By Gabrielle. Images of little June and her hot cocoa by Blue Lily.
Do fancy dinners and crying babies mix? Not when social media gets involved! According to this article and lots of play on Twitter, Chef Grant Achatz publicly broached the question all parents ask themselves — usually while blushing in the middle of a lovely restaurant when their child transforms into something not-so-lovely! — and the responses were surprisingly heated.
His original tweet:
To give you some back story, the restaurant in question is Alinea, a Michelin-starred spot that charges $250 per person upfront to reserve a table. Does that detail matter? It does when the couple in question was set to lose $500 just because their babysitter cancelled!
Have you ever experienced a similar situation, whether from an embarrassed parent or an annoyed diner perspective? Has there been a time when you either sensed or were told outright that your children were not welcome in a particular restaurant? Were you understanding or outraged? Depending on where you live in the world, children are either welcomed with open arms and a kids menu, or the complete opposite, right?
In France, children are raised with such impeccable table manners — learning to eat with a fork in their left hand, and a knife in their right from age 2! — that I was always so nervous about taking our big circus of a family to French restaurants. But we worked hard on our table etiquette as a family and ended up eating out freely. Still, even with great table manners, in our little town, restaurants were either considered family friendly and kids were welcome, or they were fancier and with few exceptions, we simply didn’t see kids there at all. (As I type this, it occurs to me, that that divide doesn’t sound too different from New York.)
I can’t wait to hear your own stories and opinions!
99 thoughts on “Reservations”
Such a touchy subject! As always there is a time and place for everything. Good manners and etiquette is something that is learned and must be practiced. A 2 year old at a fancy restaurant is not a good idea, but exposing the child to ways to learn the manners and etiquette in a more kid friendly setting is a good idea so that in several years you can take them wherever you want without any thought of how they’ll behave. My mom would make us all go to our siblings concerts and plays (and I come from a family of 10 kids so there were plenty), not only to support them but to teach us the manners needed to sit through a show. She would expect the same manners from us as if we had been sitting in the Met Opera house or something like that. She was teaching us the skills we needed to act appropriately for the time she did take us to less kid friendly places.
As for this particular case…that detail does matter on both sides of the coin. This is the type of place that people go, more likely than not, to enjoy time as a couple or with adult friends. Yes they would have lost their money if they had bailed on their reservation, but as someone who takes the time to get a sitter so I can have time with my husband and not have the noise of children, I would have been annoyed, especially if I was paying that much to get away from it and would have felt that I had wasted my money to get the reservation. I’m just glad I have teenagers now so I don’t have to worry about the sitter bailing.
We have taken our children out to dinner about once a week since they were both born, now 6 and 3. Usually we go to family friendly restaurants and eat early in the evening and normally we all have a wonderful time. Our only disaster was when my kids were 4 and 1 and we went to a pub on a winter evening, the kind of place that serves hamburgers and chowder and has a bar on one side. We were seated very close to the bar, it was a loud and noisy place. My husband received an important phone call and went outside to take it. My one year old reached the end of her rope and started crying and was not willing to be soothed. I didn’t want to just leave since we hadn’t paid our bill so I asked the waiter to bring our check. A (probably drunk) guy at the bar started muttering about crying babies and using some swear words just as my husband returned. My husband asked him to please not use that language with the children around. As my husband was paying the bill at the front of the restaurant, the same guy came and pushed my husband into the wall, giving him a laceration above his eyebrow. So, one bad experience out of a lot of good meals. In general, I think common sense should prevail. Children should be exposed to public situations, but should be taught to behave well. If Mr Atchez doesn’t want babies at his restaurant, then he needs to have a reservation policy that allows people a refund or another reservation in the case of a cancelled babysitter.
I agree that people should be able to get refunded. I think that if they spent $500, they should be able to enjoy the meal they paid for. It stinks for the other people in the restaurant, but $500 is a lot of money! I don’t think Alinea is an appropriate place for babies, but I think that this was a bit of tricky situation, and I can’t blame the parents for doing what they did.
I also wonder if you were truly willing to spend $500 just for the reservation, wouldn’t you take extra precautions and have a back-up plan in case the sitter couldn’t make it. I wish restaurants had children’s sections like the smoking sections of the old days. I hate hearing crying babies and feel so bad for the parents and the uncomfortable child. How embarrassing! I would hate to interrupt other that paid good money and either don’t have children or intentionally didn’t bring them to avoid this exact situation. Certainly brings up a good conversation about how those without children are often expected to put up with other families that do.
Your mention of eating out early in the evening reminded me of one of our travel-with-kids policies. When we’re traveling, we try to eat dinner on an earlier schedule — so that the restaurant is mostly empty and it’s not a challenge or them to seat our big family.
In the drunk guy’s defense, I wouldn’t have taken kindly to being told to watch my language either. Maybe at family friendly places…actually, I don’t go to family friendly places for that reason. I’m a paying customer too, and not at all to say yall were doing this, but it drives me crazy when people think their kids are more important. If parents bring them out in the world, they might be exposed to the world.
I still wait tables on Saturdays at a restaurant that welcomes kids. We have a kids menu, as well as booster seats and high chairs for customer use. The issue that I run into and find frustrating is that a lot of times parents will let their kids have free reign over the place, which includes the staff having to dodge the little ones while we try to deliver food and drinks. At times, parents will allow their kids to play on the floor under the tables. While that isn’t necessarily bothering me, its pretty gross to let your kid do that. On the flip side, anytime I wait on kids with good table manners, I always make sure to compliment them and let the parents know how nice that it is.
Of course it isn’t the little kids fault that they are not being supervised properly, so really my problem is with parents who aren’t watching their kids.
Tori, I waited tables in college and I agree with everything you said!
Yes! Me, too. I waited tables in college and found the same thing!
Yes, I agree as well! I waitress in the evenings while my husband watches our boys (1 and 4) and this means I can earn money for the little extras, like going out to dinner as a family ourselves!
However, in my experience, so many people at my restaurant (and many other places I’ve eaten) let their kids run up and down and round and round the tables. If I’m carrying 3 plates of beautiful, expensive and more importantly, HOT food, it’s very difficult, especially if the children are small and moving fast and you can’t always see them. What if the food / hot tea was dropped and hurt the child? Or the waiter tripped and injured themselves?
