Restaurant Etiquette for Kids
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Restaurant Etiquette for Kids
I recently had lunch with a former colleague at a restaurant
and had my 2.5 year old in tow. We chose a restaurant which
I knew my son would eat at and could handle any loud noises
he would make at the table. As soon as my son sat in the
booster, he started to play with his utensils. This is his
normal MO, but I remove anything that can break should they
fall (ie. ceramics). We order quickly and while we're
waiting, my son starts to sing loudly, and tap his utensils
against the table. I try to get my son to settle down, but
I came unprepared (no crayons and paper, no books). My
colleague starts to eye my son, and I can already see the
judgment starting. As soon as the food comes, my toddler
sits and eats (mainly) on his own, but this only lasts til
he's full, which, of course, happens within 10 to 15 minutes
of eating. As soon as he's done, he starts to squirm in his
booster and say, ''All done'' and whines to get out. After
another ten minutes of trying to get him to sit still so my
colleague can finish the rest of her lunch, I finally let
him down, and he immediately runs to the restaurant window
and eventually starts to pound the glass (at which point I
haul him back to me). My colleague never says a word to me
about it, but smiles sympathetically at me, which makes me
feel very embarrassed about my son's restaurant behavior.
I'd like to know how other parents have trained their active
toddlers to sit still at restaurants, or how to handle them
so that the adults can manage to at least finish their meals
with minimal disruption. Having crayons and books for him
after he's done eating only buys me ten minutes, tops. We
have trained my toddler at home to be excused after he's
finished eating, but obviously this doesn't translate at a
restaurant, which probably is confusing to him.
Dear hungry mom, I don't think it's realistic to expect
that a 2-year-old will sit still in a public place for the
duration of an adult meal. When my kids were younger, we
stopped going out to eat almost completely until the
youngest was closer to 4. It just wasn't worth the pain
for all the reasons you describe. I don't think you should
feel that your child is ''bad'' for his age - I just think
you're feeling the (possible) judgment of others and are
feeling self-conscious about it.
As you suggested, distractions like crayons will help, but
only for a while, and you'll still be having to constantly
manage his entertainment. (''Look! A doggy! Why don't you
color the doggy now! Do you want the blue crayon or the
red one?'') Many parents also go the iPad route. (But
again, a short-term fix.) My suggestion though is to just
take restaurants off the table so to speak for at least a
year, until he's old enough to have a bit more self-
control, and to enjoy the ''dining out'' experience for its
own sake. (i.e., getting to have special foods in a
special place). So for lunches like this, I would either
suggest postponing meals with other adults until a time
when you have childcare scheduled, or inviting them to
your home (or a park or outdoor area) and bringing in
takeout. It's not the same as the dining-out experience,
of course, but you know now that it's not worth going to
a ''nice'' place if you're going to feel self-conscious the
whole time. So just explain that to your colleague in
advance. ''I would love to see you, but we won't be able to
talk and relax at a restaurant if Johnny is there, so can
I pick up some Thai food and meet you at the Rose Garden?''
I finished grad school when my son was 4 and my daughter
2, and my niece an infant. My parents wanted to go out for
a celebratory lunch (in a restaurant), but with all those
kids that would not have been my idea of fun and
celebration. Instead we ordered a big catered meal from
Rick and Ann's, and picked it up and ate it at the house.
No table service obviously but it was SO much more
enjoyable for the adults to just let the kids run around
and do their thing and eat 2 or 3 bites of this and that
instead of trying to keep them still and non-disruptive.
So I would suggest you try to make that your default
strategy until your son is at least a little older.
Have patience - restaurants will return to your life!
Sounds like completely normal toddler behavior. I think the
ones you see who behave better aren't 'trained' that way,
it's just their personality, they happen to be more
compliant quiet children. It's hard to control toddler
behavior too much.
Honestly my son is 7.5 and still acts just how you describe!
No it's not exactly normal at this age but on the other hand
I know of some of his friends who act the same, all active
or hyper active boys. Trust me there is nothing you could
motivate or threaten him with to comply longer than 1 or 2
minutes, so we don't eat out where we might disturb others.
Does your colleague have kids? If not then forget it, they
just can't possibly understand. Or perhaps they have girls
- we know plenty of parents with girls only who do NOT get
that not all children are easy-quiet-still-neat like their
I don't take my child to restaurants. It is a waste of
money because one of us doesn't get to enjoy our food and
I'm constantly worried he's going to ruin other people's
experiences. We usually end up walking him around outside
before the food comes and after he's done eating - leaving
someone sitting alone for the majority of the meal.
We can go to sushi and he'll sit for 15 minutes because he's
eating edamame and occasionally he'll go to Chinese because
he loves to eat noodles slowly.
Otherwise, we only go out to eat at places with lawns that
he can run on (there are like three places on our list).
We don't go to restaurants, or if we do, only places with fast
service and we eat fast ourselves. Try a picnic at a park
with take out if you need to have a meal out with a friend.
Or hire a sitter. I figure maybe 4 or 5 is a more realistic
age to sit through a meal.
Eventually they will sit still
Welcome to life with an active 2.5 year old! My son is
almost 2 and will not sit still in a restaurant either (and
does exactly the things your son does, yelling, running,
banging silverware). My son is a super energetic,
''spirited'' child and sitting for a meal longer than 10
minutes is impossible whether at home or out. (You're lucky
crayons will buy you 10 min, it'll buy me maybe 4). While
you could try to ''train'' him, I'm not sure it'll do
anything. We pretty much just accept that we'll have to
take turns walking my son around the restaurant and only eat
out when grandma and grandpa are here so there are others to
share in the toddler watching. Although some people might
have advice, I think it's a pretty big request to ask a 2.5
year old to sit still for a 30 min + meal, especially if
he's a very active boy. I'm not counting on my son sitting
still for that long for a long time and I've accepted that.
My son is who he is and I love his crazy, wild ways. One
day his curiosity, eagerness, and tenacity will be a big
boon in his life. Your colleague also doesn't sound like
someone with kids because if I saw you with your son I'd
smile and wink. Try to just deal and certainly don't
be embarrassed. Your son sounds perfect to me!
We trained our kids to sit at table at home until everyone was done, so did not
have the challenges you are describing at restaurants as that was their
expectation with meals.
Not sure if you can train them two ways or not. We also tell them when we eat at
someone's house that ''it's their house, their rules'' so they must follow what
hostess says and must ask the hostess if they can be excused if they see other
kids leaving the table.
Your question reminds me of some kind of joke: How do you
train a toddler to sit still at a restaurant? Wait until
he's not a toddler anymore!
It's unrealistic to expect a toddler to sit still at a
restaurant. Really, don't bring him if you expect a nice
quiet chat with another adult.
That doesn't mean I think you should never bring small
children to restaurants. You just have to have realistic
expectations of what such a young person can do. Keep
bringing your son to restaurants for the practice. Our son
eats very slowly, so I often ask for his plate to be brought
first. That gives us about 10 minutes of play time with
crayons or toys and about 30 minutes of eating time, if the
food is sufficiently yummy to keep my kid eating. My husband
and I take about 20 minutes to eat, and then we all finish
around the same time.
Our best trick has been to stock a few little bags (like the
clear zippered bags that Robies shoes come in) with special
toys that only come out at restaurants. Mostly these are $10
sets of plastic animals, mini trains, etc. But we do have
one set of Magformers ($49) which are a magnetic toy. Very
fun, and less likely to get lost under the table.
Mostly though, you just have to wait this period out.
enjoying restaurants again with my 4-year-old
I have two children, now in their teens and when they were little we either didn't
go out or got a sitter. I suggest you do the same. Invite your colleague to your
house for lunch where your child can roam free and be entertained, or get a
sitter so you (and she/he) can enjoy a lunch without the distraction - and
frankly so you don't disturb the other diners. The key to getting your child to
act appropriately in a restaurant is to start taking them when they are old
enough to act appropriately and to listen to your instructions, 2.5 is not that
age and all you accomplish is stressing yourself out and irritating those around
keep the toddler home
I just want to say your toddler seems normal to me and his
behavior is totally within the limits of appropriate for a
child that age. The issue you pose really isn't about
getting him to sit still for me but more about the fact
that sometimes what we, as adults, want or wish to do, is
incompatible with reasonable expectations of a child of a
certain age and developmental or temperamental capacity.
Kids are all different-my friend could take her little boy
to restaurants all the time while taking our boy was a set
up for disaster. I realized quickly that having him in
that situation put all of us in an uncomfortable position
and stopped doing it. Do you have the right to eat in
peace with a colleague-yes; can you do that effectively
with your son right now-no. That's OK. I would
periodically try out a restaurant and sometimes we'd have
a good time and sometimes we'd have to rush through the
meal, take the food to go, abort mission asap.
