Restaurant Baby BluesKaren Belz

I do not have any children. Sure, I hope I’ll be able to have one or two down the line, but since I can barely afford keeping myself well nourished right now, it’ll be a few years (so stop bugging me about grand-kids, Dad!). It’s not like I haven’t thought about what kind of Mom I’d be . When I’m out in public, I keep mental notes of how other families interact and try to tuck them away in my mind for when the time comes.

However, there’s one thing that I don’t need to use my memory for, and that’s because it’s something that occurs every time I decide to go out for dinner:  Dealing with screaming kids in restaurants.

“JUST EAT YOUR MACARONI AND SETTLE DOWN!” a Mom to the left of me screeches while I’m trying to enjoy the lowest-price of the high-end dishes. Cue child screaming. Cue Mother yelling. Cue Mother taking a long sip of chardonnay.

On the other side of the restaurant, a two-year-old looks like she just witnessed someone kicking a puppy. She’s just losing it. Her world is ending, while her parents blissfully ignore the hollering, hoping that by not paying attention, the screaming will subside. It doesn’t.

“That kid’s not happy,” my Dad always comments when he’s my partner-in-crime for dinners out. I can tell he’s annoyed, yet also a bit sympathetic. He’s also probably silently hoping once more for grand-kids, even amidst the awkward display of typical child-like behavior.  I decided to ask him for advice on what he and my Mom did when my sister and I were younger.

“Well first, places like this are just too old for kids. We eased you into eating out with fast food places that are more family friendly. Places that where – in the chance you girls acted up – it was a little bit more socially acceptable.” I agree. If I’m stopping for some onion rings at Burger King, seeing kids exert their energy by running laps around the register doesn’t faze me whatsoever. Fast food was meant for kids, and is aimed for kids. After all – who could forget the Burger King kids club? Or the McDonald’s Play Place, before it was plagued with horror stories from the Internet?

The whole gang from the Burger King Kids Club

“Phase two – when I thought you were ready – was taking you to a diner. It’s a step up, and parents need to monitor how well their children can handle patience.” Once again, I agreed. I fondly remember places that offered crayons and a clean, paper tablecloth that was the perfect canvas for whatever artistic expression my mind felt like creating that day. Any place that allowed me to naturally tune-out of adult conversations became a favorite.

I’m not going to lie, I still like going to places that allow drawing on the tablecloth. I know I’m not alone on this.

Recently, a few restaurants have made the news when they started to adopt a “no screaming children” rule, which has brought in mixed reviews from patrons. One in North Carolina, called Olde Salty Restaurant, claims that business has gotten better since putting up a sign that reads “Screaming Children Will Not Be Tolerated.” While families wouldn’t be kicked out or banned for not adhering to the policy, staff members won’t hesitate to approach their guests and ask them to take their kids outside.

While I’m not trying to criticize anyone’s parenting – since trust me, I’m an outsider with little experience – I feel like sometimes parents forget that at higher-end eateries, kids just get bored. Some of them are too young to understand why they’re even there. While loud music sets an interesting ambiance for adults, kids think it’s just uncomfortable and noisy, and something they have absolutely no control over. A child’s idea of time duration typically is a bit abstract, or illustrated by specific events they feel familiar with (i.e.: “Nap time”, “Story time”), so they don’t have as strong of an idea as to when the food will arrive, or when the adults will decide it’s time to go. Thus, they act out. And who can blame them? They’re not intentionally trying to cause a scene – they’re probably just exhausted.

Here are some other observations from this kid-less customer: If you need to bring your kid along with you, please know that by ignoring them or screaming at them, the problem becomes even worse for those sitting around you. I cringe when I hear a parent hollering at their kid to stop making a scene, as it’s only a larger addition to the scene already being made.

I applaud parents who take their kids outside when things get intense, and try to explain to them that they can’t act that way in a public eatery. The same goes with movie theaters – especially if the movie is something that isn’t created by Pixar. While it might inconvenience your personal enjoyment of the outing, trust me, everybody else who paid admission, or paid for a nice meal, will severely appreciate the gesture.

“So,” I asked my Dad. “When did you know I was ready?”

