It had been a work week filled with families who had lots of heavy issues, and I was drained. A relaxed, peaceful dinner out with my husband was just a parking spot away. Our destination— a lovely, local restaurant, upscale but informal, delicious martinis, and no kids’ menu. At last.
But the characteristic low lights and calm of the Oak Room were punctured by the incessant whining of a four year old boy. “I haaaaate that salad.” Groan…there went my respite.
I am not sure when it became acceptable to take young children to restaurants, I am sure that it has become more and more common. Children of all ages–infants and toddlers, antsy first graders and even sour fifth graders–have become part of the adult restaurant landscape…complete with the ants in their pants, their complaints about there not being the right kind of pizza, and the whining about it taking toooo long.
It might be true that your child is perfectly well behaved in restaurants of all kinds, that he has developed a mature palate from eating so much sushi, that he has the patience of an adult…but your child is the exception.
Restaurants can be the epitome of lousy local conditions for children of all ages. The behavioral expectations of the restaurant setting are often a reach for them: sit still; do not get out of your seat; keep you voice down; don’t play with the condiments or silverware; don’t bother your brother; don’t use your fingers; put your napkin on your lap. The food at restaurants challenges the typical child’s palate: “I only eat blue box macaroni and cheese!” “Don’t let the foods touch!” “It doesn’t taste good!” “I only like the other nuggets!” “I changed my mind, I don’t want that!” And the timing is off: children are accustomed to fast food, that is, “Go-wash-your- hands- your-dinner-is-ready” fast. No ordering and waiting. And they like to eat at their regular meal time.
More often than not, children are set up for failure in a restaurant. It is, simply stated, not the way they are accustomed to having meals. And children like it the way they like it.
Then there is everyone else. While I promise you I love your children (and I really do genuinely love children), there is a place, time, and extent to my love. When adults go out to dine, their anticipated experience includes the adult ambiance of the restaurant. If they wanted to dine with children, they would likely go to Chucky Cheese.
In deciding whether to bring or not to bring your child to the restaurant, ask yourself whose needs are being met. Are you setting your child up to be successful? Will it be a happy, stress free time for all of you? Will anyone else’s dining experience be affected by your child’s presence?
Sometimes tuna fish sandwiches with a side of macaroni and cheese are a much better choice for everyone.