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Kids in Restaurants?

by on Jul.17, 2013, under Behavior, Brat-Proofing, Child development, Communication, Discipline, Environmental influences, Expectations, Parent modeling, Parenting, Public Behavior, Toddlers

Our dinner at a local sushi restaurant was a bit earlier than we usually dine.  So I casually mentioned to my husband that we might overlap “family time” at the eatery.  But we decided that it wouldn’t be a problem; we both love kids.  Little did we realize it was the parents who would ruin our dinner out on a Friday night.

This blog is not about parents who use tech devices during meals. I have previously complained about that. (  Nor is it about parents who allow their children’s use of tech devices at meals. (That blog is on my to-do list.)

I realize that I am risking some nasty feedback, but I just have to say it:  Young children do not belong in restaurants.   Not only is it insufferable for children’s rowdy behavior, loud voices, bickering, whining, and crying to disrupt the other diners’ experiences, but restaurants generally don’t bring out the best in kids. And it’s not the kids’ fault. Why don’t the parents teach, then expect “restaurant behavior” from their children?

One couple was dining with their 18 month old-ish baby. As they talked, he screeched ear splittingly. And his attention-getting device didn’t even work. It just destroyed the dining atmosphere for us other diners.  Another family with 5 and 7 year old-ish kids successfully ignored their kids’ escalating voices, ups and downs, constant seat changing, running around, and shrill sibling arguments.  I would have handed out my cards, but these families  didn’t seem to think that anything was awry.

Young children and restaurants do not often mix. (Ok. Some do, but they are the exception.) Restaurants deliver slow food; kids like their food to come fast. Restaurants require “inside voices;” kids have trouble modulating their voices, especially when they insist on being heard.  Restaurants call for kids to stay in their seats, remaining calm and collected; kids are wiggle worms who are spontaneous and sometimes physically exuberant in their expressions.  Being able to dine at a restaurant requires readiness on the part of the child. Some young children are ready, but most are not. It’s not fair to the child. Truth be told, children are actually happier eating at home.

In today’s increasingly child-friendly world, restaurateurs vie to capitalize on the explosion of families with young kids who habitually dine out. There is a proliferation of family friendly restaurants.  In fact, there is a restaurant in Williamsburg to which one family wheeled their child in his play pen. (  While on the surface it would seem that child-friendly restaurants—ones that tolerate scattered Cheerios, crying babies, and a game of chase among the tables—is a good idea, I don’t think so. Frequenting these eateries reinforces the child’s unacceptable (out-of-control) behavior; it does not expect and therefore teach the child real restaurant behaviors that should generalize to all restaurants.

I can just hear it now, “But what if we want to have dinner out?”  Having children requires many sacrifices on the parents’ parts.  A parent’s job is to provide environments for the child that are reasonable and in which he can be successful. You enter the world of the child, as opposed to expecting him to fit into yours. Would you continue to wear a shoe that is the wrong size? Children don’t fit into adult environments until they are mature enough to control themselves and meet your expectations and those dictated by the particular situation.

You want to have dinner out?  There are two choices for you:  1) Hire a babysitter (join a babysitting co-op), or 2) if you don’t have a sitter solution or can’t afford one, don’t go!  Presumably you have learned to delay gratification by now.  Besides, there is always take-out.

I encourage you to read ALL the comments below. Clearly, I struck a chord with a few parents!  Then read Kids in Restaurants, Park 2:  Lousy Local Conditions.  (  It’s a good follow up.



21 Comments for this entry

  • Savannah

    Seriously?! You must not have kids. You must never have experience fed desperately wanting to get out of the house and not having a sitter. First you suggest that parents teach and expect ‘restaurant behavior’ form their children and then acknowledge that this behavior may not be possible for young children. So which is it?! If our children do not exhibit perfect restaurant behavior then we must suck as parents, even though young children may NOT BE CAPABLE of perfect behavior? Really? As a parent educator I would hope your suggestions would be no insightful than simply “do not go to restaurants”. You have choices too. You can choose not to go eat at 6PM, or you can choose not to eat out at all if others bother you so much. After all, it’s not all about you!! I try to teach my children good behavior in restaurants (god for I’d I let them look at my iPhone,), but they are not perfect and will not always behave. Sorry that as a parent educator you do not really understand that. Again, you must never have had kids….

  • Leslie Jones

    Oh, man! I’m with you, BBB! Eating out at a restaurant is a PRIVILEGE, even for adults! It is not a right, especially for young children. We have to save up our money in order to be able to afford to eat out. The last thing we want is parents who can’t or won’t control their kids.