I acknowledge that it can be hard with small kids and sometimes when we eat out my whole stomach is clenched because I’m trying to teach my children to have good manners so we can all enjoy the meal and meals to come. I take little colouring books / pencils / tiny things to play with to keep them occupied. If they are getting antsy (for e.g. the one year old), we keep the meal short, or one of us takes him outside. We don’t expect others to put up with unnecessary noise and we always clear up if they make a mess. So many people just leave debris and chaos everywhere – and I’m not talking about reasonable meal mess!
I suppose it’s like everything; there are some people who are considerate so nobody minds if their baby starts crying if they’re trying to do the right thing. Then there are some people who, quite frankly, shouldn’t be allowed out with their children until they decide to watch / help them properly and not carry on with adult conversations as though the children didn’t belong to them at all!
Oh man. Kids under the table grosses me out so much! And yet, I’ve totally been there done that. Ben and I might be in conversations with two of the kids, when we look up and suddenly realize June (or Betty or Oscar in earlier days), is under the table. Gross!
Interesting detail about having to pay up-front as my initial reaction to this story was “these people were completely nuts to bring a baby to that restaurant.” I wonder how the restaurant would have reacted if they had called and said, “know your policy, but it’s either cancel or bring our 8 month old with us.” Still, I probably would have tried to find a stand-in babysitter or sent just one of the parents to go to the dinner with a friend while the other stayed home with the baby. I think it is good to take kids out to eat as it teaches appropriate table manners – but to more relaxed places. I don’t think most parents, however, would want to take their kids to Alinea (and most young kids, no matter how well-behaved, probably wouldn’t want to sit through a meal there).
i think bringing kids to restaurants is part of their education – they need to learn how to do it, right? that said, if a child cries loudly or throws a fit, he/she should be taken outside, no question. that’s part of the education too. it’s unfortunate for the parents, but it’s only fair to other diners!
Just for more context, Achatz answered our burning questions: http://www.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2014/01/16/are-you-hungry-for-specifics-in-this-weeks-huge-alinea-story
Sounds like they’d have absolutely worked it out if this was a sitter issue, and the people in question (party of 4) made almost no effort to makes things better. Gross.
Wow, that was an enlightening article and clears a lot up. If there were four people in the party, surely one of them could miss a bit of the meal and take the baby out. I think Achatz handled it well, overall.
Also, let’s point out how the chef states that this is a FOUR HOUR dining experience. I’m in the”Two under 2″ crowd right now but I am going to go out on a limb and guess that it would take a child at least until what, 7 or 8, to be able to handle sitting at a restaurant table for four hours. Unbelievable. That’s not only disrespectful to the restaurant and it’s patrons but to your own child.
I’m so glad for the follow-up info! Thanks for the link, Kate.
(I hope this isn’t a duplicate, my phone is being weird!)
Achatz answered our burning questions today. In short, Alinea would have helped them if it was a sitter issue; they didn’t call ahead. Was a group or 4 or 5, seated in a small room w only a couple other tables. Woman holding baby made almost no effort to help (took to bathroom once for 1 minute) and none of them showed any guilt or remorse. Gross!
I think for 500 bucks the restaurant should have a sitter on call.
I am from Chicago (I’ve never been to Alinea because $500 dinners do not make sense to me) but last weekend my husband and I went out for a nice dinner after work on Friday. I am 6 months pregnant and we have a 2 year old. We were seated next to a table that had a small toddler probably not quite 2 but very mobile. She was cute and kept coming up to our table to smile at us and as the restaurant filled up she even tried to sit at other tables. She was well behaved but she was 2. Her parents were letting her run around the restaurant. This was not a restaurant that I would call kid friendly especially on a Friday night. To be honest I was a little annoyed. My husband and I rarely make it out to dinner and I really was uncomfortable with this little girl constantly approaching our table. Of course kids have a right to be in restaurants, but not all of them. We are selective where we take our son to out to dine and will be until he is able to understand that you can’t run all over and yell, etc.
If I paid Alinea money to go out to eat that night I would have been livid at the parents – especially if those parents didn’t even try to console their baby.
i think this a no brainer that some parents fail at. if you have a child that requires a high chair or booster and the restaurant does not have them, that means that the restaurant does not accomodate children. would you patronize a restaurant that doesn’t accomodate your child?
That reminds me of a very nice restaurant in Sheridan WY, where I used to live. When it first opened, they did not accommodate children, although they didn’t quite get snippy about it – no high chairs or boosters, no children’s menu. About two years later, the owner and his wife had a child, and lo and behold! High chairs and boosters and better food options! Must have gained some perspective!
I think we’re missing the fact that this place is charging $250.00 a plate!! That’s ridiculous. I don’t care how good the food is, that just doesn’t just make sense to me.
I waited tables through high school, college and my early 20s. I worked at family-friendly restaurants, bars, and a few more upscale places. At first, I was always shocked when parents would bring in very young children to nice restaurants. When I was little, we only ever went to Shoney’s for Kids Eat Free nights. And that was a BIG DEAL that I knew could end at any minute if we misbehaved. So it was major culture shock for me to see these families coming into my restaurant 2-3 times per week for multi-course meals. Things usually went well if the parents brought the children something to do: coloring books, storybooks, ipads, etc. Yes, they would generally make a big mess and make special menu requests, but that all comes with the job. I’m going to echo what others have already said. The most terrifying thing is when parents let their children run around the restaurant unsupervised. It can be very dangerous. We’re not babysitters. One restaurant I worked in was extremely busy and small. I can remember two times where I think my heart stopped because of a child. One time, I was carrying two big, piping hot bowls of seafood bouillabaisse to a table and a toddler ran into my side at full speed. The child was so lucky that my experienced hands had a good grip on those dishes, because she could have been very seriously injured. The parents didn’t even notice. The scariest time, I was in the service station, next to the kitchen, putting a handful of steak knives away (with the blades pointing down of course). Unbeknownst to me, a toddler was “so curious about cooking” so the parents were watching and laughing as he tried to look into our very busy kitchen. I quickly swung my arm to put my fistful of steak knives away on the bottom shelf and came within about an inch of stabbing this child in the eye, who was silently standing directly behind me. I was truly shaken up by this experience. I understand children cry, scream, and make messes, and every parent and diner has a different approach to this. That’s fine. But keeping a child safe at a table or with a parent is non-negotiable.
