There was a period of time — somewhere around the time my boys were between the ages of 2 and 9 — when I ordered a lot of cheeseburgers at restaurants. It wasn't because I love burgers that much; it was because I didn't always get to look at the menu before ordering.
Taking children out to eat when they are that young is work for parents because they can't check their parenting responsibilities with their coats.
I would read the menu with my boys and we'd talk about their choices. By the time we had that settled, it would be time to order. I could have given the waiter my kids' orders and asked him to bring them as soon as possible. Then I could have looked at the menu and ordered later, but I was determined to teach my children how to dine out properly. That meant that I had to be engaged with them throughout the whole experience. When their father was part of the household, we were both engaged with them. Dining out with our children was not date night.
When you go out to eat with people — and children are people — you don't ignore those at your table. To teach children that, you have to model it. You also have to expect them not to ignore you. It's been my experience that many times when children are being disruptive in a restaurant it's when their parents are misbehaving. They're ignoring them and being rude to them and the other diners around them.
It's not about the kids
There's a restaurant in California that expects respectful behavior from every family that dines there. Insider reports that Old Fisherman's Grotto in Monterey doesn't allow strollers, high chairs or booster chairs. It does allow children. However, children who are crying or making loud noises in the dining room are not permitted. There's a sign on the hostess stand that spells it out clearly:
"Children who are crying or making loud noises are a distraction to other diners, and as such are not allowed in the dining room."
The policy was put in place so that other guests in the restaurant could enjoy their meals. Restaurant owner Chris Shake is standing by the policy even though it's bringing him negative publicity on Yelp and local parenting sites. One mom who doesn't like the policy was recently interviewed by the local news.
Angela Espinoza told KTVU, "The sign is discriminating toward any children who need a booster seat and [are] younger no matter what." She also said the wording is "not nice."
I disagree with Espinoza. The restaurant is not discriminating against children. Honestly, I don't think this policy has anything to do with children. I think it has everything to do with parents who don't take care of their children at a restaurant. It's the rude parents the restaurant doesn't want, not the children.
That's not just my experience as a parent or as a diner. I also spent many years waiting tables in family-friendly restaurants. Most of the time if I had to crawl under a table to clean up mounds of Cheerios on the floor, they had been thrown while the adults at the table were ignoring the child. If there was a child in the aisles and in danger of being tripped over by a server carrying a large tray, the adults at his table were probably ignoring him.
I learned a lot from watching those families. I learned what causes most children to misbehave in a restaurant, and I decided that when I had children, I would not ignore them when we dined at a restaurant together.
It's not just restaurants
Other establishments like wineries and breweries are establishing no-children policies, too. Fox Hollow, a New Jersey winery, instituted a no-one-under-21 rule last year. They explained why on Facebook, and placed the blame where the blame lies.
Our decision was not easy to make
But this past weekend took the cake
Our winery is a quiet place
To try and escape the daily rat race
The lawn out front is a pretty view
The signs say 'keep off' and 'no smoking' too
We ask that children be supervised
But every week brings a new surprise
The fire pits are broken on a regular basis
By little ones putting rocks in strange places
The lawn gets trashed from throwing stones
By children who are left alone
It's a shame adults can't follow the rules
The golden ones were taught in school
So now all guests must be 21
Because their parents spoiled the fun
Even well-behaved parents are going to have children who cry or get loud in restaurants from time to time. They'll have fewer instances when they are engaging with their children, giving them the attention they deserve while also teaching them the proper behavior when dining out. When children do cry or get loud, those well-behaved parents sacrifice their own comfort by taking the child out of the dining room for a while. It is a sacrifice. I know. I've done it.