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5 Rules for Children in Restaurants

November 10, 2009

By Monsieur Anton

“Children should neither be seen nor heard from – ever again.”  W.C. Fields

Truly, I don’t hate children.  It’s the children that act as if the fine dining establishment you worked so hard on, providing just the right atmosphere for that special dinner, treat the place like it is their private sandbox that I dread.  Screaming and yelling, yelling and screaming.  If I wanted to be around that, I would have stayed married.

Actually to paraphrase Mr. Fields again, I like children – fried.  I’d even add to that a little hot sauce, and they might be quite tasty!  OK, I kid.  It’s the parents that truly draw my ire.  Children behave as they are taught. For example, I’ve never seen Chef Gusteau’s sons act out in any way.  They are always complete young gentlemen when at a restaurant.  Why?  Because Gusteau and his lovely bride have taught them to behave that way.  With that said, here are some guidelines for children in restaurants.

  1. 1. Work your way up to nicer restaurants. It is unreasonable to expect children to behave correctly in a fine dining establishment if they haven’t worked their way up to that level yet.  Heck, some adults haven’t gotten to that level yet.  Take a professional baseball player as an example.  When drafted fresh out of high school or college, they are not thrown right into the big show.  The prospect cuts his teeth with an A level minor league team, then to Double A, and on to a Triple A league before hitting the big time.  The same goes for kids when dining out.  Start them at McDonald’s, then Chuck E. Cheese.  Once they’ve mastered their behavior at this level, then it is on to Denny’s.  Next is Applebee’s.  From there they can move on to a nice casual spot, before taking on fine dining.  Rare is the phenom that can skip leagues, so monitor your offspring closely before moving on.
  2. 2. Your job as a parent is that of an air traffic controller. It is the parent’s job to monitor the whereabouts of their kids at all times.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen small children running around a restaurant unattended.  Not only is it annoying, but it is dangerous.  Restaurants are filled with servers delivering bowls of hot soup, or coffee or even just a tray with the chef’s masterpieces artfully balanced on them.  Do you know where their vision is focused?  About six feet in the air, not three feet where junior is running about.  You think it is cute when your little darling is running around playing airplane in a busy restaurant?  How funny will it be when both your child and the server are sprawled about on the floor covered in hot consommé’?  Of course you would never see it as you or your precious little bundle of joy’s fault.  Well, it is!  I’ve been behind the bar once, bending down getting some juice from the cooler, only to turn around and almost trip over a toddler who had wandered behind the bar.  Behind the bar! The parent upon retrieving the child just laughed at how cute their rambunctious little guy was.  Forget the child.  I was ready to give the father a time out.
  3. 3. Turn the volume down. I swear that once the child is born, parents are enabled with an uncanny ability to shut out noise.  They are magically able to tone out the unending cries of, “Mommy…Mommy…Mommy” that come from their child.  Guess what?  I and every other table in the place do not have that superpower.  We hear the screams loud and clear, and it is ruining our evening.  Once the level get’s beyond an “inside voice,” it’s time to take action.  Calmly remind the youngster that this is not proper behavior in a public place.  In the case of a crying baby, remove the infant from the dining area immediately.  It amazes me how often parents can dine and converse comfortably while their baby is crying at levels that can be heard in the next county.  Nothing will ruin Chef Gusteau’s fine creations like a screaming baby.  Local governments have made it illegal to smoke in restaurants.  Can we do the same for crying babies?   Please?  I’ll be writing my congressman as soon as I finish this article.
  4. 4. Your server is not your babysitter. From what I hear from many of my child encumbered friends, it is not easy finding a reliable babysitter.  I sympathize.  I truly do, but until they start serving alcohol at day care centers, you should never mistake a restaurant for one. There are many joys to parenthood, but with those joys come immense responsibility.  Face it, your nights out will be limited for oh, the next twelve or thirteen so years.  Don’t sit contentedly while your server has to chase down your kid to prevent disaster.  They are not paid to do that, and chances are you won’t even tip all that well.  Additionally, remember that children get cranky when tired.  I certainly get cranky when tired.  Especially when I have to listen to a surly toddler up well past their bedtime.
  5. 5. Your server is not your housekeeper. Newborns are messy little critters.  That is a primary reason servers and busboys cringe when they see the high chair come out.  The smart server, not wanting to endure the crying of a hungry toddler will bring some small treat for the baby; say rice or crackers to keep the little fella occupied, and more importantly quiet.  Parents will likewise bring animal crackers, Cheerios and other such goodies for the young one.  There are few guarantees in life.  One is that at some point in the meal, your little darling is going to tire of these treats, start crying anyway, and let gravity take over, throwing them all over the table and floor leaving a ghastly mess that has to be cleaned up by, you guessed it, your server and or busboy.  Once this happens, you have but two things you can do.  Apologize profusely, and tip excessively.  No other course of action will suffice.

Parenthood is life’s greatest responsibility, and dining out one of its greatest pleasures, so please take your responsibility seriously, so others may enjoy their pleasures to the fullest.  If that doesn’t work, my only option is to fire up the deep fryer and reach for the hot sauce!


Chef Gusteau: “Oh my, Anton, you have met your match.  Your many years of fine polish and professionalism are at the tender mercy of the leaders of tomorrow.  These young children see that you have only one nerve left, and they are more than willing to Riverdance all over it.  That said, I completely agree with you.  So many people, both employees and customers, come to restaurants for an adult experience.  My wife and I also chose your method of gradually bringing our boys out to restaurants.  And when they misbehaved and couldn’t be “corrected,” we paid our bill (big tip included) and left immediately.  The secret next step?  My wife and I would then eat our carry out dinners while both boys sat and watched quietly.  That experience must have been so wonderful to them that they never misbehaved at a restaurant again.  Also, we learned how to plan better.  We’ll save a special toy, or small game, or anything that will hold their attention until the food comes.  The biggest rule to remember is that no one lives in a bubble (no Bubble boy jokes from Seinfeld, please).  Your actions have repercussions on others, and you are ultimately responsible for them.  If we all show a little more respect, and tone down the sense of entitlement, who knows, maybe someday we might even get Anton to change his opinion of kids…or at least skip the Tabasco.”

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