Those stories! Both would have freaked me out as a server.
It also made me realize, that as careful as I am to keep my kids close in public places, it seems more than likely that there have been times where we caused problems for others and had no idea.
Personally, I would never take young children or babies to that type of restaurant. Partially because if I’m spending that kind of cash on fabulous food, I want to relax and savor it, not sit with kids who are losing their patience. I also wouldn’t do it because I wouldn’t want to inflict that on other couple who have left their kids at home so they can have a great night out as adults. They don’t need that.
That said, we take our kids to restaurants all the time and have since they were newborns. Our kids at 10 and 6 are really good at being in restaurants. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t bumps in the road – I have spent plenty of time outside a restaurant with a crying baby or tantrumung toddler. I have left a restaurant and gone home with a tantrumung toddler, leaving my husband and other child at the restaurant. We muscled through those years without resorting to iPads or iPhones at the table, and now my kids can deal with sitting for an hour and a half.
I think there is a pretty clear divide between restaurants were kids are welcome and the fancier/more expensive venues where a babysitter should engaged for the night. As the 7th of 10 kids I remember a rare occasion where my parents took all of us to a restaurant–not a super fancy one–and before we left the house my dad (who has spent a lot of time in Europe) ran us through a table etiquette refresher and promised $10 to the child who embarrassed him the least. I was so proud of myself for winning.
“. . .who embarrassed him the least.” Ha, ha, love that.
The problem is that the child was disrupting the rest of the diners, all of whom paid their $250 each to be there as well. Bringing the kid isn’t the issue, it’s what to do when the kid becomes a problem. Just because these two parents decided that they didn’t want to lose their $500 doesn’t make it okay for them to act like their money is better then everyone else’s. It’s so selfish. And this is true of all restaurants no matter the price! I don’t care if you’re at a Denny’s eating a $5 sandwich or at the swankiest joint in town, if your child is misbehaving and being disruptive, you take them outside or leave all together. It’s just common courtesy!
I think there are two different arguments at play here. In the situation at Alinea – the child was 8 months old? Therefore I don’t think there is an expectation that the child would sit nice and politely and nibble on fine snacks. When my 1st child was born I had 6 months left living in the fine dining mecca of Tokyo – and a list of restaurants that I still planned to visit. We could generally count on the baby being asleep and placed in his car seat at our feet – the noise did not bother him (perhaps being a hyper-urban baby) – and we sucessfully got through many meals. Some nights the schedule determined I would have to forgo the evening, and sometimes it would all fall apart once we were there, at which point I would leave in a taxi and look forward to the takeaway box being bought home by my husband.
Fro older children – if you think they are going to be happy for a period of time with the food and entertainment offered on the menu, and they are generally relied on to have patient manners, why not take them out with you – fine dining is a skill. My children however need many years still before they;d be happy to eat at a fine dining establishment – not being a fan of hamburgers – I even hesitate to take them to Smashburger!
Last weekend, we went to see Catching Fire and paid for a babysitter for our daughters at home.
Right before the movie starts a couple of Moms walk in with their young children (the youngest had to be no older than 4). I was so disappointed! The kids were loud and annoying. I personally would never expect to see a preschooler in a movie theater watching a PG-13 movie. It was inappropriate and I didn’t like having to listen to a whiney child when I paid to get a break from that. Maybe it’s ok for restaurants to run similarly? That some just aren’t appropriate for children? There are many risks to being a parent.
This is always a tough issue. I don’t believe parents (especially new parents) should be forced into a life of exile. As a parent, I believe if we don’t introduce our kids to situations then they will never learn what is expected of them. That being said, it’s the parents’ responsibility to set the expectations for their kids, teach them the proper etiquette, and hold them to it. Different ages mean different expectations and different “acceptable” situations. Unfortunately, not all parents have enough manners or etiquette of their own to teach their children acceptable public behavior.
In this situation? It seems there are a lot of unknowns. However, if you are the parent of a child who isn’t handling a rather adult situation well, it’s your responsibility to remove the child from the situation. That’s called taking responsibility and having good manners. If I’d paid $500 for dinner and had a very small infant I’d sure call and find out if I could get a refund. If not, we’d be there (however – we’d never be there in the first place. $500 for dinner? That’s just ridiculous). If my child was upset? My husband and I would spend a lot of time taking turns eating/tending the child out of the room.
I don’t know what this says about my parenting, but hearing somebody else’s baby cry at a restaurant (even a really fancy restaurant) wouldn’t bother me at all. I would go right ahead and enjoy my 500 dollar meal. :).
I typically feel the same way. Unless I’m particularly stressed out about something, I’m really not bothered by a baby’s cry at a restaurant, or on an airplane, or anywhere else. Although I do have that instinct that I think many people have of wanting to rescue the mom, or reassure her that it’s going to be all right, that the baby will eventually calm down, that she’s doing a good job.
If I am super stressed out, then any extra noise, be it a baby or a conversation with the stranger sitting next to me, can be excruciating. But of course, that’s my problem, and I should really go home in those instances.
I feel strongly about this. Ithink small kids should be welcome in most places. Most, but not all. I do think there are some places where small children don’t belong. A fancy restaurant is one. The list isn’t long. But I do think it’s reasonable for other diners in such places (or movie goers etc) to expect a certain environment, and bringing kids in changes that.
Part of the problem (in my experience, anyway) is that a lot of parents make no attempt to “control” their kids (hate that word, but you know what I mean). They don’t intervene when a child’s actions affect others. So, for instance, not only will they take an infant to a fancy restaurant–they will also fail to act in any way if the infant starts crying. If you must take the baby to a movie or a restaurant, then you need to be fair & take steps if the baby starts disturbing others.
