Thursday, September 10, 2009

Michael Tosatto on Kids in Restaurants

Michael Tosatto, over at the usually even-tempered Cooking in Kansas City (worth adding to your list of regular reads because of such gems as Olive Oil Cake) unleashed his fury on families who behave like savages in restaurants.

I've been on all sides of this one. Before I had children, I had zero tolerance for screaming babies, and I had militaristic expectations of behavior from everyone else. Families like the von Trapps were okay, but the Brady Bunch would have been too rambunctious for my patience.

After I had children, my standards slipped, but just a little. A few cries from a baby are tolerable, but just a few. Whereas I formerly believed that parents should be dashing to the parking lot with the crying kid like a running back as soon as the crying started, I came to see that most crying babies can be calmed within a minute, with a properly applied pacifier or a few bounces on a parental shoulder. So, that became my Plan A, but Plan B (removing the child from earshot of the other patrons) would be implemented within a minute, if Plan A didn't deliver immediate results.

My expectations for non-infant children remained the same - volume should remain at respectable levels, and no clowning around that can disturb other patrons. And I got more strict in my attitude toward parents. This is not the time to threaten pain and dismemberment on your child. That time is in the home, so that when you give them that raised eyebrow or use a certain phrase to them, they know you mean business and will submit to human behavior with a minimum of fuss. Parents who create a bigger disturbance than their obnoxious children should eat in the car, or at home.

Now, all this judgmental opinion doesn't mean that you cannot take a rambunctious child anywhere. Chucky Cheese is designed with the expectation that kids will behave like unschooled savages, so all bets are off. (As a side note, I caution parents with well-behaved children to carefully consider whether they should expose their angels to the demons of Chucky Cheese. Perhaps your little angel simply hasn't realized that it is even possible to run around a restaurant with half-eaten pizza spilling from your screaming mouth.)

Similarly, some bars with pin-ball machines are well-suited to a late afternoon or early evening visit with an energetic child. Ms. Pacman served as our family babysitter on more than one trip to Hooper's, and the children are now model adults. But get them out of there before people get drunk enough to dance on tables, okay?

4 Comments:

Blogger m.v. said...

I can only say that I was lucky with my kid not being a menace, and usually I overlook most misbehaving as long as it doesn't get over the top like 30 minutes of non-stop crying.My pet peeve is parents bringing their kids everywhere including school meetings after being warned specifically not to do it.It's stops being cute right there

9/10/2009 10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that the family referenced by Mr. Tosatto sounds unpleasant and over the top, but I don't necessarily agree that it has anything to do with children. One of the most unpleasant dining experiences I ever had was at a restaurant where two adults, a man and a woman, were seated near us, and the man verbally abused the woman throughout the meal, until she finally left the restaurant in tears. Really bad manners and dysfunction rarely make for pleasant dining companions.

Generally, I think when dining out, your expectations regarding the ambiance of the restaurant should be in tune with the culture of the restaurant. It's one thing to have to face crying children at Bluestem, but one's expectations should be different at Stroud's, which bills itself as a family restaurant. I don't know anything about Mr. Tosatto, but I'm willing to bet he has no children. If he want a perfectly modulated dining experience, and still wants to enjoy Stroud's grub, maybe he should be the one ordering the take out.

9/11/2009 11:11 PM  
Anonymous Jim Byrne said...

Dan,

Well written article. An enjoyable read. Thank you.

I'm the eldest of 12. When I was growing up, just about every Sunday,we would go to mass at 7 AM; then to the hospital to eat breakfast while my father made rounds. He would leave us in the cafeteria while he was checking on sick babies; just me and 3 to 8 younger siblings. (The numbers grew by the years.)

I still hear stories today, about how well behaved we were. We had to be, and we knew it. In a family that big, it could be no other way.

9/12/2009 10:03 PM  
Blogger The DLC said...

I would suggest to our anonymous friend that the family with children should be ordering the take out, not the childless couple. This is a classic example of how people's decision to have children negatively impacts those who don't. Moreover this reality is tolerated and even encouraged by the culture at large, evident in comments like these. Having children is a choice. Part of that choice may involve staying home and eating take out once in a while.

9/14/2009 9:37 AM  

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