Also, I sense some embarrassment or feelings around the
colleague. If she doesn't have kids, just think to
yourself that if one day she does, on that day she will
get it. People without kids just don't get it the way
people with kids do. Or if she has kids and they don't
behave that way, well lucky her, maybe she has a kid like
my friend and not like me. Either way, sorry to say, you
set yourself up. We all do it by accident or by hope
sometimes. It's OK. Just don't make a habit of it. We do
ourselves and our kids no favors to try to control them in
ways they aren't developmentally ready for.
Sorry for your crappy lunch. It happens.
I have a 4yo and a 6yo, so I feel your pain! My kids are
finally old enough to sit politely at a nice restaurant for
up to an hour, but they still need crayons or books and
someone to take the 4yo on a walk towards the end of the
meal. It does get better, but when they were toddlers, we
just didn't go to that many restaurants.
It sounds like your son behaved himself about as well as any
toddler could. If it's not part of your usual routine to
have him sit at the table for more than 10 minutes at home,
he isn't going to do it when you go out. I would suggest
having get-togethers with your friends at your house (with
take-out food if it's too hard to cook), or going to a
family friendly place with outdoor seating during a non-peak
time, where it isn't a big deal if he gets up from the table.
Speaking as the parent of older children... your son is the most mature and
capable he has ever been, and he may seem big in your eyes, but I think you're
asking too much. I don't know of ANY toddlers who can sit quietly for the time it
takes two adults to have lunch in a restaurant. Why not swap childcare with a
friend for an hour and then enjoy a relaxed lunch with your colleague?
I am writing this as the mother of a 5-year-old boy and as someone who
waited tables for nearly a decade.
Sitting still in a restaurant for more than 25 minutes a pretty high expectation
for a 2.5 year old. For us, a successful restaurant meal at this age was: get in,
order food quickly, eat, pay, leave, not much lingering. If you want to
continue your conversation with your friend, get dessert to go and head to a
Still, this is a great age to start practicing ''restaurant manners.'' Practice
home by playing restaurant. There's a wonderful and funny kids book called
''Sheep Out to Eat'' that is a great conversation-starter about how NOT to
behave in a restaurant. Have a conversation in advance with your child about
things they can do when they are waiting for the meal to start or end at a
restaurant, and bring appropriate materials. Practice at kid-friendly places
like the Ikea restaurant or your favorite casual/pizza place.
As a waiter, I noticed that the most well-behaved children were engaged in
conversation by the adults that they were with, and were often prepared with
a small quiet toy, pen & paper, or other materials. The adult conversations did
not have to be 100% child-centric, but the successful adults were somewhat
flexible and inclusive. The most poorly behaved children, in my observation,
were completely left out of table conversation, and were not provided with
anything besides utensils and condiments with which to occupy themselves.
It is simply unsafe to allow any child to walk away from a table or play on a
floor in a restaurant. Glassware was broken regularly in the dining room of
every restaurant I've ever worked in, and there were always some remaining
shards swept up at the end of the day. A co-worker once tripped over a child
who raced through an aisle, and was severely burned because she was
carrying two pots of hot coffee, and dumped them on herself in her effort to
avoid the child. Anyone who has worked in restaurants will tell you plenty of
other stories like this.
It's useful to always have a small surprise toy in a cupboard or glove box that
you can grab as a distraction for unanticipated situations. A pencil case with
stickers/markers/notepad, a mini-puzzle, a party favor they had forgotten
they had, or a mini-pack of legos has worked wonders for me.
That sounds like totally normal age appropriate 2.5 year old restaurant
behavior to me. It is what it is. If you have a smart phone, you could try
letting him watch a cartoon on youtube to buy yourself a few more
minutes. It gets better after they turn 3. Ours was a handful in
restaurants at 2!!
You will probably get many responses to this. I think
your expectations for good restaurant behavior from a 2.5
year old toddler are not reasonable. Personally, I'm
saving restaurants for when my kids are old enough for it
to be enjoyable for the whole family.
Takeout for now
I don't mean to be harsh, but, ummmm..he's 2!!! This is
pretty common for a little guy. I'm surprised he hasn't
acted this way before-you've been lucky! Between the ages
of 8 months and 4, we didn't have nice quiet meals at
restaurants with my twin boys. They are 5 now, and meals
out are generally good experiences. They know how to act,
and if they start to act up, we are OUT OF THERE in a few
minutes. They know leaving the restaurant is a bad thing,
but I wouldn't expect a 2-year-old to ''get it.'' I think
you're expecting a lot of a 2-year-old to sit for a long
I, too, think that what you describe is pretty normal
behavior for a toddler in a restaurant. I have 2 kids. One
can sit still and the other can't. What was I going to do?
I ''trained'' them the same way.
But I just sometimes really WANTED to go to a restaurant for
dinner! So I eventually found those restaurants that are
''kid-friendly.'' I don't really like that expression myself,
but it just seems to me that some places are and some places
--Sabuy Sabuy (one on College Ave and one on San Pablo Ave)
where the owner offered to move the furniture so my children
could run around better. I was aghast... but I got over it...
--Picante where there are many families (and therefore it's
loud) and the service is quick.
Good luck. Hang in there!
Dear Hungry Mom,
I can certainly relate to feeling embarrassed and annoyed when my child will
not cooperate with my agenda. Good for you for thinking ahead about what
kind of restaurant might increase the odds of your son's cooperation.
But here's the thing: your child is doing exactly what his brain is
neurologically programmed to do. From ages 2 - 6, a child's brain is
biologically programmed to explore, experiment, and be impulsive. (''Positive
Discipline for Preschoolers,'' Jane Nelsen.) So 10 minutes at a restaurant for a
2.5 year old is pretty good! Even much older kids, depending on their
individual temperaments and cognitive abilities, may struggle with sitting at a
meal (anywhere) for long periods of time.
''Kids do well when they can.'' This is my favorite mantra from Ross Greene,
author of ''The Explosive Child'' and ''Lost at School.'' Kids do well when their
cognitive skills and abilities match the demands of the situation. When the
expectations of the situation outstrip their cognitive abilities, that can show
up as ''misbehavior'' - but itC",b"s really not. In this case, it's your child
best he can, based on the skills and abilities his little brain has acquired after
a short 2.5 years on the earth. That's not to say you shouldn't have high
expectations for your tot. You should. But they should be grounded in
empathy and understanding for where he's at developmentally. When we
expect our kids to do more than they're capable of doing, it's a recipe for
frustration on all sides. You feel annoyed or embarrassed and your child feels
For more information on developmentally appropriate behavior for little ones,
check out ''Positive Discipline for Preschoolers'' or the website
We have twin 2-year-old toddlers, and they do sit still for
the duration of a meal at a restaurant (the white tablecloth
kind, not McD's). We've only had to walk out of 2
restaurants ever, and we know the reason both times: the
first was because we tried to go out to eat too soon after a
long road trip and the second because I didn't realize our
daughter was tantrumy because she needed to go to the potty.
Unfortunately, that's how she tells us so I learned from her
that time that now when she gets that way, I first take her
to the potty.
They are not compliant, quiet children. Ok our son is more
that way, and our daughter not at all - she's a bit more
bossy and temperamental. But here's what I suggest (and what
* Time the restaurant trip to avoid tantrum triggers. This
* Start early and often. We first took our kids out when
they were around 3 months old.
* Model behavior at home and set clear expectations of this
is how meals should go - both at home and restaurants they
* We do not take food away if they drop any. We simply teach
them over and over that food does not go on the floor.
* At home, they bus their own table. We also use a
tablecloth on their little table/chair (no high chairs or
boosters at home) to have a clear, visual start/end to the
* We do not give them electronics. We talk to them and
entertain. We play peekaboo with the napkin, talk about
things on the table or in the restaurant, do potty trips,
etc. - whatever we have to do to make the time pass away.
Yes, it's work on your part but it's better than dealing
with screaming kids. We also do no timeouts as we prefer
education over punishment.
* We do not allow our kids to have straws or styrofoam cups.
They eat those cups and the straws become a big fuss. We
know those set our kids up for failure so we request real
glass cups for them because we know they will handle those
MUCH better. So set your kids up for success too. We also
move silverware and everything out of reach. When they were
very small, we allowed them to bring a small toy with them
that wouldn't be loud if they banged it on the table.
I think staying at home just robs your children of this
experience and this need to be constantly educated about how
to behave in public. People don't expect toddlers to be
perfect at the table. But I personally believe in setting a
high standard and giving kids the benefit of the doubt while
also constantly educating and yes, it's more work but it
will pay off in the end. Our kids are now 2 and they will
sit through an entire restaurant meal. They know they are
not allowed to get up and run all over the restaurant and
make everyone else annoyed.
Happily eating with twin toddlers
My wife and I have a spirited 16 month old son. Our last few
restauarant outings have been awful, to say the least, and I no
longer want to go out to eat with my son. My wife, on the other
hand, thinks its a great idea and when the discussion comes
up ''what to eat?'' her response is always to go somewhere that is
not child friendly.
I do and continue to do all the food shopping and cooking and
i'm a pretty good cook who incorporates my wife and sons food
preferences into every meal, not to mention using mostly farmers
market produce and food of a much greater quality than any baby-
friendly restauarnt will provide.