But I think mainly you need to accept that when you have kids, one of the many things that changes is where you can go. In some cases, you need to compensate–either you don’t go, or you hire a sitter. When my children were still nursing, I didn’t want to be away from them for more than very short periods. But that didn’t mean I took them everywhere I went. Instead, it meant that I didn’t go to certain places. So I skipped a few things I otherwise would have gone to, including the wedding of a close friend.
Again, I think the list of places where this applies is very short. For the most part, I feel that kids make noise and we should just accept that. And yes, I realize it’s hard to define what counts as a place that’s too “nice” to take a young child. But I do feel that many parents are being very inconsiderate, and using “I take my baby everywhere!” as an excuse. This is not antichild, which some people say, nor is it the child’s fault for acting like a kid.
I agree wholeheartedly with Nancy. I also think that some individuals have lost the ability to be courteous to others. The point about acknowledging that having kids will limit what you can do, is key. You adjust for those years while they are very young. It’s just life.
We have a 2, 4 and 6 year old we take out to eat at least once a week but it must be family friendly. We insist they stay seated at the table. None of this running around thing. That’s the rule. Our children are well behaved out because we take them frequently and we are strict about their behavior.
I get annoyed when parents somehow decide that the rules don’t apply to them and their children JUST BECAUSE they have children. Like they need to be cut some slack about everything just because they are burdened with little ones. Guess what, having small children is hard, it’s not easy and it’s not the job for the lazy. The rules apply to everyone. Besides, having kids is a choice.
The great news is that kids grow and become more mature. I still wouldn’t take my children to a fancy restaurant late in the evening. I think parents need to realistically assess what their kids can handle.
When all else fails, take-out date night after the kids go to sleep is pretty much perfection. Throw in a DVD and your couch and there you go. Not a bad evening while they kids are little!
there is a huge difference between a tiny baby who may or may not cry, and toddlers and up running amok in a restaurant- regardless if its kid friendly or not. Just because a restaurant is kid friendly doesn’t mean I want out of control kids while I am eating. restaurant eating is learned.
tiny babies crying cannot be helped. its no ones fault.
We all make choices. I have two kids in diapers so I probably wouldn’t choose to make a reservation at a place where there was a chance I would lose $500 if a babysitter cancelled. Parenting is about sacrifices, right?
I am a teacher and I have worked in very high-end restaurants and despite both of those things – I had kids! I respect the owner’s right to have people pay up front but if he started giving refunds for babysitting soon the payment-in-advance would be a ton of paperwork and a total pain. They don’t have to give refunds and people will pay up front to eat there. It’s Alinea!
Having been lucky to have eaten there a couple of times and also a mother of 2 younger children, there is no way I would bring my children to Alinea for dinner at that young age. I would, however, when they are older and can appreciate that type of dining experience. I know things come up, sitters may cancel…then one parent stays home while the other has dinner with a “lucky” friend. That’s what happens when you become a parent, sacrifices. Bad call on the parents part, not the 18th month old.
I read Kate’s link (above) and it sounds like Achatz is a very reasonable person and would have at least let these people reschedule their dinner. And I don’t think his initial tweet is inflammatory. He really sounded like he was questioning what to do when put in a situation like this.
Who in the world would expect their tiny children to sit through a FOUR-HOUR dining experience featuring giant fish heads? (I’m not going to say I’d never spend $500 eating out because we could win the lottery and I do like to eat.)
I agree. I didn’t read his tweet as inflammatory either. I think he was sincere in not knowing what the best policy is.
Call me wind because I am absolutely blown away.
I’m not the type of parent who would ever take a young child to a fancy restaurant. No fun for child or parent! However, in 20-plus years of parenting I have encountered many more badly behaved adults than badly behaved children. Often, it seems to me that our society has a strong anti-child bias. A drunken man in a suit talking so loudly that I cannot hear my dinner partner is okay. But, a wiggly toddler is inappropriate. Once, in a very intimate and romantic restaurant we were seated next to a couple that was breaking up. The woman wept… copiously… for hours. She also called the man dinning with her a colorful and extensive variety of bad names. The restaurant was so small that we were sitting much closer to them than we would have been in our own home. I would have greatly preferred a crying infant.
I love your comment! So true!
I love your comment as well. I think your idea of an anti-child bias is spot on!
I think most people wouldn’t put up with a drunk loud talker either. Disturbance is disturbance no matter the age or type of person.
I would argue most people with children have a pro-child bias. ha!
If I had been at this restuarant expecting to enjoy an *adult* dinner for over $500(since the $268 price doesn’t include tax or gratuity) I would’ve been so irriatated by a crying baby. Is it fair for the couple giving up thier $500 meal? Nope. But it’s their baby. One partner could’ve gone with a friend, one partner could’ve gone, they could’ve tried and left when the baby started fussing — there’s options. But this couple, in my opinion, picked the most selfish option and decided for every other diner that they would all deal with their crying baby. If this had been Chili’s, no problem. I expect lots of fussing kids. But there is a big difference between a $10 burger and a $268 dinner.
I completely understand and agree that there are some restaurants that are not child friendly. I don’t take my children to those types of places, and honestly my husband and I don’t frequent them much either. However, I had one of my most frustrating and embarrassing moments as a mother in a child-friendly restaurant on a cruise ship. My daughter was 18-months old at the time and was squealing with delight at something. There was a party of 4 elderly people sitting nearby. When my daughter squealed, one of the women very loudly and angrily shushed her. The entire restaurant went quiet and all eyes were on me. I was so upset! I was furious at the woman for being mean to my 18 month old and embarrassed to have all that attention on me at the same time. This was a cruise ship restaurant at 5 o’clock in the evening. There were lots of other families there. Why my child was singled out for her bullying I still don’t know. Anyway, as the woman sat and glared at my child I just started to laugh. I looked right at her and laughed…loudly. She gave me the ugliest look I think I’ve ever received. My heart was pounding and my face was blood red, but I continued to laugh at her. Honestly, I didn’t know what else to do. It was such an emotionally charged situation. The wait staff came running over to make sure we were ok, but no one admonished the woman who was mean to my child. I will never forget that situation. I don’t know if I handled it the right way or not. It happened a few years ago, so I guess it really doesn’t matter at this point. I guess we all think we know how we will react in certain situations, but until something like that happens you really don’t know how you will respond. Thinking about it now still makes my blood boil.