“Well, every kid is different,” my Dad said. “There’s no age limit. You have to know your child and try to understand whether or not they’re ready for that next step. Of course, things might happen and you may push them into something too early, but you need to just have patience and teach them. Take them outside, have them settle down, and just calmly tell them that screaming isn’t allowed in a place like that. If it doesn’t stop, try again in another year.”

“So, you and Mom only ate fast food when my sister and I were younger?” My Dad laughed.

“Of course not. Going out with your Mother became less of a frequent occasion of course, but we scheduled a night where the two of you had a babysitter, or were watched by a family member. Not every week, but maybe once a month. And those became really enjoyable.”

I realized that the break in Mom-and-Dad schedule was also good for me as well. It was kind of like an in-house vacation where I felt secure. Not only was I allowed to eat Kid Cuisines (score!), but I learned how to cope with brief bouts of parental separation.

“It’s important for adults to have some time alone.” He paused. “And honestly, it became even more annoying when the two of us were out, and someone’s kid started to misbehave. That’s what we went out to avoid. No offense.”

Offense not taken.

Photo Credit:  http://efamilymag.com/, fanpop.com

 

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  1. I totally agree. I have a daughter who is three and we almost never take her out to eat and when we do we usually take her to a restaurant that has dinosaurs on the tables. Flora almost never acts up at restaurants, even nice-ish ones, but it’s still more enjoyable when you don’t have to worry about keeping a toddler happy. If she does act up I’ll take her outside and remind her that her behavior is not appropriate and then we go back in when she’s ready. I think part of the reason she does so well when we do eat is out is that we expect her to behave in a civilized manner at our family dinner table. She doesn’t scream, throw fits, or try and run around the restaurant because we don’t let her do it at home. I’m surprised how many people let their kids do anything at home and then are shocked when they don’t know how to behave in public. I do have one huge pet peeve, from the parent point of view, when it comes to eating out with a small child; It drives me crazy when servers bring out all the adult food and keep the child waiting. Leaving a small child with no food when everyone else has been served is just asking for trouble.

  2. It’s really important for parents to be patient with their kids and to know them well enough to avoid situations where the child is uncomfortable, overtired, or just lacking in the right temperament for dining out.

    But, if the parents are being attentive, I don’t mind kids making noise or ‘being kids’ in general. Kids are just little, wild people, and I think it would be dull without them. I’m much more annoyed by adults who know better and laugh obnoxiously loud, or self-important barkers who make it hard to have my own conversation.

  3. As a hostess in a fine dining restaurant, I love this post. Whenever there is a screaming child I feel bad for the other customers as well as for the parents. I always appreciate it when the parents take the initiative to remove the child from the room until they have a chance to calm down, since I would definitely never say anything to them about it. I do my best to offer crayons and coloring papers to the kids, and the servers always offer to bring out the kids’ food ahead of the rest of the meal as soon as possible, but fine dining can be a longer experience and it just will not work for some kids.

  4. My parents did the same thing! We graduated by behaving and dinners out were treated as special occasions that would cease to occur if we didn’t use our manners.
    The commuter trains here in Chicago have begun having ‘quiet cars’ during rush hours. They are wonderful!
    So maybe restaurants can have a noisy section on one side for people with kids, and a quieter section for people who would like to hear their dinner companions without screaming and food/toys being thrown about.

  5. I think this is a great post – I work my second job in a restaurant and there’s nothing worse than screaming kids throwing around crumbled up crackers…which happens pretty often. I’m also sooooo incredibly glad when parents know to take their kids outside.

  6. I was a nanny to young children for over 7 years, and now I work with very young children in an educational setting. My policy has always been to remove the child from the situation that’s causing them distress, especially when they’re too young to fully understand empathy (telling them that other people are enjoying their meals and want quiet means absolutely nothing to a 2 year old). Also, making an upset child remain in a stressful situation isn’t going to “teach” them any lessons (i.e.: She needs to learn to sit still! or He needs to understand that dinner time is quiet time so I’m going to make a 3 year old cry himself to sleep in a high-chair). It’s only going to make them more uncomfortable.
    In addition, after a long day of working with children, the last thing I want to hear is a kid screaming bloody murder during my dinner. All I can ever think of is: “Not now. I’m off the clock”.

