I’ve thought a lot about kids in restaurants, most of all my own. We have to eat, right? And until that blissful time that we can leave them alone at home, or unless we spring for a babysitter, the kids are coming with us. I want us all to enjoy our meal, and by all of us, I mean the other diners too.
It’s the death stare of another patron that I’m looking to avoid at all costs. To do that, I have some loose ‘rules’ that I hope will achieve that. I also think a restaurant with a patio allows my kids a little freer range. My husband disagrees. So did another diner last year at a local joint with a patio. Death stare not averted. The kids’ perimeter of movement went down to zero.
Recently, I thought about this again when a post on a neighborhood Facebook page gave not only a restaurant review, but also a review of the behavior of the children in the establishment. I wasn’t there, but I’m guessing the death stare was in full effect. What was also of note – and I guess expected – was that parents chimed in with their take on the matter. I’m making it sound a lot less contentious than it was, which is probably why the post was later removed.
So I wondered – I know what I think my responsibility is as a parent in this situation, but what do other people think? And are there certain restaurants – and certain times of day – that those with a lower tolerance for kids should avoid altogether?
I put out an informal survey and more than 60 people replied. When I asked if there were any guidelines for where people would or would not take their kids, I got the gamut. “It must be loud,” responded someone with younger children. I get that. Because if everyone is loud, your loud mouth won’t stand out.
“We go almost everywhere now, aside from bars and quiet, intimate restaurants,” said one, whose kids are surely well beyond finger foods.
“I don’t have one,” wrote another. “I expect my kids to behave by our rules regardless of our setting.” Blue ribbon parenting right there.
One well-prepared respondent said she brings a backpack full of activities so “my kids know that they are almost always going to have to do something to keep busy and in their seats.”
The general consensus was that any casual dining place was appropriate for them to bring their children, especially one with a designated kids’ menu – and that running around inside was not to be tolerated. If it’s the weekend, the dinner hour for those with younger kids is not past 7:30 p.m. Nine o’clock was the maximum for most. Some places even have a curfew to that effect.
“We will take our kids anywhere that doesn’t have a sommelier,” said one. Although an argument could be made that it’s those parents who really need the sommelier.
I liked the answer of the parent who said that if their kids were never exposed to nicer places then they won’t learn how to act or enjoy those places – “But we go prepared to take them to the car and go at a less busy time.”
Parents perceived that certain restaurants were off limits due to a variety of factors. A boozy bar or a restaurant that always has pristine white tablecloths to match their steep prices are no-nos. That also goes for restaurants with no high chairs or boosters and no kids’ meal options. As parents we get that there are those places who are going for a different ambiance. No kids. Except the absolute angels.
The gray area on running around comes into play for people, depending on the restaurant.
“Totally depends on the place, said one. “When my older son was a toddler, we would let him go under the table with his trains and cars.
People thought it was strange, but he was quiet and contained.”
“Places that have outside open areas are the exceptions,” wrote another. “We love places like that.”
“Stay at the table if at a seated, fine dining restaurant,” said someone else. “If relaxed dining with activities nearby, stay near the table.”
Others say they won’t let their children up unless there’s a specially designated area for kids.
“Stay where I can see you,” is a common refrain. Also, diners with kids look to those around them for the already set ‘norm’ – “If other kids are up or playing on the patio, we generally allow it too. We also pay attention to who is there. If there are no other kids, or very few, we’ll be more strict.”
As a parent with somewhat older children, I have less tolerance now for the kid who ping pongs off my table than I used to when I had kids who were ping pong balls themselves. So I get the frustration of those even more removed from the toddler stage.
But as I said before, we all gotta eat, so maybe there’s a way for us all to co-exist peacefully.
“Everyone could stand to be a bit more understanding and respectful,” said one wise soul.
“Some people are way too intolerant of other people’s kids, and some parents are way too lenient with their own kids,” echoed another.
Multiple respondents said that they think that parents don’t always have reasonable expectations of their own children – “Don’t expect a toddler to be quiet and still for a two hour dinner.”
One person takes issue with what she says are the few inconsiderate parents who are giving everybody else a bad name – “We are very conscious of not ruining other people’s dining experience with our rowdy kids.”
“It’s a fine line,” noted another. “The demographics of the neighborhoods are changing, and kids are part of it.”
Truer words have never been said.
The kids are here to stay. White tablecloth restaurants are too. And unless you feel up to ensuring suitable behavior – or making a fast getaway – never the two shall meet. Unless you are completely comfortable with the death stare. One final tip, if you’re looking for ways to save when dining out with kids, check out Great Eats vouchers with code restaurant coupon2.