Exactly! Why didn’t somebody scold that woman! Bad tempered people who hate children should stay home. Or only dine in very expensive $250 dollar a plate restaurants.
For me, the frustrating part of that story is that you were intentionally eating at 5:00 which is early and should have been a totally safe and relaxed time for a family to enjoy a meal without worrying about bothering people who might be on a romantic date or business dinner — because those typically happen later in the evening. So to have someone be bothered then would have stunned me.
IMHO, they should not have taken a baby to a fancy restaurant. If they have $500 to drop on dinner then they have the ability to find a back up sitter and pay for it. If they can’t find one, then get the dinner they paid for brown bagged. I have spent many a meal out in the parking lot while my extended family dined without me when I had babies. Um… at a $20 max per person meal I was not willing to subject other diners to my baby’s noise. This also was the case at the movie theatre with young children. Other people however, think that their kid is somehow special and a gift to the world. (my sibling included used to let his kids wander at restaurants, which appalled grandma and us!) Your kid is your problem. The only exception is flying. I have flown a lot with babies and I have done everything I could to keep my children under control, but there is nothing I could do when in the sky with a baby melt down. A lot of compassion is needed in this situation. I have taken my kids everywhere with me that I go. I have expectations that they will act decent. As a result, I am often complimented on their behavior in public places.
Oh, the flying thing!! I sooooo understand. Our kids have been flying since they were all two months old. Most of the time, they were pretty good. But one flight, I just do not know what got into my two year old. And there was NO consoling her. My hubby was across the way with our sleeping two month old (the one we thought would cause the ruckus). Luckily, on that flight, the older woman next to me had so much love and grace, and, ever so politely, offered to take her for me. And it worked. But it was the most stressful flight in the the almost 14 years that we have had kids.
I love hearing about the woman on the flight that responded with grace and love. I hope I can be that woman if I’m ever in the same situation.
The comments on this post are really interesting, and I agree with what I think has been the (overall) train of thought here.
I’m the daughter of a restaurant owner who would take my siblings and me out for dinner at least once a week. I definitely remember being taken outside to run around or sent to sit in the car if we would get antsy and start misbehaving (I honestly can’t imagine sending my son to sit alone in a car these days because I would worry about him and would be afraid someone would call the cops on me, but it was a different era!). My parents taught us that eating out was a privilege, and if we couldn’t handle the privilege then we were always rapidly removed from the situation. To keep us quiet and still we were allowed to do things at restaurants we weren’t allowed to do at home (for instance, we were allowed to read books or play cards at the table while waiting for our food to arrive). We definitely were not allowed to get up and run around the restaurant or play under the table (gross!).
To this day I absolutely love eating out at a variety of types of restaurants, and I think it’s a part of my life that I shouldn’t have to give up just because I am now a parent of a young child. I currently have an almost-2-year-old. We live in the DC area and eat out with him a few times a month. My general rules of thumb for eating out with him:
1) If the restaurant doesn’t have high chairs, I figure it’s a place that he isn’t really welcome, in which case I won’t try to eat there with him because it would make me feel uncomfortable (you’d be surprised at the restaurants that do have high chairs, though! Some much fancier places than you would expect do have high chairs and kids’ menus).
2) Regardless of where we are eating, we eat at his usual 5:30 dinner time, which means we’re on our way out of the restaurant by the time it starts getting crowded with childless people eating after 7 PM.
3) We bring an endless amount of crayons, stickers, and other things to entertain him. I figure we can practice proper manners at home. At the restaurant, I am more interested in keeping him quiet, whatever that takes.
4) If he starts to lose it, one of us takes him outside or to the car. Yes, this means we don’t always get to eat all or even most of our meal together, but as he’s getting older it’s getting easier for him to make it through an entire meal.
I’ve found that in general my son likes the novelty of eating out. He seems to recognize it as the social event that it is, and he usually will cooperatively stay in his seat and eat better at restaurants than he will at home.
As for how I would have handled the original situation in question, I think one of us would have kept the reservation and the other would have stayed home with the baby. I know I’d want to relax and fully savor the experience of a dinner at a restaurant like that, something I wouldn’t be able to do with my baby. It would be a waste of $250 if I brought the baby along. He would make the experience stressful for ME because I’d be so concerned the whole time about his behavior. So might as well waste it by staying at home with him where I could at least relax! :-)
I feel for the couple, having paid the money up front. BUT: I get nervous booking “No cancellation” rates for hotels or trips, knowing how kids and life are so unpredictable. Unless I knew for a FACT I had a sitter/grandparent/friend that was 100% confirmed (and again, that can quickly change), I wouldn’t be paying the fee to eat there in the first place, esp. with an infant in the house.
Also, my husband & I talked about this story when it was on our local news, and we both agreed that there is a time & place for everything. A baby in a carseat at Red Robin or Olive Garden is one thing…a baby in a Michelin-starred restaurant is quite another. The worse I ever felt when eating out with my then-toddler daughter was the one and only time we went to a “Hometown Buffet.” (A budget eatery, food is cafateria-style serve yourself.) Our girl was a little sick & very fussy, and I got dagger looks from the table of old folks trying to enjoy their mac n’ cheese. Oh the guilt I felt from those judgemental blue-hairs! ;)
I think we are all missing the point here. When you can easily spend $500 on a dinner ($1000 in this case since it was a party of 4), you probably feel entitled to do whatever you want. Someone posted that this couple’s $500 doesn’t mean more than the money being spent around them. But when you can drop that much cash on one meal, that is EXACTLY how you tend to feel. I bet the couple felt like they were spending their money, so who cares about the people around them. And the people around them felt the same way; entitled to a good experience. I am not a wealthy person, but I have been around enough wealthy people to have seen this over and over again. It is incredibly rude and selfish behavior, but money tends to make people feel more important than anyone else.