  • Emily B

    I love you BBB! I agree with so much you say! Do you have a recommendation on WHEN you should start to introduce your kids to restaurants and the best way to do so? I think it’s important to teach children to behave in public, but I also understand there is a certain age that those behaviors should be taught.

  • Katrina

    During a romantic dinner out with my husband last night we were seated next to a particularly loud, obnoxious, boastful man who riddled his conversations with curse words.
    I think you hit upon an interesting point when you wrote “Why don’t the parents teach, then expect “restaurant behavior” from their children?” I think all people should be taught appropriate “restaurant behavior”
    Children need to be taught appropriate behavior in general. Teaching our children is our job as parents. Removing them from the situation completely is not the solution. My husband and I dine out with our 14 month old at least twice a week. We started bringing her to restaurants around 12 weeks old. We choose an appropriate venue and teach our child to sit quietly and keep her food on the table. We are also instilling the pleasure of enjoying a meal with family, and teaching her the art of conversation. We are frequently thanked by waiters, and other patron’s for our child’s lovely behavior. On the very rare occasion she misbehaves (which is always our fault because we pushed her limits) we promptly leave and apologize to the neighboring tables.
    I do agree however –that when children misbehave it is the parent’s duty to remove them from the restaurant.
    When one ventures into public space one must understand that they are entering PUBLIC SPACE!
    We cannot expect every restaurant to be filled only with diners we want to be surrounded by.
    If you insist on eating dinner surrounded by only the people you choose – you should eat at home where you can control the environment.

  • Amy

    I have two kids, and no nanny, and regardless of how much a person/couple would like to go out – I completely agree with you BBB. For me It’s not about getting time out, or worrying about being inconsiderate to other patrons. Bringing my 8 year old and my 3 year old to a non-kid friendly restaurant just makes my husband angry with my children and my children sad/frustrated with us for asking them to behave in a way that is not possible at their stage of development. Good article.

  • Heather

    Seriously??? What are your thoughts about flying with childern? It’s a public place! Eat dinner at a grown up time.

  • Betsy

    As per expectation, I hit a sour chord with some. With others, Leslie, Katrina, Amy, you make excellent points. Of course you have to BE in the environment in order to teach the accompanying behavioral expectations. It is through the associated and logical consequences or from the successes that the behavior will be internalized. That’s how kids learn. Learning to be considerate of others’ needs is also an important lesson.

    There are many ways to teach this lesson beyond sitters or staying home, Savannah, but for sure, a child’s readiness to learn and meet your expectation must be considered. (By the way, I do have children, triplets.)

    By the way, I feel completely different about kids on airplanes. For those parents I feel 100% sympathy. I even offer to hold or walk those kids to give the parents some relief!

  • Betsy

    I commented about air travel even before I saw your comment, Heather. So now you know. When you must fly with children, all bets are off. Ugh….bring on the Diskman!

  • Jessica

    I agree with Katrina. There is a correct way to take kids out to a restaurant. I am not saying take them out for fine dining or a long relaxing meal, but my husband and I both work long hours and some nights we just don’t have time to cook dinner and/or dishes. We take our 10 month old to a local, casual, quick place at 5 or 5:30 (anyone else eating dinner at that time is typically there with their kids too). We make sure to order as soon as we sit down and leave as soon as he’s done eating – we’re in and out in 30-45 minutes. He usually behaves during that time, but if he can’t, one of us takes him outside!

  • Betsy

    And Emily, the age at which children start eating at restaurants totally depends on you and your child and your willingness to put in the attention and work that it takes. Easy to take infants, that’s for sure! Honestly, there will be stages throughout your kids’ lives at which it will okay and not okay to take them.

  • Betsy BB

    It sounds like you really have your act together, Jessica, which can be so hard when you have young kids. I get it about not having the energy to even walk into the kitchen after a day of work. You have figured out how to meet your and your child’s needs. Yay.

  • Jennifer

    I have triplets who are currently five and a half. My husband and I have been taking the kids out in public since they were two months old. We have been taking them to restaurants since they were three months old. Not every adventure is a success. More often than not we get compliments from our neighbors were we are eating. As a responsible parent I know that my kids are not perfect and have no problem removing them from the dinning area. During a dinner during a ‘kid’s night’ two of my kids got so wild they were removed and they sat in the van with me while my husband and third child ate dinner in peace.

  • Hanna

    Given the typical quality of your posts, I find this one to be incredibly disappointing. Haven’t we graduated from the “children should be seen and not heard” mentality??

    I think this is misrepresented as a black and white solution, when the truth is grey. Children have just as much right to be at a restaurant as an adult…perhaps they would argue that dining with adults is troubling, so adults should stay home!

