In Spring 2015 a Cape Breton restaurant banning screaming kids from The Lobster Pound and Moore caused a social media firestorm. Customers who felt the ban was directed at them were vocally hurt. Advocates for Autism Spectrum disorder cried foul over the (likely unintentional but nonetheless stinging) slight. Deleting the post and posting an “I’m sorry for the way I worded it and that you got your feelings hurt” public relations non-apology generated further outrage from the other side who felt screaming children should be banned from the restaurant (and perhaps every restaurant.)
In the summer of 2015 another social media war was ignited following a mother’s Facebook complaint about the treatment her crying toddler received from the Maine diner owner of Marcy’s Bakery. Reactions on both sides of the argument were heated, to say the least!
As someone who has been on both sides of the situation, I have to say it is far worse to be the parent of a screaming child than to be person at the next table with zero vested interest or responsibility for said child. I admit, I was a jerk in my in my pre-parent days. I rolled my eyes and mouthed “Shut UP!” to my also childless dining companions in response to boisterous kids at the next table. I am ashamed at my behaviour. It is just as selfish and ignorant as the woman who once said to me “Can’t you DO something?” to me about my own crying infant. “Oh yes, of course I could do something. I know exactly what he needs but I love the sound of crying so much, I just prefer not to.”
A babysitter isn’t always practical or available, and I actually want my kids with me to experience meals out sometimes, so we’ve put together some of the right stuff to help conquer those restaurant woes.
1)The right expectations First, figure out for yourself what you can realistically expect from your kids. Can they follow and contribute to the conversation? Occupy themselves without being disruptive? Maybe all you really need is for your kids to keep from disturbing other diners, and not to put things they find on the floor in their mouths. Once you know what you want, you can communicate it to your kids. You should probably check you are on the same page as your significant other beforehand as well.
2)The right situation Four course, three hour supper with your boss who often makes disparaging comments about small humans? You may want to reconsider bringing the kidlets. Maybe try a quickish meal with only your family. A restaurant that has turned to social media to complain about kids may not be your best bet either. Edmonton has restaurants up the wazoo. Not every one is kid friendly. A good hint as to the welcomeness of children is the presence of high chairs. If they have bothered to buy special furniture for babies, they want your business. Another way to find out family friendliness? Call and ask. Places that would rather not cater to families are up front about the demographic they serve. If you bring your kids to a place where they aren’t fully welcome, you won’t feel comfortable. Your kids will probably pick up on the vibe and feel stressed. Anxious kids are not optimally behaved kids.
3) The right tools Matchbox cars, paper dolls, colouring, brainteasers, magnetic puzzles, your smartphone (you know you’re going to hand it over!) are all good time-killing activities. You may want to keep a little “restaurant bag” as a special treat that only comes out at restaurants. We have recently began experimenting with asking the kids to talk and engage with us before the meal; delaying the toys and distracting devices until after the kids have finished eating. It buys a little time to finish your own meal in relative leisure.
4) The right opportunity Table manners can be learned early and once they are habit it isn’t hard to transfer them to a new environment. Eating in public shouldn’t be completely different from eating at home. I know a restaurant meal is a luxury and a treat that can’t be an everyday occurrence, but going out gives kids the opportunity to show off what they have learned. If you keep your kids at home for fear of making a scene at a restaurant, your kids will never get a chance to use their skills. They may just surprise you!
5) The right attitude Take your kids out, set them up for success, but know that even the best kids in the best situation will sometimes have a meltdown. It’s just part of life. Give yourself permission to leave if things turn south. You aren’t doing anyone any favours by trying to tough it out. Ask for your food to be packed up and chalk it up to a life experience. Try again another day and know you are a good parent with good kids that had a bad day.
Updated January 14, 2021.