As for what everyone else is saying about kids and restaurants, they are all spot on; there is always a time and a place. There is a way to get kids to learn table etiquette at more kid friendly establishments, and everyone here seems to get that. We are the same way. We have three kids. Most meals have been fine for us, but we also tried not to take them places when they were really tired or hungry. And we ALWAYS left if they were disruptive. We would never let them run around during a meal, whether we were at a restaurant or at home. It just isn’t the kind of parents we are. And I am so amazed at how many compliments we get on how well behaved our kids are-without iPads and phones to keep them occupied. Good behavior has to be taught and modeled. It is unfortunate how many people do not realize that.
I don’t know. I’ve never eaten a $500 meal, but I know some very dedicated foodies that save like crazy so that they can experience this sort of thing. I don’t think we need to assume that everyone that dines at this type of restaurant is crazy rich.
I think most people have things they splurge on and other people would see those splurges as nuts. I remember a conversation I had with a teenage nephew when we were living in Colorado. There was a new “denim bar” in town that had jeans for sale up to $300. He was incredulous that anyone would buy a pair of $300 jeans. I told him that I’ve never owned a $300 pair of jeans, but that other people might truly value that purchase and wear those jeans for years. And then I asked him how much a good bike cost and he said around $2000. And I told him that as a very casual biker, I personally couldn’t imagine paying more than $200 for a bike, and that I’d get way more use out of a pair of jeans. : )
I agree with Gabby and can add that I don’t think that we can even assume that even if they ARE crazy rich that they are unpleasant or feel entitled. People can be wealthy, enjoy fancy dinners and be thoughtful, considerate people all at once. No need to demonize people just because they have a different bank account or priorities than ones own.
I agree with many of the commenters here: well-behaved children should be welcome in more restaurants, but an upscale $250/plate restaurant where people are paying for a special experience? No.
We have taken our 5 year-old twins out to eat at least once a week since they were adopted over a year ago. These are girls who had never used utensils, let alone been in any kind of dining establishment. We live in a city and never frequent “family-friendly” chains; instead we look for more informal but nice restaurants, we go early (5:30 or 6), and we bring crayons and paper to give our children something to do while waiting. They’re now amazing adept at eating out; they enjoy it and have tried more kinds of food than most adults. It’s one of our favorite things to do as a family.
I’m a big fan of taking kids out to eat (easier when you only have one or two, I realize — as the eldest of 10, I rarely ate out as a kid), but I’m a stickler for appropriate behavior and the younger your children are, the more you need to be prepared to walk out or change your plans at the last minute. That’s life with kids, right?
Ooo, so timely! Recently, I took my 3 little ones to (what I thought was) a child-friendly coffee shop to meet friends. They have high chairs, changing tables, and several children’s drinks. My older children were sitting nicely at the table, but talking, laughing, joking. My littlest was in her stroller. At times, my 2yo would whine for more food, and I would remind him to politely ask for more please. No one was crying, tantruming, screaming, nor unrestrained from the table. A woman working on her computer sighed and said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but can you please do something about your kids? They are really loud and bothering me. It’s just really rude and inconsiderate.” I felt horrible and shocked, because in my mind, they were just being children, and I hadn’t felt the need to keep them talking in whispers. I laughed nervously and apologized, explaining we were just having a quick snack and would be leaving in a minute, and she repeated her complaint. I hushed and shushed them to the point of whispering, packed up as quickly as I could (by now the baby was fussy, so I was super paranoid). I wiped every speck of mess from the table and under it, ran to the counter to purchase her a $5 gift card for her trouble and apologized profusely again for ruining her afternoon. She accepted it begrudgingly but didn’t really accept my apology or give the teensiest smile. I felt terrible for over a week and even now, I feel really badly about it!
Annie, I don’t think you have anything to feel bad about. Maybe the woman was having a bad day, was up against a deadline, or maybe she just doesn’t like kids. That’s all well and good, but a coffee shop is not an office nor is it a library. She had a choice of where to do her work and she chose a public place where people meet to talk and interact. If your children were behaving nicely, which it sounds like they were, I don’t think you had any reason to feel bad. You and your well-behaved children had just as much a right to be there as she did. And you were so gracious about it! Please don’t feel even a tiny bit bad.
I’m with Claire on this one. Don’t feel bad. How dreadful for an adult to act so entitled. A coffee shop is not an official workplace. You sound like a great Mama. I could say more… but I’m up past my bedtime. :)
I agree with Claire as well. I this the woman was out of line, and that when she saw you trying to apologize and address the situation she should have responded gracefully and kindly. Ideally, she would have responded gracefully and kindly from the beginning!
I completely agree with Claire. You did nothing wrong. I would have summoned my evil side looked at her and loudly said “I can NOT believe you just said that! Perhaps you should find a more suitable workplace.”
Funny you mention France. Boy would I love to talk to you about France. I’m a French teacher in the Bay Area!
In 2007 we took a family trip to France and dining was the biggest challenge for me.
I wanted to die of embarrassment when I had my then 3-year-old son in several Parisian bistros. He was exhausted, jet-lagged and often totally delirious. We only did it out of desperation for a hot meal at the end of the day. Parisian waiters are slow and yet impatient at the same time. They were clearly unthrilled to see my son there, and I got the impression they moved even slower because we were a raucous family! However, when we went to Provence it was completely different. So many more casual, outdoor dining experiences where they were extremely welcoming to us and our little one.
Personally, as a mother of three kids now, I have zero interest in taking my kids to fancy dinners with me. It’s supposed to be an adult event. I want to relax and savor my food. Beautiful food and beautiful atmospheres are lost on kids. I myself have been annoyed by other people’s kids running by my table while I was trying to enjoy a rare night out with my husband.
This brought back so many fun, messy memories! But our demographic was weekend breakfasts at the local coney. Our plan of action as a family/couple was if the kid acts up it’s out. The offender is taken out straightaway and whoever is left pays the bill and exits quickly. That has always been the most effective, and our kids are really great in restaurants now.
Hah! I know that strategy well.
Not entirely related to the initiating circumstance, but the topic in general:
My biggest issue with “As long as the kid is well-behaved…” requirement is that it means that families with children with special needs are going to pretty much never get to go out together. Yeah, for some people, it’s fine to just not take the kids out when they are in the toddler stage and then start going out again when they are elementary school-aged, but for families with children (or even adults) with special needs, that time frame is much longer, maybe forever. Do they not deserve to go out for nice meals together as a family for birthdays/holidays/mitzvahs/weddings/anniversaries? Do they not deserve patience?
