Manners Matter: Children in Restaurants

Dear Mary Pat,

I manage a restaurant that is a little more upscale. We do not have a lot of children who dine with us; it’s mainly couples without their kids. Every now and then, someone brings a newborn in a carrier, and the baby – nine times out of 10 – sleeps peacefully through dinner. There was an incident last week, though, that really got out of control. 

A couple in their 30s brought in their daughter, who appeared to be about three. Before they even ordered drinks, the toddler started having a major meltdown. This wasn’t just a little bit of whining. This was a screaming, kicking, I’m-so-overtired-because-I’ve-been-dragged-around-Door-County-all-day-and-I-missed-my-usual-nap-because-I’m-on-vacation-and-nothing-is-going-to-stop-me-except-when-I-collapse-from-sheer-exhaustion kind of a meltdown. 

I’m a mom, so I understand that meltdowns happen, but you have to remove the child from the restaurant. Unfortunately, they did not leave, and then I had to be the bad guy and let them know that their child’s behavior was bothering our other customers. I tried to be helpful and offered to get them to-go boxes for their entrées, and my boss even offered to not charge them for their meal. 

Instead of being appreciative, we were accused of being mean and were threatened with a bad review. Didn’t we have a right to say something? 

Frazzled Staff
Town Withheld

Dear Frazzled Staff,

You did have a right to say something. Children do not always behave in public as well as their parents would like. Meltdowns happen, and no one is faulting the parents when their children cry and carry on. That is until the parents do nothing about it. 

It doesn’t matter whether the restaurant is upscale or a family-friendly place. If a child is screaming at the top of her or his lungs and is disrupting an entire dining room full of people, it’s time to leave. It also doesn’t matter whether you have ordered, are about to order, didn’t even take a sip of your soda, hadn’t even looked at the menu, are starving or anything else. It’s time to go. Or, at least it’s time for one of you to take the child outside until he or she calms down. And if the child doesn’t calm down? Then it’s time to get in the car and drive away. 

This might seem harsh, but that’s the polite thing to do. If you don’t want to hear your child scream, I can guarantee that the 80 other people in the restaurant don’t either. 

Good luck,
Mary Pat