Who's Your Daddy

A contrarian view of dining with kids

Recently, the Internet and social media were all abuzz with a culinary story. A family at a national-chain steak house had their dinner rudely interrupted by the couple seated next to them, who slammed a note down on the table that read, “THANKS FOR RUINING OUR DINNER!” The reason for the passive aggressive note? The family’s toddler was crying and wouldn’t shut the hell up!

In a textbook example of understanding your customer base, the steak house comped the family’s dinner, and told the disturbed couple to take a hike. The corporate public relations machine immediately announced that would-be diners wishing to experience the clinking of wine glasses and the din of cutlery should choose another establishment; this restaurant was “proud to be loud.”

I don’t eat meat, so I’ve never actually been to the steak house, but proud-and-loud or not, nobody wants to listen to a kid screaming when you’re trying to eat.

Before the boys came along, like a lot of gay men, Kelly and I dined out pretty frequently. We used to joke that restaurants should offer “children or non” seating options similar to smoking choices of old.

Kelly once instituted the policy himself when we were having lunch at a well-known 1950s-style diner in San Francisco. Across from our booth were two families with a couple of kids seated at the counter. The children were spinning on their stools counting their revolutions. Only they weren’t counting quietly, they were shrieking. We asked our server if we could be moved, and as we passed the families on the way to the bar, Kelly said, “We’re moving because you’re kids are out of control.”

It embarrassed the parents, who meekly apologized, but the rest of the patrons enjoyed their lunches in peace and quiet.

Look, there’s never been a parent in the history of eating out, who hasn’t been embarrassed by their kid at a restaurant. I’m convinced a certain Chinese joint in Los Angeles is still trying to vacuum up all the rice a baby Gus trampled into their plush red carpeting.

The key to dealing with kids in restaurants is to manage expectations:

Yours – As a thank you, my friend Lish recently gave me a very generous gift certificate to Forage. The boys will not be joining Kelly and me when we dine there. I get it; Noodles & Company gets old, but unless your kid is an adult, or maybe some Stepford child, do everyone a favor and find a babysitter before making that reservation at Tuscany.

The Kids’ – In a restaurant, kids usually have the upper hand. Given the chance, they’ll make the most egregious demands, to which you will gladly agree just to keep them well behaved for an hour. Don’t negotiate with terrorists – lay down the law: either they behave or you’ll take them to the car. If you think I’m all talk, ask Niko about sitting in the van, watching the rest of the family eating Thai food.

Other patrons’ – Cut parents some slack. If the mere sight of kids in public turns your stomach, move to Leisure World already.  Kids aren’t pets; they have the right to go anywhere you go (minus bars and strip clubs.) But child-free people shouldn’t have to tolerate rude, obnoxious or louder-than-necessary behavior. It has never ceased to amaze me how some parents feel that simply being in a public place like a restaurant gives them license to unleash their kids on the general public.

Loud-and-proud or not, I’ll bet you a steak dinner that nobody wanted to eat dinner with that screaming kid.

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