    The real problem is when children are taken to more adult-type restaurants (e.g. fine dining), are too young to process verbal requests (babies and some toddlers), are unattended by their care givers, and don’t have projects or quiet distractions to help them through the wait. In that instance, I agree that the experience is fun for neither the family nor the audience.

    However, there is a lot of ground between solving for this situation and saying that young children should not go to restaurants. If you can solve for the challenges I list above, then taking kids out with you is a wonderful learning opportunity and can be a special time for the family. My kids are 3.5 yrs and 6 mos. The younger one is harder to take out unless I can count on him sleeping. But the older one generally does a great job. We go to regular adult restaurants and bring books, projects (like modeling clay or crayons and paper), or quiet games (of which there are a ton, from making shapes with post-it notes to magnetic blocks to good old fashioned “I spy”). Anything like legos where he concentrates is good. I also bring food with me…veggies or raisins or crackers so that the wait isn’t too hard if he’s hungry. If you keep your child in an emotional safe zone, they will do JUST FINE!

    We use this as an opportunity to model and reinforce good manners. He has learned so much from dining out with friends and family … Not to mention the fun memories we have all made.

    Lastly, I’ll say that this approach works fine for adolescents and older life too as we always are out with cousins and they do the same thing. We routinely are told that the kids were a pleasure to have out.

    So with that, I seriously encourage you to revisit and amend your post to be more actionable vs defeatist…and more in line with current thinking.


  • Jill Lipsky

    Wow- people really got upset about this one- but you’re right. It’s not fair to our kids or other diners. You aren’t saying- never take your kids out- just wait until they can meet reasonable expectations. In terms of memories- our kids will remember the home cooked or home eaten meals more anyway. Eventually we can talk to our kids about restaurant expectations and give it a try- if it doesn’t work- you try it again another time when they’re ready.
    Simple and reasonable- what’s the problem?

  • Betsy BB

    Yes, Hanna, my blog has a different tone to it, I know. I love the thought and converstation it is generating.

    You comments are thoughtful and to the point. Thanks much for sharing.

    The problem is the way in which people interpreted my piece. If you read it carefully (as well as read Jill’s comment above), my main point is precisely that children need to be ready and available to learn. Some kids are able sooner than others. And by all means, learning all behaviors is a process that happens over time with repeated exposure and raised expectations. Sounds like you did a great job of it. Congratulations.

  • Natasha

    This seems so polarizing for even you to write. Teach kids manners and take them out. Bottom line. That’s how you teach them restaurant manners. You can’t do that in a kitchen. Or maybe you should go to dinner at grown up time like the rest of us who go out with our hubbies on date night?

  • Lori

    This is a good one! I admit that I am guilty of taking my five year old out to dinner A LOT. BUT…if he behaved poorly that would be the end of it and he knows that. The idea of not getting to eat sushi anymore whips him right into shape. It has however turned him into a bit of a food snob…

    As a mom I have to say the one thing that irritates me the most when I see families in restaurants are the parents who simply ignore the fact that their child is throwing food on a floor and then leave it there for the waitstaff to clean up. While recently pregnant I was having breakfast with my son while the one year old at the next table threw all her food off the table and on to my feet. The parents were too busy chatting with their friends to notice until I had to point out that my feet were covered in their child’s food…I wasn’t surprised when they didnt show any remorse. My son however was appalled. Unfortunately it is often the parents who behave more poorly then the children.

  • Betsy BB

    Amen to that!

