Dishin' That: Kids in restaurants are an acquired taste

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“What do you think about kids in upscale restaurants?” readers often ask. “Why don’t managers step in and address the situation when kids are brats in restaurants?”

“Why don’t restaurants have children’s sections, like the library does, so I can enjoy myself without listening to yelling?” one reader asked. “We went to a really packed place and were seated next to a family with a kid, who dropped more pasta on my wife’s sweater then he shoved into his own mouth. The parents ignored it, but I wanted to deck somebody. We spent a lot of money on that dinner.”

My files are full of horrible kids-in-restaurant-stories (Part 2 next week), but this reader raised a most important point.

When kids misbehave in restaurants, it says way more about the parents than it does about the kids. Even small people are entitled to bad days (when’s the last time you were teething?), but let’s cover a few givens.

Parents with young and/or poorly behaved children have just as much right as anyone else to dine whenever and wherever they please. However, as a wise person once told me, just because it’s OK to do something, it doesn’t make it OK to do.

In other words, if your child is over-tired, over-stimulated, or just having a cranky day, then suck it up and get delivery. Other diners will be grateful (without knowing why) and you’ll save yourself frustration, potential embarrassment and, of course, cash. Making that decision is all part of the parenting gig and I can’t count how many times I’ve heard something similar to, “I just knew we should have stayed home tonight.” Duh.

On the flip side, not all kids are hellions in restaurants.

Savvy parents who make the effort to get little ones out early and often give their children a comfort level the unindoctrinated don’t get. Those are the parents who make servers feel somehow lacking when the highlight of the children’s menu is dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets.

There’s an inherent disconnect between wanting children to behave like mini-adults, but not treating them that way by offering crappy food choices. Healthy concerns aside, many restaurateurs miss the boat (and potential revenue) by dumbing down children’s food choices. Kudos to DiMillo’s and David’s on Monument Square, to name a few, for recognizing and acting upon this no-brainer long ago.

When Carlykardashian was in second grade, she went through a Caesar salad kick that she’s never outgrown. It was always a proud moment when she would look at the surprised server and order extra “annchobies.”

Another given is that some people just don’t like children. We’re not supposed to admit it, but even those of us who have children may cringe at the sight of a baby on an airplane, or in a fine dining establishment.

As my friend Jacquelyn, a career hospitality manager says, “I hate kids in my place. Your kids. My kids, Everyone who ever was a kid.” Another top-notch owner-operator has no qualms about finding excuses to turn away families with young children.

There are some places where kids throwing food on the floor is going to be the norm. Fast-food restaurants, big-box chains and pizza joints that promote kid-friendly meals and “Kids Eat Free” nights are asking for it. Childless adults have no business being mad when outnumbered in these scenarios.

Helping children adjust by paying attention to them at the table, bringing props for distraction, and being considerate of others only scratches the surface of this conversation. So, in addition to horror stories and server input, next week will offer some survival tactics for the unaccompanied adult diner.

Peas & Q’s

Question: My daughter is a waitress and works with a busboy she thinks is taking some of her tips off the table. She is afraid to say anything because he is related to the manager. What do you think she should do? — Mark N., South Portland.

Answer: Relations aside, she should ask the other servers if they have had the same experience. Also, is she absolutely sure? If so, she should bring it to the manager’s attention without naming names. Be clear, give times, dates and estimates of missing cash, but once again, don’t name names. If this is a legit problem, the manager will figure it out and have no choice but to address it.

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Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @natalieladd.