So, soon family is coming to town and my wife has stated how we
will be going out a lot; and her family likes to go to nice
restaurants. I am dreading this already.
Beyond the obvious challenges of eating out with a toddler, I
just don't think my wife is sensitive to fellow diners and the
staff working at these restaurants. My son screams (happily) at
the top of his lungs when we eat out and leaves a field of food
under his chair which the staff has to clean up. I never feel
like I can enjoy my food or conversation because I am trying to
head off some problem or keep our little guy engaged so he
doesn't scream or cry. The other big part is that I care about
the staff and fellow diners and feel bad that our son is
impacting their lives.
Lately eating at home has become very unpleasant as I am
constantly overriding my wife's desire to eat out and I feel
like I have to put on a 3 star meal every night and take on more
cleaning chores to keep everyone OK with staying home.
I dont feel that we have the extra money to be eating out and I
feel that my son eats more food when at home without all the
distractions and we can be more flexible with each meal.
I know soon I will face a tough decision; go with my wife's
family and my son out to some nice restaurants or opt out and
stay at home. I have offered to cook every night for her family
but my wife insists that this is too much work for me although I
really love cooking.
My heart goes out to you - I have to say your wife sounds a bit
unreasonable as well as clueless. Maybe she can entertain
family out while you stay home with your son? It would give you
both what you need and it's only a few hours.
she should count her blessings
You are absolutely RIGHT ON!!!! I think your wife is being
selfish (sorry)and a bit clueless. Yes, other diners DO NOT
enjoy having screaming babes around, even those of us who are
parents. If your wife likes to eat out that much, suggest that
she go out alone, or with friends. Same when her family
arrives...You may become resentful that everyone but you and
your toddler are going out, but if it's no fun for you, staying
in will be less anxiety provoking. Or, let them take the babe
and you stay home.
Also, when you go out....take turns going outside with your
toddler. It's really not a very fun way to go out to eat, but
it keeps the toddler busy and the noise level down.
I wonder if your wife thinks that if she takes the toddler to
restaurants often enough he will become better socialized.
I think he's not old enough to learn proper restaurant
behavior....and truthfully, having 2 VERY DIFFERENT boys, some
kids just aren't restaurant material till way later.
Good luck. I hope you stick to your guns for ALL of our sakes.
Have you told her your feelings about eating out with a
''spirited'' child? Is your child ''spirited,'' because he/she isn't
given a clear limit? I'm glad that someone in your family is
concerned about other people in the restaurant, and I don't think
you should feel bad that your child is impacting your in-law's
lives. I mean, you can't expect to do the same things and be the
same way before child and after child. Life does change when you
have children, period.
If your wife insists on going out to nice restaurants, you should
hire a babysitter and leave your child at home. There are
appropriate places to take your children, and place where
toddlers should be kept out.
Your wife ought to consider herself lucky that you're cooking
wonderful meals at home. Tell her to grow up!
Annoyed with insensitive parents
Boy, I remember those days of trying to eat out before either of
my kids were old enough to do so. It was miserable for everyone
and we finally just gave up until the kids got older and we could
enjoy the meal. And we would never have brought them to a 4 star
restaurant during the toddler years- painful for other diners,
wait staff and we'd wind up having a $100 meal wrapped in doggy
bags just to get out of there.
I'm not sure why your wife doesn't see this unless you shoulder
the bulk of the responsibility for your youngster when you go out
while she enjoys the nice dinner. The whole dining experience
with family visiting sounds stressful for you so I would present
- you will cook nice dinners at home for most nights and agree to
go to family friendly restaurants (there are nice ones that don't
serve just chicken nuggets) one or two nights of the visit.
- if wife insists on fine dining, let her take your toddler on
her own. Maybe if she has to be the one managing your child
she'll see things a more from your perspective. Perhaps try this
a few times before your family comes into town. Unless she's
completely oblivious to the restaurant experience for your
toddler and others, she should get why this isn't fun for you.
And how lucky for your wife that you like to cook good meals for
the entire family.
My 2 Cents
We have a high-spirited toddler as well. My family also loves
to go out when they visit. We will often go out for lunch at
family friendly places (tends to be quicker than dinner, and
less crowded, so our toddler does OK). Then, we cook at home
most nights, and get a babysitter once so we can go out to a
nice dinner, act like adults, and talk with each other. Much
more civilized than constantly trying to distract the little one.
As parents, we put the needs of our children before our own
needs. Sounds like your son needs the focus you can only truly
give him when he is at home. He's not ready to go to nice
restaurants with you, and that's OK. Someday he will be. Until
then, don't go. If I want to hear a toddler shrieking with joy,
I can do that at home.
It sounds like your wife enjoys going out to dinner. So do we,
and we frequently go out on dates after our son is asleep. (We
swap babysitting with other families to make it more
economical.) Maybe you can focus on how much you enjoy going
out to dinner with your wife, and suggest that you try to do it
without your son.
Honestly, from your description, it sounds like your wife is
being selfish and unreasonable. You shouldn't have to take on
additional chores to compensate for cooking a healthy meal at
home for your family.
It sounds like a couple of issues are going here...
1) When your wife's family comes to town, why don't you just
hire a babysitter for a few evenings, so that you can all go out
an enjoy it. Cook the rest of the evenings. I know that when my
family comes to town we prefer to sit around the dinner table,
enjoy wine and laugh at home just as much (actually, probably
more than) as going to a restaurant. A few 'child-free' evenings
is also welcomed.
2) Hire a babysitter so that you can do something with your wife
just once a week (or every other week). I know that I sometimes
push to go out for dinner with my husband, but it isn't because I
want to go out for dinner...I want to be some place without the
kids (mine are 3 & 5). Often we will just go to a nice brepub
have a pint or two and eat a nice, but not outrageous meal. Your
wife's differing view on the dinner hour may just be a need for
some child free time...
3) The sub-3 age at restaurants can be tough. I know that I
hated spending the money to go out for a nice dinner and have to
spend the whole time bending over backwards to keep the children
engaged. I generally aimed for the 5 o'clock hour when I would
take my very young children to restaurants. That way I wasn't
usually disturbing other people (except for other families) if my
child decided to let loose with a shriek. The problem will soon
shift from behavior management to real enjoyment at the table. I
take my own two daughters and their two friends (two 3 1/2 year
olds and two 5 1/2 year olds) out to dinner every Tuesday night
after ice skating lessons -- just a treat. Granted, the five of
us are not fine dining, but I am usually one on four for
45-minutes inside a restaurant (sometimes my husband is in town
and joins us). We have a great time...we try to whisper our
entire conversation so that people will think we are
spies...which generally means that our voices are normal...we
play letter games and math games and talk about our days.
Take out, dude! I love take out. The kids can get down and play
when they're done. I'm not consumed with keeping them happy and
contained. The food's right there. Decent restaurants will let
you do take out, too. Our favorite (it's a big treat) is Dona
Tomas, which is highly rated. We also love Pho 84. That's just
our rut in Oakland. Berkeley, of course, is overrun with
If you can convince your wife that she gets restaurant food, no
cooking for you, and you get none of the tension, maybe it will
be compromise. It's also cheaper -- since drinks aren't
included, and are cheaper at home (we always open some wine,
which we wouldn't pay for at a restaurant). We don't, but you
could even use paper plates to cut down on clean-up.
We only started enjoying eating out with our son when he turned
6 -- and he's a really well-behaved child. That only works when
the toddler is not with us, of course.
If you do go out, our policy was a *really* good tip and going
to the same restaurants so the staff knew we were trying hard
and tipping well. And, all the advice that you always get (toys
in rotation, food for them to eat immediately, take them
outside if there's a disruption, take them for a walk after
ordering, etc). But, still, I'm with you -- it's too much work
and pressure to enjoy it.
Chef Dad! You sound so nice - and considerate. I think you're
absolutely right, your toddler is not up to it yet and you
don't need the stress. Maybe your wife needs a night out to
dinner with the toddler, just the two of them. Sounds like
when you're there, she lets you manage the situation.
In terms of the parents' visit...would they be as permissive
with his behavior at a restaurant? I know my parents would
have ZERO tolerance for a misbehaving little person in a
restaurant. They're definitely of a different generation with
different expectations about how kids should behave.
I think you're absolutely right to think about the other
restaurant patrons. If it's CA Pizza Kitchen and everyone's in
the same boat, it's fine. But if a couple is out for a special
meal to celebrate their anniversary and the kid at the next
table screeches and bangs his spoons together, let's just say
it's not fair...but you get that. Perhaps generate a list of
age-appropriate restaurants for you all to go to. Then maybe
send your wife off with your parents for a special dinner out
one night. Sounds like eating at home is a fantastic option
Take out food! Paper plates! My husband and I were a bit like
your wife -- a little oblivious to the unpleasantness our
toddler caused -- drove my mom nuts. We did have a supply of
quiet restaurant toys. We ''toddler tipped'' about $4-6 extra
bucks and explained it's for the mess on the floor. Kensington
Pub had a children's play area if you don't like fast food with
play structures. Some coffee houses have a play area and I'm on
a crusade to get all restaurants to have similar play areas -
it's just a space on the floor. At some resteraunts and
banquets there can be a dead-end corner where a kid can sit
quietly and play with blocks. My child slept in a stroller
until age 5, and we had some impromtu dates that way. Picnics
in parks are really lovely - pick a table by the play structure.