  7. I agree so much! Your dad was a genius, in my case I always had Barbies and colouring books to keep me calmed, but mostly until I was ready, I spent a lot of time at my Godmother’s house (our next door neighbour) having fun with her daughter, and I bet my parents did the same for my Godparents when necessary

  8. I had a child when I was quite young and we learned things together sometimes. Upscale dining was one of them. We made a fun game out of getting dressed, he could choose from a few choices and wear Papas cologne. I taught him to open doors for me, to look for favorites on a menu and to order his own food. Instead of treating children like accessories, treat them as you would your friends. He loved having my undivinded attention, and enjoyed the adult (reviews of disney movies) conversation. These dinners taught him to broaden his palette, be confident, and ultimately taught him to be a gentleman.

  9. I totally think restaurants should institute a No Screaming Child policy. Not to be rude about it or anything, just to nicely ask parents to take their children out of screaming range until he or she calms down. It’s only fair to the other paying customers. But you’re right, if there are crayons and a paper tablecloth, that place is totally kid-friendly! They will probably have more kid-friendly food too. Great post! :)

  10. Your dad’s got it right. We did a lot of laps through lobbies and parking lots and doled out several thousand little packages of crackers and crayons to get our kids to the point where it’s fun to take them out to eat. If we can manage it, we still try to take them only to family-friendly places (the kind where high chairs are readily available and crayons & paper are standard issue.) It’s no fun for anyone to have a screaming kid in a resaurant; it’s just common sense to save the nicer places for date nights.

    That said, every kid melts down in public sometime, no matter how well-disciplined and polite they are or how quickly the parents try to minimize their damage. Reserve a little bit of sympathy for the family and wish them luck as they haul the screaming little beasts to the car.

  11. Oh my gosh…thank you thank you thank you!! My friends and co-workers with kids make me feel like a horrible person when I say just that. They tell me I have no idea how much work it is and so on and so forth and how you have to make so many sacrifices and give up your life. That’s true, it is hard work…but it’s their choice, not mine!

    • It’s super tough to try and vocalize those opinions without sounding like a jerk, or without getting a “you’ll understand SOMEDAY!” response back. But honestly, I don’t know how parents can really justify it – I can’t imagine a nice dinner being nice for them, when their kid is causing a fit.

      I’m also glad that a few Moms have commented and back me up on this. I’m so glad it’s not a “Kid v. Kidless” debate.

  12. As a relatively new parent I agree with your dad. You have to ease your child into restaurant eating. My husband and I started taking Lily to restaurants as a baby and she does really well because it’s something she has always done.
    I truly believe that some parents forget they were once single childless people who liked to go out and enjoy a quiet meal. Because they are now parents and still want a night out, they are willing to tolerate their children’s bad behavior.
    If your kid is screaming or misbehaving whether it be in a store, a restaurant, a movie or whatever, it’s time to step outside and have a talk-to. And sometimes (boohoo) even go home. It’s part of parenting as far as I’, concerned.

  13. Very well written. It annoys me most when parents don’t do anything to try to alleviate the problem.

  14. so true.

    But I think there are a lot parents who don’t care.
    I was going by train a few months ago and next to me was a kid who kicked me all the time. The mother saw that, but didn’t once tell him that he should stop.
    Even when I asked her to.

    I think, I’ll store your father’s advice for the time I have kids.

    • I was on a plane once from Paris to London and this mother was with her kids behind our seats; the middle kid kept kicking my seats and since domestic flights are on very cheap planes,all three seats shook with every kick. I was loosing it,but I didn’t speak French and I couldn’t say anything, I just kept grunting and sighing, so the lady next to me turned around and said a few words to the mother.If you ask me, I don’t think they were very nice words because the mom told something to the kid, who stopped.For about 5 seconds…Longest 1hr flight in my life.

    • I was on a train once and saw a kid that was maybe ten or eleven, playing with Nickelodeon Floam. First, I was amazed that Floam was still in production. Second, I was disgusted that the girl wiped Floam all over the seat before leaving. Third – did her parents notice? Where were they? Even Gak would have been a bit more considerate.

  15. I LOVE THIS STORY!