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?