Babysitting exchanges work well if you really like dining
It was all over so fast
We used to have the same in our house, although, at this point it
is much less of a problem.
Three issues: a) eating out as a lifestyle/convenience, and cost
matter; b) eating out with a jubilant little guy; and c)
For the first one, you ought to make a serious effort to convey
that while everyone loves the dinner-out experience, it is very
expensive on a regular basis, and you ought to set a limit -- we
coalesced to about once a week (mostly nearby thai takeouts,
etc.) We don't do all-out dinners for purely financial reasons,
except for a special occasion.
Second, most patrons find boisterous kids distracting/annoying,
but they generally are somewhat sympathetic. So do not forego
restos outright. We don't need to sanitize society from the fact
that kids exist, and they are not socially gracious diners from
day one. Our kids are a little too young and loud for the
restaurant experience, so we do not subject waitstaff or patrons
to this, except for a local family friendly casual place. You are
not alone to think this way. If your wife wants to eat out once
in a while so that she doesn't have to clean the mess, heck, we
all need a break once in a while. Smile politely to everyone else
glaring at you, and leave a bigger tip.
Lastly, (and this is a sensitive topic), it is not clear how you
share into the responsibilities and worries together. Your post
suggests that you do all the food shopping, the cooking, and
cleaning after your son? And it sounds like you alone carry the
worry about budgeting, spending etc. I am familiar with this
experience intimately, but I became determined to overturn this
as the status quo. It was hard in the beginning, but I insisted
on getting my wife to think about the expenses, and to start
meeting me half way about some of the mundane things that needed
to be done by someone, magically (and it was always me).
My two cents: you have your head on your shoulders, so don't give
up on this. Talk to your wife so that she understands that you
cannot simply dine your way out of raising the little guy and all
the mess he makes. And tell her that she can better express her
sympathy to your hard work cleaning after him by actually helping
I'm totally with you. I didn't enjoy eating out with my toddlers
either. I don't think that toddlers enjoy it either -- they're
either stuck in a high chair or being chased around by grumpy
parents. My suggestion is that you get a babysitter at least
once so you can enjoy a nice dinner out with your inlaws. It
also sounds like you are working hard to cook meals and that you
are feeling unappreciated. Maybe it's time for a serious chat
about the work you are doing, and about your feelings being taken
I expect you'll get several counter-marriage proposals based on
what you say about your cooking/shopping/feeding prowress. Wow!
My husband and I have similar standards when it comes to toddler
disruption in public places, but with friends of mine I have
felt the stress of having different standards, as it seems your
wife and you do. It's almost impossible to relax when you feel
your child/a child in your group is annoying fellow diners. I
think a compromise is in order: let your wife go to some fancy
meals along with her family, cook some meals at home, and maybe
go to one or two kid-friendly but good restaurants. Now, will
you marry me? I promise to eat your gourmet meals at home every
Surviving on sandwiches
Why don't you just get a sitter once a week so that you and
your wife can go out for a nice dinner together? When you go
out with family to a nice restaurant, leave your child at home
with a sitter. It doesn't have to be all or nothing, and you'd
probably have a better time without your son anyway.
Haven't taken my kid out to dinner in years
I like to eat out too, but it's hard to eat with small kids.
First, I think you can compromise by finding family friendly
places to go. Eat earlier rather than later. Don't let your kid
be too hungry. Bring crayons and other things to entertain. Be
clear about restaurant rules and make sure you and your wife are
in agreement. Be prepared to carry out consequences if the
behavior you want isn't there. We play restaurant at home and are
teachign our kids what they should do. If we eat somewhere and
they act up (too loud, wanting to run around, throwing food) one
parent takes the kid out and to the car and we sit there in quiet
to let htem know it is not a reward to leave and that mommy or
daddy had to miss out on dinner because they were not behaving.
It is a process and doens't alway work. I believe it's important
to teach kids to learn how to behave at a restaurant and to show
them that it's fun. I do not think you should make it hard on
them, though. There are many family friendly places in the bay
area with good food. I also think it's important to teach proper
restaurant behavior, because frankly, many adults don't know how
So, when you cook at home, start giving your toddler some duties.
They can help set the table. Maybe make a play menu to teach them
about ordering and all.
We have a 4.5 and a 2.5 year old. Before we go in we say, ''we
want everyone to use restaurant behavoir'' and they know if they
act up, we leave and the fun is over. It ain't perfect, but the
key is to not allow the bad behavior to happen.
Save the fancy places for when you get a baby sitter.
I was going to answer your letter as the mother of a very
'spirited child'' (now 18 and a great young man!.)who was hell on
wheels in restaurants up to about 8 or 9. I have many stories and
ways we handled things to share with you. But thinking about your
letter further, it seems to me the problem you are describing is
less about your child and more about the communication between
you and your wife.
Have you told her clearly, what you have written in your letter
here, that you currently are very unhappy going to restaurants
with your toddler at this time and why? You say that you are
dreading talking to her about this but know it will be inevitable
when her family gets here. I wonder why you dread the
conversation? Is this subject particularly loaded or is any
difference of opinion hard to discuss? I found out that is not
hard to avoid conflict when you are a a childless couple but once
kids come along this approach doesn't really work very well. A
''spirited child'' will especially need parent cooperation,
compromise and conflict resolution in many areas through the years.
The link that has been provided has opinions about kids in
restaurants and should address the subject and hopefully your
wife and you can read it and discusss it.
I hope you two will address this area and get some agreed upon
solutions/compromises before the family descends on you. What you
two come up with can be tried and reworked if it doesn't go well
but the two of you have to agree that is an area difficulty
first. Then problem solving is possible. It will be good for not
only your dinner options but your relationship as well. Good luck
The longer your post went on, the more it seems like the issue is
more complex than initially presented. It's not just about what
kind of restaurant one should take a toddler to; it's also about
your wife wanting to go out, and about your worries about money,
and about the division of domestic labor. Do you and your wife
have access to a babysitter (family, friend, or hired) so just
the TWO of you can go out to nice restaurants once and a while?
Perhaps when her family is in town they would LIKE to babysit
(spend time with the kiddie) while you two get a night out on the
town. For everyday outings, there are some casual restaurants
that are more family-friendly than others (and I'm not talking
Chucky Cheese or MacDonalds). Some of our favorites in the
Berkeley/Oakland area are Pasta Pomodoro, Picante, Cactus,
Miyozen sushi (sp?), Lanesplitter Pizza, and many Chinese and
Thai places. Any place with outdoor space is a good bet. You can
search Chowhound for more suggestions. Picante at dinnertime is
so full of kids, the ruckus yours makes won't even be noticed. I
am with you in feeling uncomfortable in bringing my toddler into
an elegant, hushed place where people want to relax in peace and
quiet. Hopefully you and your wife can talk this through and find
some compromises. A few tips: always bring plenty of toys, books,
crayons, etc to entertain your little one; be prepared to take
him outside for a break as needed; find places where the service
is pretty speedy; be extra-nice to the staff and leave a big
Wow, that's tough. Any way you can compromise and have a set
specific night a week that you always go out? At least this way
you don't have to worry about the battle every night. You can
spend the week knowing you just have to get through that one
night; she can spend the week looking forward to it. When her
family is in town is a different case though - I'm not sure how
much you can do about that other than try to excite them about
some of the great meals you are hoping to cook for them. But I
think if your wife is really looking forward to going out to eat
with them that you should try to accommodate her. Maybe on some
of the nights out you could offer sweetly to stay home with the
kid so that they can all stay out extra late.
As for leaving food all over a restaurant, here's a product I
have found really useful: http://www.kiddopotamus.com/p_tiny.php
It's a flexible plastic placemat type thing with suction cups
you stick on the table, and it has a little shelf that catches at
least some of the stuff that would normally fall off the table.
Toys we've had luck with in restaurants: small cars/trains, a
bank and a handful of coins, and always the sugar packets and the
sugar packet container. A combination of these items keeps our
toddler happy and occupied for decent periods of time.
Would it work to get a babysitter? Or let your wife know that
from about age 1-3 years, toddlers are not developmentally ready
to understand ''restaurant manners''?
When our daughter was this age, we either got carry out or a
babysitter. We did not start taking her to even kid-friendly
restaurants until she was about 3, it was just too stressful and
not a good time for us. At age 3, we started introducing
restaurant manners and by the time she was 4 she could behave
well at nicer restaurants. Behaving in restaurants is something
kids need to be taught and need to practice and you can't start
teaching and practicing until they are old enough to understand.
