The Starkside

Children in Restaurants

In my last column I described a number of “pet peeves” I experience based on the actions of restaurant managers and servers. As I was writing, I realized that some of the things that bother me the most are attributable to fellow adult diners with accompanying children. Loud and intrusive behaviors of children can bring discomfort to those around them. When choosing a restaurant, particularly for dinner, I find myself gravitating to establishments that don’t attract families with children.

Being a parent myself, I can empathize with parents who must decide whether to bring their offspring to a restaurant or leave them home with a sitter, family, or friends. I don’t agree with the maxim: Children should be seen and not heard. After all, I have the two most wonderful daughters on the planet (OK, I’m willing to concede that your children are a very close second) and they never cease to amaze me with their intellect, wit, and charm. And I am a strong advocate for bringing well behaved children to restaurants as a convenient way to help integrate them into adult society.

However, I would posit that from time to time, many of us encounter children in restaurants whose behavior ranges from distracting to downright annoying. Rather than blame the children I think it’s usually the parents who are responsible.

This month I’d like to offer some suggestions for parents that might help make dining out more pleasant for all of us. If your children delight in pushing cutlery off the table and then hearing the sound of it bouncing off the tile floor, want to practice their incipient drumming skills using spoons on marble table tops, emit intermittent piercing screams, or become restless and enjoy running between tables, please consider the following suggestions:

  • Arrive at the restaurant early, soon after it opens, when it’s relatively empty.
  • Ask the host to seat your group in an out-of- the-way area.
  • Avoid Friday and Saturday evenings.
  • Take children to restaurants that aren’t fancy or expensive where other diners might not be too critical.
  • Bring finger foods, puzzles, or coloring books with crayons to occupy them between courses.
  • If your child starts screaming, take him for a walk outside or be prepared to leave.
  • Visit restaurants where you know the service is fast and efficient.
  • Consider taking children to lunch when other diners might be more tolerant of disruptions than at dinner.
  • Buffets can be desirable because children can see the food and service is immediate. However please teach them to avoid the temptation to reach into the steam tables to help themselves.
  • When dining with other parents don’t put all the children at one table and all the adults at another.
  • Revisit restaurants where your children are comfortable and familiar with menu favorites such as chicken tenders, hot dogs, hamburgers, or even Bento boxes.
  • Be aware that although you are used to your child’s shrieks and other noises, not everyone in the restaurant is equally comfortable listening to them.
  • Perhaps the most important issue of all is that you don’t let children run around the premises. Not only can it be annoying to other patrons, it is dangerous to the servers. I know a waitress who was carrying a tray full of food who tripped over a toddler she didn’t see. She broke her ankle and one of the plates on her tray hit a nearby diner on the side of his head. The waitress was out of work for several months and since she was the sole income provider in the family it caused significant economic problems for her and her children.

And here’s a thought for restaurant management. Please remind your host/hostess to be aware of adult diners’ comfort. When your host/hostess sees a family with children enter the restaurant, perhaps he/she can seat them away from the main dining area. Some restaurants have privately designated an unofficial children’s section.

Note: Just as I was ready to submit this column, I had lunch at a restaurant where two very young children at a nearby table were adorable, well behaved, and quiet. Meanwhile, at an adjacent table, four thirty-something women—who appeared to have had one drink too many—were loud and disruptive, laughing at the top of their lungs and making it virtually impossible for other diners to carry on a conversation. Go figure!

[jbox color=”gray”] SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS BELOW
I’m wondering if you have some personal experiences you’d like to share and I’d also like
to pose a question and ask for your reply on my blog* page. When being annoyed or distracted by a child in a restaurant, should you:
1. Explain to the child why his/her behavior is inappropriate.
2. Talk directly with the parent
3. Ask a manager to handle the situation
4. Other


Henry Stark has been a food and wine columnist, writer, and restaurant reviewer for the Ithaca Journal, the Ithaca Times, and The Good Life magazine. A teacher, advocate, and enthusiast, Henry shares his always well-considered—sometimes contrarian—views in inimitable style, opening the door to a robust conversation with fellow members.
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