Dear Mr. Dad: I'm a server at an upscale eatery and am constantly amazed at parents who bring their loud, unruly children into the restaurant and let them run wild. We've had kids trip servers, knock over bottles of expensive wine, disturb other customers, start food fights, and worse. As a parent myself, I would never let my kids get away with this kind of behavior, but since we're in a customer-is-always-right business, I'm not able to tell people what I really think about them and their lousy parenting. A few years ago, you did a column that gave guidelines to parents. Would you please give us a refresher? I want to laminate them and give them out to every parent who comes in with a child.
A: In what must be one of evolution's little quirks, most adults have a pretty high tolerance for their own children's noise, rudeness, and bad behavior. But when someone else's children do the same thing, the standards are a lot higher. That said, parents are responsible for their children's behavior in public places and if they can't control them, they should take those kids and leave. And if they won't leave on their own, someone needs to show them the door – especially if they're in a place where other adults come with the expectation of enjoying some peace and quiet.
Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting a total ban on kids in nice restaurants. While you and servers around the country can undoubtedly come up with story after story of screaming, obnoxious brats, I'm sure you'll agree that those children are in the minority and that most are either well-enough behaved or marvelously angelic.
In my view, children as young as four or five are perfectly capable of learning basic manners and how to respect others in public places. Here are the guidelines, which all parents should consider before loading everyone into the car.
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– Pick carefully. Make sure the restaurant you're considering has booster seats, kids' menus, crayons, and other distractions. Places where you know lots of families go are a good choice. Restaurants that have crystal wineglasses and white linen tablecloths, or where people go for romantic meals or business meetings are not.
– Be honest. If your kids can follow age-appropriate rules at home, chances are they'll be able to follow them outside of the house as well. If they can't, stay home or go someplace that's more kid friendly.
– If the restaurant doesn't provide crayons, bring your own, along with coloring books or other small toys that will keep your kids (quietly) occupied.
– Before you take your children to a restaurant, tell them it's a special treat and let them know that you expect them to sit quietly at the table, speak in a low voice, and not run around, scream, or throw food off their plates. But don't belabor the point, otherwise it'll sound like a list of suggestions.
– Let them choose their own meal from a children's menu. If you order something they don't like, they may spend the rest of your dinner complaining about it – loudly.
– Watch the clock. Expecting overtired kids to follow rules – especially in public – is a setup for disaster (and embarrassment).
– If, despite your best efforts, your children misbehave in a way that draws complaints (or dirty looks) from people around you or the restaurant staff, get your dinner to go, and leave. You can use this opportunity to tell your children that because they didn't obey the rules, you have to leave, and you won't be taking them out again until they can prove to you that you can trust them to behave appropriately.
– Most kids love to go out so chances are that they'll eventually learn how to behave so that your family – and everyone else around – can enjoy what they came for: a nice, quiet meal.
(Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to email@example.com.)