-- good luck
When our son was this age, we rarely ate out to be considerate
to ourselves, our son and other people in the restaurant. We
pretty much only went to restaurants that could serve us our
food quickly, like Vietnamese Pho (soup) or other quick
places. We also ate a lot of takeout. I suggest that you eat
most meals at home (take out or with you cooking) and hire a
babysitter for one or two nights so you can have one or two
leisurely adult meals out with the family.
Have you thought about a portable DVD player? We use one
sometimes when we go out. The volume is off (you can use ear
plugs if you wish) and keeps our child from going crazy. It
lets everyone enjoy their meal, including tables around you.
likes a meal out sometimes
This might sound harsh, but your insticts are right on and it
is really important to stand up to your wife about this issue.
This is one of many that will come up and if you do not stand
your ground now, you won't ever be able to do so.
As a mom of teenagers, (yes they were once screaming toddlers)
I am totally irritated when I go to restuarants (adult oriented
restuarants,,,,not chuck e cheese)and have to hear toddlers who
are acting like toddlers. There are certain children who should
not be out in adult oriented restaurants until they are older.
The majority of parents feel your pain but at the same time
wish that you would be a responsible parent and keep your
screamer at home or take your screamer to a kid oriented
restaurant until they stop being screamers (which they
remember those days....
You and your wife should compromise. She has to let go of the
notion that you guys can eat in nice adult restaurants all the
time with your toddler. If you aren't enjoying yourself and your
kid isn't enjoying himself, then she's the only one remotely
enjoying the meal, and that's just not fair.
Maybe you can get your wife to agree to more kid-friendly places
with your son if you get a sitter a couple times a month for a
nice dinner out together without him.
Also, it sounds like you are a stay at home dad? Does your wife
work full time? Why can't she pick up dinner from a restaurant
once a week on her way home? Honestly, it sounds to me like she
wants to live her pre-kid life without having to adjust her love
of eating out. Giving up eating out is the most minor sacrifices
we make for our kids. And it is a very short-lived one.
As for the pending visitors, maybe hire a sitter when your guests
are in town for one or two nice meals out. Then you could order
in a few meals when your guests are there. You don't say where
you live, but any area that qualifies for the BPN list will have
restaurants and gourmet catering options. Whole Foods catering is
pretty good. You could order main courses and fill in at home
with salads, or you could get the whole meal catered. We've done
that for family gatherings at it has worked out great. Most
restaurants will cater for you to. It doesn't have to be fancy
catering, just a bunch of food ordered ahead of time and served
I have twins so believe me I have sympathy for your plight.
However, I also firmly believe that an adult restaurant (i.e.,
non-family friendly) is no place for kids. Is a babysitter out
of the question? That's my first thought: get a babysitter for
the better restaurants, and mix in a few family friendly ones so
your son can join a few times. Seems like a compromise is in
order here, especially so you (and your fellow diners) can enjoy
your time with your inlaws.
Any restaurant other than a Picante-type one doesn't seem right
for a toddler. Diners in ''nice'' restaurants deserve (and are
paying for) a relatively quiet eating experience. Your child
isn't old enough to be able to behave. Sounds like the dining
experience for you is stressful--waiting for high pitched
screeches and nasty looks from neighboring diners. Who needs it?
I think your wife is being unrealistic about taking your child
to nice restaurants.
I'm with you
Your spouse is the problem (and I apologize profusely for the
Why are you the only one that does the cooking, shopping,
cleaning? Is she the sole breadwinner in the house? If so, it's
clear you are a reasonable guy and would be cutting her some
slack for working long days and needing to have something served
to her once in a while.
But from what you write, it's hard to see her as being any
reasonable about this. I think the real problem is her need to be
eating out at restaurants (and not just any restaurants, more
like the really expensive ones) more as a lifestyle issue. It's
hard to accept that she doesn't think about the money issue, and
most of all the problem created by your son (who by the way, is
way too small to be restaurant ready).
You are dead on serious, and you should be applauded for turning
to this forum to figure out where you stand. It's important to
know what is average/normal/reasonable for other couples, and you
will get ample validation of where your head is. You have a real
issue in front of you, but it's not insurmountable.
My wife and I had similar issues of lifestyle needs and a wildly
uneven distribution of worries about
affordability/money/budgeting, and I decided early on that I
didn't want to go to bed every night with the worries only on me.
I made a strong and sustained stand against it, and it is now
almost a non-issue.
Be strong and committed to this. You may not get her to think
with you all the time, but you need to drive it hard that what
she does is work against you and she needs to come down and be
present in the reality of the family. I am sure there are two
sides to every coin, but if you had to write this post, you are
at your witt's end, and have at least a 50% chance of being
correct in your assessment of the situation (personally, I'd put
it around 95%).
Know that things can be turned around. Marriage is not about
having your lifestyle choices met. It is about worries,
compromises, mundane every-day reality, and the unsatisfying, and
ungrateful responsibility of getting down on the floor and
cleaning up after your son has finished eating the carefully,
skilfully, and lovingly prepared meals your husband has cooked.
It's time for her to have a wake-up call, an intervention,
whatever is needed.
My in-laws, whom I adore, recently confronted my husband about
our kids' table manners, especially in restaurants. We have 2
young children (1 and 3) who have always been good eaters but
not very neat eaters. We are very used to picking up after them
wherever we go, and always leave big tips if we are at
restaurants. Recently we ate at a fairly nice restaurant with
my in-laws and following that meal, they confronted my husband.
Our kids sometimes throw food, eat with their hands, eat off
the table, etc. We are not really that particular when it
comes to discipling them around food, as we have always
believed food exploration was a positive thing. We are getting
more disciplined with our oldest child lately, but otherwise
have always been pretty laid back about it. Anyhow, this is
creating some tension in a previously amicable relationship
with them. Now I feel like when we go to their house or out to
eat with them, we have to be really careful. I haven't said
anything to them directly and my husband told them that they
are just kids and that is what kids do. Any advice? This is the
first time they have actually criticized our parenting at all
since having kids a few years ago, so maybe we should just
count our blessings!
Mom of 2 messy eaters
Please do your in-laws and your fellow diners a favor and
don't take your kids to a 'fairly nice restaurant' until
they get to the age where they aren't throwing food and
making big messes. There are plenty of local restaurants
where messy kids aren't that noticable. But when I pay a
babysitter to go out with my husband to a fairly nice
restaurant, I really don't want to watch other peoples'
kids throw food.
Well, your kids are kind of young (especially the 1 year old) but
you should definitely start with the 3-year old teaching her some
manners. We actually almost never ate out with our kids until
they were older and knew how to behave themselves properly. But
throwing food is NEVER tolerated, even at home. You need to
start them understanding the rules as it's going to take years
for them to actually employ good table manners without you
prompting (I still have to remind our kids who are 6 and 8 now).
They should be eating food from their own plates only (not off
the table - yucky thought if you're at a restaurant that just
quickly wipes the table down with a dirty dish rag) and should
never throw anything or they get removed from the table. Eating
with their hands is not such a big deal for the 1 year old, and
even for the 3 year old as dexterity is still an issue for
him/her I would imagine. But you want to encourage the use of
utensils as much as possible. Maybe if your inlaws saw you
putting in an effort to teach them, they'd be more easy going
about how they actually behave.
Hokay. I am usually the straight-laced Easterner complaining
about laissez-faire California parents letting their kids run
wild. But come on: 12 months? and a 3 year old? Your in-laws are
cuckoo in the head, and you should just laugh this off. Sure,
maybe in the next year or so you can start helping the older kid
get a little better with the fork, but they sound perfectly
age-appropriate and normal to moi.
I don't know, but if you get along so well w/ your in-laws, maybe
you should try to work on their request--and see it as a request.
They're probably a little uncomfortable w/ your kids' table
manners (quite frankly, I would be too, but I'm on the fussier
side about that, and I really feel uncomfortable about my kids
impacting other diners, and I'm embarrassed for people who let
their kids make a mess in a restaurant.). I don't think they're
asking you to ''be really careful.'' Just try to be more
considerate of others. Is it really so hard to work w/ your kids
a little more? If you can't figure out how, you can always ask
their opinion--you don't even have to let on that you know they
made the criticism. You could just say, out of the blue, ''I've
really been trying to work with Junior not to throw food, but I
seem to be struggling with it. And if this is all they've said in
2 years, yeah, count your blessings. (Maybe think about it this
way: you wouldn't let your kid throw your wallet in a restaurant,
so there are limits. And other patrons-myself among them-would be
really disgusted if your kids' food landed on them, or had to
step in it, or even just look at it.) It's pretty distracting
when you go out to dinner to have to deal w/ some other kid's
mess, especially for people who are putting the effort into
minimizing the mess with their own kids. And keep in mind that if
you can teach them good manners as a matter of course, you won't
have to deal w/ worse implications of it later--and both you and
the kids will learn that you're in charge.
Kids will be kids and you can't expect very young children to have great
in a restaurant. So the best way not to embarrasse anbody is take them to
that are used to accomodate children. Other dinners won't be upset and you
in-laws will have a relaxed and fun experience.