I think we have to be very careful in assuming people can just get a babysitter. Maybe they saved up a lot for a special night out. Or maybe they are going out together after a family funeral and this is their last dinner before they all have to head home. There are all so many reasons why families would want their children with them for a special time.
I’m glad you bring this up, Heather.
Last month, the room parent in Oscar’s classroom organized a call for donations for the teacher’s holiday gift — not unusual, I realize. But in this case, it wasn’t for a Starbucks gift card. Instead, the funds went to hire a caretaker for the teacher’s teenaged special needs son, so that the teacher and her husband could enjoy a night out.
It was a reminder to me that not everyone can just call up a babysitter easy as pie.
There is no hard and fast rule that will work when it comes to children and restaurants because some kids can be intrusive no matter how short and kid-friendly the meal and some can sit and enjoy a mutli-course meal politely. The key is for the parents to consider the other diners. We have taken our small person to nice restaurants (even a Michelin starred bistro in France) at a young age, but I always check with the restaurant first and we go at lunch, not at dinner. If she cried or got wriggly and bored, one of our party would go outside with her until she was calm again. It wasn’t as fun for us, but to have a neighbouring table of French people tell us how well behaved our 1 year old was, I felt confident that we were not disturbing people. If your child can be chill and you’re willing to eat in turns if necessary, you can eat out politely. I loathe it when kids are roaring around and bothering other tables. I’m not there to entertain someone else’s kid. If my now nearly-3-year old needs to move about, we go outside. Mostly we just try to eat out at a time of day that is easier for a small person (lunch, brunch, dim sum) and mainly at more casual places where people expect to see children.
I think you should check your sources. The article cited by a previous commentator (see it here: http://www.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2014/01/16/are-you-hungry-for-specifics-in-this-weeks-huge-alinea-story) states that this wasn’t a couple, it was a party of FOUR people, and there’s no mention of a babysitter cancelling last minute. I know you’re just trying to start a discussion, but when you make things up, it changes the whole discussion. In that article, he states they DO let people cancel, and if they had phones ahead of time, he’d have given them their money back.
Hi Rachel. I agree, the follow up article was very helpful for shedding more light on what really happened. Alas, that article was published after my post was already written (or perhaps at the exact same time). So I didn’t know of until I had already started the conversation here.
I think the biggest issue is with the parents. If parents teach their children correctly, and are aware of social manners themselves, then they will be okay taking their children to restaurants. Not only would they NOT take the infant to a super fancy place (out of respect for the other diners), but if they DO take kids somewhere, they will appropriately deal with their behavior if it is less than ideal!
I’m an anxious person by nature, and almost always acutely aware of how what I am doing might affect those around me. For this reason just the thought of bringing a small child to a fancy/quiet restaurant makes me want to break out in a sweat. I can’t think of anything more miserable than frantically trying to discreetly corral my kid(s) while potentially enduring annoyed glances from other diners. HOWEVER, I am also aware that this is 100% my own personality and problem, and don’t at all expect that others feel the same way. Do I wish that my desire for a pleasant meal was always respected by those around me? Sure. But I don’t expect that will always be the case, and also know that I’ll never fully understand or know what another person or family are dealing with at any given time.
All this to say that we do love to take our kids (one almost 4, the other 18 mos) out to eat, but always do so in a way that maximizes our own comfort–meaning we choose kid-friendly restaurants and try to eat out at a less busy time that accommodates our childrens’ schedules (usually 5 or 6pm). We also do our best to teach our boys the appropriate way to behave while out, and ensure that they stay in their seats and maintain reasonable noise levels.
The situation mentioned is extremely difficult due to the desposit that was owed, but I agree that were I a part of this couple I would have called to ask what my options were.
I’m with most everyone on this, and like others who have had to take food to go when a fuss-fest burst out in a restaurant, we’ve worked hard to teach our son how to behave with grace in a restaurant. Now, at 12, he can eat anywhere and is a real gourmand. :) I did want to add something about our culture which was hinted at in some of the other comments. We took a sabbatical in Italy when our son was a baby. From our flight over on Alitalia, when the Italian crew sung, rocked, and played with him; to our meals out when the wait staff joined us at the table to chat with him (not with us so much!); to the business man who found our son’s kicked-off sock on the street and snugged it back on his foot; to the older ladies who applauded my husband when he carried our baby in a sling–there are too many instances to list them all!–we felt so welcomed and at ease. I don’t know what would have happened if there had been bad behavior on our son’s part or ours, but I came away from our time in Italy thinking this must be the best place to be a kid. My experience was that there, kids are loved for being kids.
I hear you. Some countries really seem to cherish interacting with kids. In America it’s sort of odd — we value children so much that we become helicopter parents in an attempt to protect them from any bad experience, but outside of very specific kid zones — like elementary schools or parks with play structures, children are very often not welcome, or at best, only tolerated.
First, I’m shocked that someone would pay 500 to go out to dinner. What must the food taste like? That’s 2/3 of our monthly grocery budget. I can’t imagine paying that much money for one meal that lasts a couple hours at most.
Second, I think whenever we go out in public we should prepare for the unexpected, regardless of the cost of the experience. Sometimes there are crying babies in movie theaters, or restaurants. Sometimes there are really polite children. Sometimes there are crazy adults. The only environment we can control (mostly) is our own homes.
“whenever we go out in public we should prepare for the unexpected, regardless of the cost of the experience”
I like that, Erikka. We’re just as likely to encounter rude adults, as we are to encounter chatty children — probably more likely in fact. And we might encounter a long wait at the restaurant or unexpectedly bad traffic. We have to learn to keep our cool.
I can only agree with Cecilia. One time in Italy a huge Italian family actually took our 2-year-old daughter to their table and had her eat with them. She had a blast!!! We have pictures!
How wonderful that you and your daughter had a chance to experience that Italian joy and grace! Love it.
How wonderful that you and your daughter had a chance to experience that Italian love for life!
