to spend time with their children," said Cindy Weindling, director of communications for the Colorado Restaurant Association.

"It's not unusual for them to take the kids out to dinner with them."

During the 1980s, preschoolers' visits to restaurants rose by 36 percent, according to the National Restaurant Association, and the trend shows no signs of slowing.

Restaurateurs hoping to attract the family market have introduced a variety of child-friendly services, including special menus, reduced prices, play areas and even separate dining areas.

"Even fine restaurants are responding," Weindling said.

But nothing can ruin a fancy restaurant meal faster than a screaming brat, whether it's your brat or someone else's.

Here are some tips from restaurant owners especially polled for their responses and Parenting magazine writer Jean Callahan that might be of help:

Tips for diners annoyed by nearby children:

- Most restaurants try not to seat couples near families. If you prefer not to sit near children, tell the maitre d'.

- A little noise from children is appropriate, as is a little mess. Screaming or very loud behavior is not. If the adult fails to remove a screaming child, contact the maitre d' to complain.

- Expect the maitre d' to say something tactful to the family. He may offer to let them use his office until the tantrum subsides, for example, or suggest that other diners are being upset by the noise.

- If all else fails, ask to be moved to another table.

Tips for parents of young diners:

- Consider choosing a cafeteria, where children can eat quickly, or an ethnic restaurant (often more tolerant of children).

- Avoid quiet restaurants. You want something loud enough to muffle the sound of a scream.

- If you choose a fancy restaurant, alert the hostess when making reservations that the party includes small children.

- Dine during early evening hours, by 5 p.m., to avoid the crowd and catch children while they aren't tired.

- Don't order multicourse meals, which take longer to eat than most children can bear.

- Don't let the children wander. They can trip waiters and annoy other diners.

- With children 2 and under, bring distractions to fill the time between ordering and eating.

- Plan for an outburst. Children often cry, and one parent should be prepared to take the crying child to the lobby, the sidewalk or the car.

- Use common sense. Don't give the child a metal spoon to play with if he's in a metal high chair, for example.

- If your table resembles a war zone when you are done eating, leave a big tip.