Simple solution: don't go out to eat with your children. If I
am eating at a fairly nice restaurant, the last thing I like to
watch is young children throwing food and ''exploring food''.
When my children were that age, we rarely went out to
restaurants (at least ones that weren't family friendly) and
still expected them to behave.
Throwing food?! Eating with their hands?! Eating off the
table?! At a restaurant?! No wonder your in-laws said
something! I wouldn't even be able to eat if someone, even a
child, was eating near me with that kind of wild abandon.
IMHO, it's never too early to at least try and teach some kind
of basic ''let's be polite when we eat out'' behavior. If you
want to do something else at home so be it, but it sounds like
your children's own grandparents want to know they can eat with
your family and feel like a modicum of considerate polite
behavior is expected from everyone at the table. Not too much
for them to ask really, and good training also for when your
kids start to spend time on their own with other families at
meals via play dates etc. It's hard to be hospitable to
children who you know are going to spread food all over the
Miss Manners' disciple
1 and 3? Messiness is to be expected! That's the age when kids are in the
what happens when I do this'' stage. Your in-laws have forgotten what it was
be around kids that age. It sounds to me like you are being very
doing everything you should be doing (tipping extra, trying to correct your
when they throw food, etc.). I have 2 suggestions: 1. Either let your
hubby go out
to fancy restaurants with his parents and let you and the kids stay home, or
takeout, or go to a kid-friendly place like Pasta Pomodoro. 2. Leave the
the in-laws for a day, through a couple of meal-times, and let them see if
make meal-time any less messy. Chances are, they'll get a good reminder of
it's like to have toddlers at a dinner table.
Best of luck,
They are just one and three? This is what kids do and so the way
I see it, you have two choices: Go to family friendly places
and/or tell them to back off (there are polite ways to say
it...or not) or hire a babysitter. Since I know a little about
in-law criticism myself, my advice is to get a babysitter. It
will relieve your stress about your totally normal kids, and
remove their expectations of what your kids should behave like at
big tipper too
My mom always tells me she didn't teach me to cook because I
wasn't interested. I wonder... what if I hadn't been interested
in potty training, or going to school? There are lots of things
that ''kids just do'', but which aren't okay.
Sorry to not really be on your side here.. but I think your
in-laws have a point. It's our job as parents/caregivers to
guide/teach them what they need to know. BUT... you get to do it
in your own way. I think encouraging exploration is great, but at
age 1, (in my opinion) it's appropriate to remind children *every
time* something is thrown, that we keep all our food on our
plate/highchair tray. If we don't like it, we don't have to eat
it, but it must stay on the plate. At age one, it's understood
that you're still working on this, but by three, it's completely
unacceptable to be throwing food. By age three, you should have
enough skill with utensils to use them most of the time. I give
1yos utensils and encourage them to use them, but when they lose
interest, I realize that's all they could handle for that meal.
Eating off the table... well, if you're going to allow that at
home, you're going to embarrass whoever you eat out with in
public, especially at nicer places.
I'm not in an older, conservative generation btw. I'm 33, and a
very-experienced nanny. I lovingly and diligently work to instill
strong, healthy habits that help the children and parents over
the long haul. They certainly don't have to be perfect - of
course there is some mess - but you should be working with them
on this, to help them gradually improve their skills.
Food for thought
If this is the first time your in-laws have said something, there
is probably a good reason to speak up. After all, they reared
your spouse and did a good job. One needn't necessarily
''discipline'' a child who throws food; just take the food away.
I'm sure your in-laws would be more than willing to help you
teach the kids age-appropriate table manners. Kids tend to spill
a lot and drop crumbs and get their hands and face dirty, but
there's no excuse for throwing food.
Based on the age of your children, I think ''discipling'' them
about eating is silly, a waste of time, and, if attempted, only
likely to add stress! ''Discipling'' a toddler about eating
seems inappropriate from a child development point of view--
particularly the 1 year old. Sounds like the grandparents are
a little out of touch about the developmental milestones
children follow. Perhaps you can ''cite'' your pediatrician or a
parenting book that explains what is likely to happen at meals
and indicates the age at which napkins, forks and spoons are
even able to be manipulated by a young child. And finally, I
guess you could invest in one of those large plastic mats sold
to go under the highchair to catch spills. Perhaps it is
really their own space they are trying to keep clean. For now,
let the food keep flying, being mashed, smashed, dangled, etc.
What better way to conquer those fine motor skills while also
getting a few calories into the old belly!
opted for mops and brooms
My husband and I occasionally like to go out to restaurants with
our 9-month-old son. He is just learning to eat finger foods and
even though we give him just a little bit at a time, he often
drops a lot of food on the floor. What is the etiquette about
cleaning this mess up? I always wipe the table down with a napkin
after he is done and put any of the bits and pieces he didn't eat
on one of the empty plates, but what should I do about the stuff
that falls on the floor? I'd feel ridiculous getting down on my
hands and knees to pick up Cheerios, but I also feel guilty about
leaving a huge mess behind.
I really hope no one says ''Don't clean at all - that's what the staff are
paid to do!''
Because most staff at ''family friendly'' restaurants are paid minimum
wage with tips on top.
And it's just a ''decent thing'' to make an effort to leave the place not
looking like a pigpen. Maybe pick up the big chunks of food, scoot stuff
together with your foot, but certainly acknowledge the staff - ''Awfully
sorry about the mess - you must get tired of this sometimes!'' - and leave
a nice tip.
As your child gets older, they'll understand that it's just good etiquette
and good karma to leave everything ''nice'' - it's all part of the big lesson.
Always With Baby Wipes
My husband and i were eating at Fat Apple's (EC) last week when
several *very* small children began to play under our table.
Their parents were across the room and seemed oblivious to the
situation. The waiter told the kids to go back to their parents
as the kids were not only quite loud, but were doing very unsafe
things like crawling under chairs. Eventually, the waiter asked
the parents to come get the kids. (By then, the little ones were
screaming.) The mom came over and as she was taking the littlest
baby (about 2yo) from under the table, said to me very
sweetly ''you don't mind the noise, do you.' My response
was ''Actually, yes I do.'' So...of course, she got very mad at me
and made quite a stink about how i didn't like kids.
Here's the question: How should i have handled the situation?
Should i have stopped the kids earlier? Should i have not said
anything to the parent who seemed to feel that I was an elderly
Advice, please. I wouldn't have said anything at all if she
hadn't asked...or if she had said that she was sorry for the
disruption, I would have just thanked her for taking the child
away. i just *thought8 that she was trying to make me a co-
dependent in her kids behavioral issues.
Honestly likes kids!
No, I do not think that you did anything wrong in telling the
mother that, yes, the noise (and behavior) was disruptive. She
asked, after all (even if was a rhetorical question). I suppose
that you could have asked the parent to remove the children
earlier, but really, it was the mother's responsibility to make
sure that her children were NOT disruptive in the restaurant! A
restaurant is not a childcare center and it is selfish and
inconsiderate of parents to assume that children can behave
however they like, at the expense of the enjoyment of other
patrons. I also have a toddler and I expect her to sit and
either eat or stay entertained with the activities that I bring
(crayons, stickers, books). If she cannot cooperate, we leave.
It sounds to me like you handled the situation well and the mom
was trying to get your buy-in on her bad parenting. Anyone who
would let a two-year old wander to the other side of a
restaurant, even as small as Fat Apple's, is clueless. Don't feel
First of all, I believe that you like kids! Thank you for posting
your concerns. I am a mom of a 2-year-old who can get quite
unruly in a restaurant and we handle it in a completely different
way than the parents you described. (We also frequent FatApples
at both locations so I felt some community sense to reply.) When
our 2-year-old becomes whiny or loud in her high chair or
booster, we take her outside. When she wants to get out of her
chair, we have a rule that says she has to stay no more than one
step away for our table, and if she doesn't want to do that,
she's either in the chair or, again, outside with one of us.
In the situation you described, I would also be put off and
irritated. In my opinion, other people in a restaurant should not
have to be interrupted, poked, scuttled-under, or drowned out by
kids of any age. It's a drag sometimes to have to get up and
leave before you're even half-way through your meal, but that is
what we do if our child is getting out of hand. I find that I'm
annoyed at parents who don't feel this same sense of
responsibility/boundries because it presents a situation where I
have to try and convince our own 2-year-old that just because
those other kids are running around, it doesn't mean that she
can. Before I had kids, I was more sensitive to unruly kids than
I am now. But not dramatically so. You were right to respond
honestly to the parent's weird comment (''you don't mind the
noise, do you?''). Tolerance is a good thing, but the situation
you describe pushed the limits of common courtesy.
striving to be respectful and to teach my child good manners
I'll be interested to see the responses to this one. I think
you were spot on -- and extremely patient. Parent asked; you
answered. I think Miss Manners would hope you did so with a
smile on your face (as an understanding parent of a former
toddler?), but icy indifference would not be a hanging offense
under the circumstances.