Slightly off-topic, but I am so nervous to take my 2 year old out to eat in Paris in a month! Does anyone have any tips? We try very hard to enforce good table etiquette and we do take her out to eat often, but….depending on her mood or other factors, she can be either an angel or a shrieking demon (and since this trip is only a day trip from London, by dinner time she’s more than likely to be in shrieking demon territory from being drug around in the stroller all day). Any advice on how to find places that are more kid friendly in central Paris is appreciated!
In terms of that tweet, I don’t think he was out of line, it’s not like he was mean about it, just seemed torn. If I was paying that kind of money (especially pre-kids, now I’d probably just be glad it wasn’t my kid crying), I’d probably be annoyed about a screaming baby (although I think a screaming toddler is far worse than an 8 month old). But, if the parents were going to lose out on $500, I would’ve done the same thing as them. It’s just a tough situation. I wonder if they called the restaurant and talked to them about it. I would hope if they did, the restaurant would have offered them a refund or at least another reservation.
I don’t have kids yet but have to throw in my two cents! My husband and I went to Alinea a few months ago (we’d received tickets as a very generous wedding gift). Let me tell you, that is no place for children! Alinea does many awesome things in terms of presentation and stimulation of all of your senses, so one of our courses came out literally on fire (the flame burned for 2-3 minutes on the table right in front of us). I have no doubt that the staff handled it in a professional and courteous manner – they were absolutely amazing to us when we were there.
I am a mother of two small children and this story really bothers me for some reason. I think it may be because when other parents of small children behave badly, I feel like it reflects on us all in some way. I feel like they give all the people who complain about us when we are doing our best and behaving reasonably reason to still complain about us as a group (e.g. “young parents feel so entitled these days”). I think the couple in this situation acted unreasonably and selfishly. Selfish in that, once the baby started fussing, they disregarded the impact on their fellow diners, the difficult position they put the chef and wait staff in, and their own baby (who, I suspect, was probably tired and should have been in bed). Having young children means making sacrifices and adjusting your lifestyle when necessary. It means, when your babysitter cancels at the last minute and you have no back up (there is no evidence that is what happened here, if it was, they should have called the restaurant to inquire about their options), and your baby cannot handle being out (had the baby slept in a carseat the whole time, fine), your night is ruined. It does not give you the right to ruin the night of others.
I don’t find this subject terribly touchy. I have young children but I can sympathize with the frustrated person in a restaurant or airplane who feels uncomfortable with loud crying, I do too. Our children eat out with some regularity, we don’t stick strictly to “kid friendly” establishments but there’s certainly a limit. I learned this the hard way when my oldest was three.
Years ago I had tea at the Ritz in Boston and I remember tiny tea cakes and cucumber sandwiches, all served at once, quite accessible for a 3-year old. When I heard that a favorite restaurant (with an atmosphere much like Alinea) was serving afternoon teas I though it would be a fun thing to do with Grandma. We duly made our reservation and I didn’t worry too much that my daughter was having a touchy day. She’ll cheer up when she’s sees the little cakes, I thought. Well, “tea” turned out to be a six-course event that lasted a couple hours. It was rough and I learned an important lesson. My favorite moment came when my assertive daughter sent her (heavenly) risotto back, requesting that the new one be made minus three or four of the ingredients.
We took our 18 month old to a Michelin one-star restaurant when we were traveling in Tuscany and it turned out to be one of the most incredible, memorable experiences. We arrived really late, even by Italian standards…I think it was like 9:30 pm, so most of the tables had cleared but the staff was so gracious and made us feel like it was the most wonderful thing that we had arrived -without a reservation, with our toddler son, and with our entire party of 6 wearing jeans (I was beyond MORTIFIED! but we were traveling with my dad who likes to eat well and he was determined to try this place).
I was so embarrassed because it just felt so inappropriate to be there with a kid, in our sightseeing clothes, among all this crystal and starched white linen, but the restaurant staff treated us like their most honored guests. They gave our son this great throne-like high chair. It was so funny because it was just a regular wooden highchair (pretty much exactly what you’d find in, say, an Applebee’s) but they had this enormous cushion cover that was made out of blue velvet with huge gold tassels. He looked like a little prince…which is totally NOT how we roll. Our son behaved himself well but at one point he got a little squirmy. So the waiter whisked him back to the kitchen where cute little Italian grandmas babied him and gave him special treats. We later learned that the name of the restaurant, La Tenda Rossa, means The Red Tent, and it was so named because of their all-female kitchen staff. The “cute little Italian grandmas” were actually the chefs! It was a wonderful example of how truly refined hospitality is not about supercilious service but making even the most humble guests feel welcome.
That being said, I feel like if I had a choice (and with my dad in the driver’s seat I didn’t!!) I wouldn’t bring my kids to a fancy restaurant, out of respect for the other diners’ experience. It is such a buzz kill, even (especially?) as a parent to have a special grown-up night out intruded upon by someone else’s crying child…isn’t that why we paid a babysitter so we wouldn’t have to hear that?!
I once worked at a server at a more upscale, non-kid-friendly restaurant, and….I gotta say, we all groaned when we saw a baby walk in. Kids are usually okay after a certain age, but those first few years when crying just… happens? No bueno. No one wanted to sit by kids (usually it was parents who were more adamant about it “I love kids, but we’re paying someone to watch our own, so I definitely don’t want to have to be around someone else’s.”), so people’s sections would get all screwed up. There was one Saturday night that a baby was so loud, they were the only table on one side of the restaurant. We called him Baby Moses bc he parted the sea. Anyway, that baby cost that server $300 in tips from all the tables it took away from her section.
What I’d like to see is something in the US like what I’ve seen at theaters and restaurants in the UK. Some cinemas and restaurants will identify times when children under a certain age aren’t welcome. I noticed when I was looking at film times last week that there were shows designated as “child friendly” for parents who wanted to bring children and shows designated as “no under 18.” I’ve also see similar information at restaurants and pubs, making accommodations for children and families before a certain hour but clearly identifying a boundary when it is adults only. To me, that’s a good compromise to respect families who enjoy eating out but also to support adults who are going out and paying money for a dining out experience.