Food for Thought: Do Kids and Restaurants Mix?

As a professional restaurant visitor, I’ve seen a lot of tots at the table — in restaurants where you’d expect to find them and in restaurants whose reputation is staked on the fine dining experience. But in the last several weeks, I’ve had three particularly memorable encounters with little ones dining out that have made me wonder if there are (or should be) some rules about the practice.

I was recently seated outdoors for a late lunch at a fine-dining restaurant. In come a couple of young parents, clearly sleep-starved and obviously hungry for something more sophisticated than Cheerios. Their cherub — less than a year old — slept in a stroller. But in a few minutes, the baby started to cry softly. The dejected parents glanced in my direction, sensitive to their offspring’s effect on other diners, paid for their drinks, and left. I deemed it excessively courteous. It was late afternoon, and the baby had barely made a sound.

But this hyper-consideration was the exact opposite of what happened to me a few weeks later, when, at another fine dining destination, I was seated next to a baby who shrieked continuously for the entirety of her mother’s meal during the peak of dinner service. That parent — and the restaurant management — seemed oblivious to the obvious annoyance of the rest of the diners. I wondered: Should restaurants have an age limit? No children under 18? But what about kids who are pure pleasures as dining companions? At a BYOB recently, a pleasantly silent toddler charmed the whole crowd by relishing a plate of snails.

Everyone has a strong opinion on whether children belong in restaurants, but there are few clear guidelines for parents, or even for restaurants. Are there unspoken rules followed by all but the least polite parents, or should restaurants have policies that keep their dining room from becoming Romper Room? With more and more parents raising their kids in the city, finding kid friendly restaurants can be a challenge. What do you think? Should foodie parents have to sacrifice?

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  • John DeCoste

    My opinion is that the issue must be handled by the restaurant, with advance notice to the parents. For example children running arount the restaurant is not allowed, period. I (RESTAURANT) will not be sued by you if junior trips wait staff and gets scalded, cut or dumped on. Crying baby – take them outside, NOW. Unruley child – OUT. Kid throws food all over the place – you clean it up. Most parents understanding these rules and that the restaurant enforces them, will probably go elsewhere. Restraunt owners must realize that they will lose the not happy, dine in silence customers, but will keep the offending parents and kids, who in turn will return and do it all again. RESTAURANTS GET TOUGH.

  • pam

    I agree-When you are paying good money to eat out you should not have a coach parked between your table and theirs-wait until they get older to take them to restaurants when they should not be falling out of their seat,running up and down.
    I also have sat through many movies hearing infants crying-very unconsiderate and selfish

  • Brooke

    This issue drives me crazy. I look around at many parents and wonder how in the world they can raise their children the way they do. How does someone not realize that they need to take their children out of the restaurant and privately scold their child for being so disruptive and disrespectful. It is a shame that restaurants should need to enforce such rules but because parents dont effectively discipline their children to behave in public restaurants may need to start enforcing for the sake of their other diners’ enjoyment.

  • nicole

    oooh, so hard to say. joy you are so right. though i’d point out that the same little one may behave like a gourmand and an angle on one occassion but be rather cranky and disruptive on another. take my nephew, jules, for example. he is 6 – from nice, france. he has been raised to sit at the table in fine dining establishments like a gentleman and eats everything from hamburgers to foie gras. but catch him when he’s at the height of his daily dose of energy and he can be found using the rail between the dining room and the kitchen at osteria as a jungle gym. you just never know!!

  • Elizabeth

    I have mixed feelings about children in restaurants. My children are now in their 20’s, and I took them everywhere from the time they were infants. However, we always dined at off-peak hours and if they misbehaved, we left. We’re surrounded by incivility perpetrated and perpetuated by adults who seemingly ought to know better — are you offended by an adult holding a cell phone conversation in a fine dining restaurant? Perhaps our ‘finer’ restaurants could specify family dinner time (5-7pm?), but as long as everyone is paying full price for their meals, I don’t see how you can discriminate against customers with children — unless you exact some standard of behavior across the board.

  • lisa

    I have teenagers now but always took them to any restaurant. When my olsest son was 7 his fav restaurant was Striped Bass. When they misbehaved one of us took them outside and sat with them until they calmed down. Parents should not let their children ruin other diners meals. Now I have foodies for kids and although I think that is great I am hoping they can afford dining without us in the future!

  • Drew

    Well said, Lisa. The issue is clearly with parents who are not considerate of other diners. We have 3 young children, and take them everywhere. They are well behaved, and can handle themselves even in the finest of restaurants. The key is that they know what is expected of them, and they are used to being in those situations because we take them. Having said that, there are times when they are off their game. Its inevitable. They are kids. That is when we take them outside for a walk to calm down and cool off until they are ready to return. Parents need to know when thier kids need a break. And lets not lose sight of many of the adults who’s actions could very well be the subject of this article.

  • Giovanni

    This is a tough one. After giving some thought, I think children should be allowed in any restaurant as long as they are polite and do not cause a disruption. I might actually post at the entrance or print on each menu something like this, “Properly behaved children most welcome. If a child is disruptive, we ask that a parent take them to a private area and admonish them to act like little ladies or gentlemen. If they continue, we ask that you voluntarily leave. We will package your meal and accomodate you any way possible. We want our dining experience for all our clients, including childen, to be the best there is. Thank you.”

    I was to a restaunt once where there was a very polite child near my table. At one point he wandered over and told me he felt bad that I was eating alone and would keep me company if I wanted. He was so charming that the entire area was captiviated by his gesture, and it transformed us all into one giantic interactive “family.”

    I have experienced the opposite, where I wanted to go over and tie the kid to his chair and stuff a sock in his mouth. I might add I have seen some disruptive adults who were worse than many children are. Age, it seems, should not be a factor. Civil behavior should be and it is not too much to ask of any patron.