I think you had handled a situation quite fine. It was just that the mother
was not responsible enough in my opinion. She should not have asked you to
accept her idea about what small children can do at the restaurants.
If I were in your situation, I may have even told children something like ''
Excuse me. It is not safe to play under the table in an restaurant. This is not a
play ground. Come out, and let's go back to your mom.'' I may even take them by
myself to the mother, and say to her that ''I do not think it is safe for those
little ones to play under the table. I also would like to enjoy my food, so
could you keep an eye on your kids please?''. Give back kids, and walk away.
I do understand that it is certainly difficult for small children to be
sitting all the time while eating. I know it since I have two boys, 4 and a half
years old and 11 months old. But still, that is not a place to play.
To me, restaurants are places to eat and enjoy food. Not a play ground. Your
responce seems very right to me, so you do not need to feel bad about yourself.
Mom of two active boys
I do not think that you are a baby hater. I have two small
children of my own and if they were climbing under your table I
would be quite embarassed. My kids are not angels and they
have a hard time sitting still in any restaurant, so we don't
go too many places. I feel strongly that we have to impress
upon them that everyone needs to enjoy their meal which
sometimes means that we make a hasty exit.
I don't think you should have done anything differently. For one, it's not
your responsibility to parent somebody else's kids. When parents let their
kids roam free in a restaurant it's absolutely their responsibility to make
sure that 1. their kids are safe and 2. their kids aren't bothering anybody.
It makes me angry to no end when I see kids roaming loose in public places
and their parents not even *watching* them. My almost 2 year old loves to
run directly into the kitchen whenever we let him loose in a restaurant, and
I would absolutely never even CONSIDER not following closely behind. And
as for the mother getting mad at you, if somebody is going to ask you
whether or not you're okay with something, they have to be prepared for
the possibility that you're going to give them an answer they're not entirely
It can be hard taking small kids to restaurants, and since
Fat Apples is such a kid friendly place, lots of parents of
young kids do sort of let their guard down. Still, the situation
you describe seems really over the top. The thing that
seems most difficult in this situation is that the kids were
actually under your table and the parents didn't mind. That
would bother me, too. The mother's question to you sounds
like a request to let her off the hook. You didn't. No wonder
she was angry. But I don't think you were out of line at all.
Hi there! First, let me say that I have a very energetic 22
month-old boy whom I take to restautants and will not allow to
run around and inconvenience anyone else. If he can't sit still
after repeated attempts to make him behave, we leave (has almost
Now, let me say, good for you for responding the way you did. My
sister-in-law and her husband (wonderful people whom I love
dearly) were a little that way (though not as extreme as letting
their kids play under someone's table!). They somehow seemed to
believe that their kids were cute and everyone else would not
mind entertaining and babysitting them in restaurants. It is very
impolite behavior and a very poor example for the kids.
This woman assumed that by saying what she did, the entire
episode was somehow made acceptable and normal. There is also
this unrealistic thinking that my sis-in-law seemed to have (and
maybe this woman too) that if people minded they would say
something. However, we all know that this is not usually the case
as people are generally non-confrontational in these situations
and should not have to be put in a situation that makes them
The only way people learn is when someone actually says something
- like you did. I think what you did was brave as most people
would have responded that they didn't mind even if they did. I
don't know if this situation could have been handled any
differently - maybe calling the waiter right from the start?
Restaurants For All!
I have a feeling you're going to get a flood of responses, all
of which will support you (it'll be interesting to read any
responses that don't), but I can't help jumping in and
responding. I've always loved being around kids, and am now a
mom of a 16 month old. However, parents who allow their
children to run around restaurants being disruptive is a big
pet peeve of mine -- and I will never allow my son to behave
that way! You can like children and still think their parents
should be teaching them safe and appropriate behavior -- and as
you said, young children wandering around a restaurant are a
safety hazard. Although I've never seen a waiter actually
collide with a young child, I've seen some close calls. It
doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that people
carrying trays of hot food and people who are less than 3 feet
tall are not a good combination! Even if they're not doing
anything unsafe, it's not ok to allow your kids to disturb
other diners. Part of the job of parents is to teach kids
appropriate behavior, and crawling around under the tables in a
restaurant is clearly not appropriate.
If anything, you were far more tolerant than I would have
been. As soon as the children started playing under my table,
I would have been looking for their parents and asking them to
bring their kids back to their table. Thankfully, I haven't
had to deal with a situation exactly like the one you
described, but I think you behaved reasonably and the mother of
those kids did not.
Your answer was perfectly acceptable, though the mom's response
was anything but acceptable. The simple fact that this woman had
to be told by the waiter to corral her kids should have given
her an indication that she needed to correct the situation as
quickly and as quietly as possible. Don't feel as if you came
off as a kid hating elder...this woman will, no doubt, come
across many more people who, when asked, will tell her that her
kids need a bit of discipine. You should not feel guilty for
honestly answering the question.
I found your post amazing! Some parents let their small kids
play under YOUR table on the other side of the restaurant, and
then they got upset when you weren't thrilled? I don't think
you need to feel apologetic about making it clear that you don't
need someone else's toddlers under your table during breakfast.
I have two small kids and sometimes they escape from our
immediate control, but we make an effort to keep them fairly
well corralled because, frankly, it is our view that other
people don't come to restaurants to interact at length and on
fairly intimate terms with our small children. And while I also
think that people without young kids need to understand (or
remember) that it can be difficult to control kids in public,
and have a little sympathy with harried parents, it sounds like
your expectations were reasonable. I think your response was
fine, perfectly appropriate, and after all, she ASKED. You
would also have been within your rights, in my view, to extract
the kids from under the table and return them to the parents
much earlier in the process. That mom had no call to get angry,
but should simply have apologized to you for any inconvenience.
And perhaps she shouldn't ask questions to which she doesn't
really want an answer.
I absolutely support your honest response to the mother of the
small children. As the mother of a 2 year old who regularly eats
in restaurants, I am apalled by the behavior I see going
unchecked. I hold the parents fully responsible for not doing
their job and feel sorry for children who have so few guidelines
about what constitutes appropriate public behavior. I feel that
it is my responsibility to teach my child how to behave in a
restaurant and if he is not capable of handling sitting quietly
and NOT DISTURBING other diners, I need to remove him from the
situation, not ask others to endure it. Restaurants, no matter
how kid-friendly, are not playgrounds where running around and
yelling is acceptable. I'm not saying that my child is always
perfect in a restaurant, but it is my job to decide that he is
disturbing others and ask for my meal ''to go.''
Trying to be Considerate Mom
Please, oh please, do not let this woman's insensitivity and
inappropriate anger make you feel badly about yourself. You
would not cough on her food or talk loudly on your cell phone or
do anything else to ruin her meal so why should be be allowed to
do the same thing to you? And then to get mad at you for not
being thrilled about it is unbelievably nervvy. Personally, it
sounds like you handled it very gently. I adore children but
would not be so quiet if I was forced to have them under my
table while eating. I believe you that you are not a child
NO, you did not do anything wrong. I have two kids myself and
love kids, but I would have done what you did. Whenever I am out
with my kids, I am very sensitive to others who may like kids but
would like to be left alone (my fantasy!). And those who may not
like kids too. Also,kids playing in restaraunts under the table
etc. is dangerous! If that woman wanted to eat out without
having to deal with her kids, she should have called a babysitter!
I have a 2 1/2 year old and I would NEVER allow her to play
under someone else's table when their eating at the restaurant.
This person obviously expects that her very relaxed style of
parenting should be observed (and participated) by all - She is
WRONG. Yes, kids fuss or cry or spill their drink but besides
the noise and mess issues (Fat Apples is not a quiet place
anyway and the mess usually confined to their own table) your
personal space should not have been taken over AND the parent
should have retrieved their child immediately, without having to
be asked to do so.
As for the comment: Maybe you could have been more diplomatic
(the tone it was said cannot be heard in a posting), however, if
she didn't want to know, she should not have asked.
More power to you! I have 3 young sons and we eat out with
them 1 - 2 times a week. And I would find the behavior you
described completely unacceptable in my own or other's
children. You were absolutely right to answer her probably
rhetorical question honestly. Unfortunately my experience is
that people who behave as she did don't really care what
others think and certainly would not recognize any fault on
Still cares about manners
I wouldn't worry about it. This mom sounded like she just wanted
you to say it wasn't a problem. Your only other choice would have
been to say it wasn't a problem, or to say something like,
''normally it wouldn't bother me, but we were trying to get
through a pretty difficult conversation..'' Which maybe you
could say if it hadn't been bugging you through your meal. But
it's not your problem if the parents can't control their kids,
and if they ask the question and don't like what they hear.
Personally, I would have asked the parent to come get the kid
immediately, maybe asking the kid nicely if they could play under
their parents' table. But if it troubles you to get the response
that you got, next time maybe you should lie nicely!
I just wanted to chime in on your posting about restaurant
behavior. It is never okay to let a child wander around a
restaurant. For safety reasons alone, workers carry hot food,
liquid in glass-which if spilled or broken on ANYONE would become
a large problem for all concerned.