  • Christy

    I know it has been a minute since this posted but I want to add a comment anyway and hope someone understands and hopefully there are generally nice people who do care even if it doesn’t matter or affect them personally. I am a stay at home mother of 3. An 11 year old, 9 year old and 10 month old baby. Today while dining at a casual restaurant with my mom, my 10 month old started to squeal. He was not screaming in frustration, not crying, he wasn’t mad or upset he was happy and liked the loud atmosphere and echo of his voice. A man sitting near by didnt like it and proceeded to tell me that this was ridiculous and I was ridiculous for not taking the child out, or getting a babysitter. He said just because I live in Utah and it’s family friendly does not mean I can get away with it. Mind you, I was feeding him, giving him toys and anything to grab his attention but he is a very busy baby and very aware of his surroundings. Taking him outside would stop the screaming only to start again when I brought him back into the loud atmosphere we were in. This was not a tantrum or unruly child. What could I possibly do? Stay home……always? I am a stay at home mom like I mentioned…I don’t get out a lot and my husband works long hours so if I venture out I am forced to take the little one or not go at all. I know no one else cares but I need to get out of the house!! A babysitter is not easily found in my area and my mother in law who took my older kids swimming can’t chase a 10 month old at a swimming pool. So what am I supposed to do? Stay locked up in my house all the time because my child might squeal and bother the man sitting next to me? I know I am not perfect, not a perfect person or a perfect parent but I am valid and also a paying customer. If this man wants a guaranteed quiet lunch maybe he needs to stay home. Or if people want a quiet dinner to be “alone” with their partner then why, I ask do they come to a noisy restaurant? In public, anything can happen, kids cry, people fight, waitresses drop a tray or break a glass, there are no guarantees. I understand people’s frustration when a three year old is throwing a tantrum or running around chucking things and being disruptive and the parents simply ignore it. I get it. But this case is a baby that does not understand the meaning of no. Yes, I do tell him no but it will a year before he gets it. This was not a case of an undisciplined child. I did all I could to keep him quiet. The noisy atmosphere caused him to want to be a part of it. We attend church every sunday and he does not squeal in church because the atmosphere is quiet. I know it is not ideal for others but what I am to do? I wish I had a babysitter and I wish I wasn’t cooped up in the house and desperately need to get out with a ten month old, but I have no choice. Shopping or dining out once a week is my sanity….sad but true. I love my kids and thank the Lord for them and I love my house but I still need to see the outside world and there is nothing wrong with that. Do I go to a park in 100 degree weather and have my crawling child burn his knees and eat sand? I need to eat and so does he. My mom is my best friend and also 70 years old and enjoys eating out. And she’s not excited about Mcdonalds. What are we to do?Now I am supposed to wait until my child is old enough to sit quiet and not make a peep. I am just sick over this and wonder how do I get out of the house with my baby from now on? My older kids never had this phase and I taught them how to behave in restaurants. This is completely different and a little out of my control. I am at a loss by this mans judgmental attitude. He viewed me as a “Mormon” mom who multiplies, creating snotty children because I live in Utah. My children are actually very well behaved, not perfect but dang good kids. I receive compliments on their behavior from nearly everyone they come in contact with. Now because my youngest likes the sound of his voice and is exploring his communication skills I am banned from society?? Should I lock our doors and not enter the world until he is five years old? I wonder where is the kindness in this world? Where are the people who say “I know how it is. It’s okay. I’ve been there.” This man probably eats out daily and had one lunch disrupted. Excuse us Sir. There are many places to find peace and quiet and I have to say it is not a restaurant. Maybe an upscale fine dining establishment could provide that atmosphere but not a downtown Mexican restaurant. If you want it quiet then go somewhere quiet! I know my child’s screams may be annoying to others but it is not because he is misbehaving and I did all I could to stop it. Should I live my life behind closed doors because other adults can’t handle a loud noise once in a while? We all are here in this world living and breathing and most of us are doing our best. Why are we so intolerant, judgmental and and plain rude to one another? We all have challenges, I may be a stay at home mom needing to get out of the house while someone else may be a working parent dying to get home. So who is better? We come from all walks of life and all are on different levels of learning and understanding, why can’t we be kind? Lets just ban all kids under eight from restaurants. That’ll do the trick….I say if anyone wants a strictly adult atmosphere go to a bar at night….there will not be any children guaranteed…although you may run into some unruly screaming and wild adults and if you confront them you just might end up with a black eye or worse.

  • Betsy BB

    How could I not respond to your email,Christy, after you took so much time to share your frustration and other feelings?

    You made many solid points, and I truly understand your position. I believe there is no perfect solution to your dilemma. There is, however, a clear answer for the rude, intolerant man at the restaurant: Ignore him!

    Clearly, you are a caring, concerned, and thoughtful parent. It is also clear that you are doing the very best you can, and you are doing all of it with thoughtful consideration. I don’t think anyone could fault you.

    That said, I suppose I would have turned to the gentleman, explained what was going on, apologized if your exuberant son was bothering him, and give him a big smile. The key was not to have personalized it.

    It is one thing if a child is misbehaving. It is another if he is doing what kids do: use loud voices until they learn to use a quiet restaurant voice. That comes in time with age. The fact that you were doing everything you could and were not allowing misbehavior, says it all.

    I hope writing your response, venting a bit, helped you to feel better.

    Keep up the great mothering!

  • am92097

    Betsy, I saw you on Home and Family. A question was asked about parents bringing something for kids to do in restaurants. A coloring book was used as an example. It was agreed that this is ok. But at what age does it become unacceptable?? A coloring book is great for small kids, but as they get older, electronic devices take over! Eventually you have kids way too old to sit at dinner playing their games at the table, right? While it can be a distraction for kids, it starts being very annoying to adults!! I guess I’m a little old school, but these parents depend on these devices and forget how to be a disciplinary parent.

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