When my child was 2 ''restauranting'' became a challenge, if he was
under my table, that would work for a time, but any wandering,
required immediate removal outside to walk and wander. I was
aghast to see that someone was offended because you were
''inconvenienced'' by her unsupervised children under you table.
I agree with everyone else who posted. You didn't do or say
anything wrong. I have two small children and I NEVER let them
run around in restaurants. I think it is dangerous, and cannot
believe how many people let their kids do it. (Can you imagine
if one of the servers had tripped over one of the kids while
carrying a full tray, or a tray with hot food?!)
A simillar incident happened to me this summer at the pool while
I was waiting for my son's lesson to end. There were three kids
climbing on bleachers and jumping off to the concrete patio
below. I was very nervous. It seemed as if the children were
without adult supervision. I waited for the pool workers to tell
the kids to knock it off, but that never happened. Eventually
one of the kids climbed up the back of the bleachers and popped
out between my legs. That was it! I calmly told the kid that I
was uncomfortable with what was going on and that she should go
play by her parent. She left... she, and her friends, continued
to run around, but not near us. The other parents around me all
thanked me for stepping in, but none of them had felt
comfortable enough to do anything. Later I noticed a woman who
had been sitting with her back to the kids get up and herd them
I know that many parents object to others commenting on or
correcting their children's behavior. I can understand that
different people have different standards of behavior and
safety. I know that some people are insulted and feel
reprimanded themselves when another grown up makes a comment
about their kid's behavior, even if they agree. I don't advocate
disciplining strange children, or even interfering, but we all
have to share the world... restaurants, parks, etc. I would love
it if everyone could understand that and be attentive to their
kids so they could reign them in when appropriate. Until then, I
guess we will have to become comfortable stepping in sometimes.
a mom who wants restaurants to keep welcoming children
Last year a friend of ours was in Picante, which is also a very
kid-friendly restaurant. She let her son run up and down, back
and forth, and so on. Someone accidently spilled very hot tea on
him, burning him on his face and neck (rather severely, in fact).
It is not just rude to let your kids climb about in a restaurant,
but it is also dangerous. Picnics are for running around, not
restaurants. And BTW, no one finds your children as cute as you
do. In fact, most of us find them more cute if they are sitting
quietly in their seats....
Mother of well-behaved children
I am having a difficult time coping with my 19-month old
screaming at the top of his lungs while in a restaurant. I can
understand that he is vocalizing and cannot usually control his
volume. However, instead of babbling, he screams. I don't
usually mind his screaming and I try to give words to his
feelings. But it seems everytime we are in a restaurant he
screams bloody murder. In the quiet cafe where I like to have
breakfast, other customers are leaving because my child is so
loud and obnoxious. Telling him ''no screaming,'' covering his
mouth with my hand, and blowing air in his face are no longer
working. Am I doomed to eat at home for the next couple of
years? Any suggestions besides eating in noisy places?
I have checked the website regarding screaming toddlers and none
of the advice there helped. Thanks.
My child is pretty mild in terms of this kind of behaviour, but
we have always looked at it as undesirable social
behavior/manners that we would want to discourage. Therefore, we
handle it like throwing food, purposely spilling juice, etc. We
don't think that ''vocalizing'' and other euphemisms are fair for
the other people who have to put up with the noise from
screaming. Basicly, be consistent (with whatever method you use)
as you are with other undesirable behaviors.
Having had both a child who behaved like a dream in restaurants
at all ages and two who were loud and tried to run around
whenever they could, I came to realize that my two roudy kids
were trying to tell me that they were not ready to frequent a
restaurant. Either it was too much to ask of them (they weren't
ready to behave in a mannerly way) or they got hyped up from the
noise and commotion that happens in even the most relaxed
restuarants. Your child is probably not ready for restaurants
and it is not fair to the other diners to subject them to his
noisy behavior. It always seems to work best not to ask more of
your child than he or she can manage. Try cutting your
restaurant visits for now (take-out is a good option) and then
begin again in a couple of months. It does improve, but it is
up to you to make it easier for your child (not to mention other
Simple answer: don't go to restaurants. This is just a stage,
and you will be able to return to restaurants again within the
year, but there's no excuse for ruining other people's dining
experience in the short term. Get your order to go and take it
home or to the park. And when you decide to try restaurants
again, be strict: the first scream gets a warning, the second
one means you leave, whether or not either of you have eaten. 18
months isn't too early to learn to be considerate of others or
to understand the concept of consequences.
A mom whose child behaves in restaurants
My now 21-month-old went through a big screaming phase for three
weeks at about 19 months. The bad news is that nothing really
worked and we stopped going to restaurants for a while -- though
these were our best attempts at dealing with it: 1) Telling
him: ''Ouch, that really hurts mommy's ears.'' -- complete with
exagerrated crying. 2) Explaining: ''Ugh, that really upsets the
other people in the restaurant, see how sad they look!'' 3) We
distracted him with books, cars, coloring, ice, etc... 4) We
tried to be sure he was the right amount of hungry (not
starving, but ready to eat), not tired, comfortable, etc... 5)
Books and other parents recommended explaining that screaming is
an ''outside voice'' and taking them outside to scream. This
didn't work for us because we did not want to go to a restaurant
only to hang-out outside.
The good news is that the screaming phase has passed. (Though
restaurants remain off our destination list as the child does
not sit still...) Bon Appetit and Good Luck!
Sorry to say, but you probably will need to stay home a bit
more often for some period of time. It just isn't fair to other
patrons to expect them to put up with screaming while they are
trying to enjoy their time out.
Personally, I find it much more relaxing to eat take-out while
my 2 small children play happily at home than to deal with
shushing & disciplining in most restaurants. We've even given
in to my husband's iron-clad rule of never doing take-out
The good news is, it's not forever. It may be a shorter or
longer phase (depending on your child) but there will be light
at the end of the tunnel! We venture out occasionally with
great success...but it wasn't always so.
I remember how sad I was when my 15 month old began
behaving in a loud and disruptive way in restaurants. I
stopped going out with him, because I didn't feel it was fair
to the other diners -- just one loud scream from him, and
we'd leave. However, it didn't last long, and as soon as he
got a few words under his belt we were back to our
breakfasts & lunches out. This too will pass! (In the
meantime, I hope you'll take pity on the other patrons....)
Hi, my toddler doesn't scream in restaurants, but wants to be
more active than most restaurants can accomodate, so I think I
understand where you're coming from. The issue isn't so much
changing your toddler's behavior to fit the restaurant, but
choosing restaurants that can handle your toddler's behavior.
I'm not anti-discipline - I agree you should set boundaries for
your child. But there is only so much you can expect from a 17
month old short of gagging and hog-tying them. I had to laugh at
your description of your favorite restaurant as a ''quiet cafe.''
Quiet and toddlers don't mix! For the sake of the other patrons,
and for your own mental health, that place should probably be
off your list for now, at least when your toddler is with you.
It sounds like it's not fun for either of you anyway. There are
more kid-friendly places, but they would never be described as
quite cafes! For toddlers, the noisier the better..... Perhaps
you could visit your favorite quiet place on occasions when you
have the luxury of a babysitter. And someday you can return with
your then-preschooler, who will be old enough to understand what
behavior is appropriate in quiet restaurants.
mom of wild toddler
Um, don't eat in quiet restaurants with your toddler. I know
some people with very obedient, quiet, docile little children
who keep going to restaurants throughout their toddler
years, but that doesn't describe most kids. It certainly didn't
describe ours. Our daughter ate at Chez Panisse and Rivoli
and Olivetto during her first year, but from then on, we went
to places like Kensington Circus or Barney's, and did a lot of
take-out. If it's not screaming, it's running around, banging
the silverware, throwing food, etc. There's a reason why you
don't often see little kids in nice restaurants. Maybe there's
some magic bullet I don't know about (or you could slip
some valium into the sippy cup), but it might just be time to
readjust your lifestyle a little.
Judith, once again
I don't think you are doomed to eat at home for the next two
years, but you may be doomed to avoid quiet cafes/restaurants
for the next few months or more. Toddlers scream because they
can. Because it's fun. And it's very very very hard to reason
with a 19-month old about proper manners in public. When my
kids were little we either ate at noisy places or got our food
to go and ate at a park or playground. Maybe other parents will
have some clever ideas for you, but I think you may drive
yourself, your kid & other customers crazy if you try to make a
19-month-old do something as unnatural (for them) as be quiet.
I agree with the others who've said it's just not appropriate to
take a toddler to certain types of restaurants. But, restaurant
or no restaurant, there is one thing you can do that usually
works magic on a screaming (but not crying) toddler: whisper.
Usually they'll copy you. It's a game to see how loud they can
yell -- and you can make it a game to see how quietly they
Ever see a parent scream at a child, ''stop screaming!''? If you
think about it, it's no wonder that doesn't work! A stage
whispered, ''I bet you can't hear me!'' is usually more effective.
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