Don't Let Your Kids Run in Restaurants

When I was a restaurant server, I had two major gripes: First, people who wouldn't tip on Sunday lunch because "it's the Lord's day, and you shouldn't have been working." Second, people who let their little kids run screaming around the restaurant.

It's one thing when a toddler is obnoxiously screaming for no reason. That's already pretty annoying, but there may even be a reason. Like the kid is on the autism spectrum, or is being picked on by an older sibling while the parents are staring at their phones.

But it's a whole other thing when some little kid is running around a restaurant, creating a tripping hazard, and making a nuisance of themselves.

A recent letter to Slate Magazine's "Care and Feeding" parenting column asked whether a server should have been able to tell a kid to sit down.

The letter writer said his 4-year-old son is a "normal, active little boy" who has trouble sitting through a whole dinner. So he and his wife would give their precious snowflake a chance to "explore the restaurant a little."

They did make him stop running when they "noticed our waitress giving him the hairy eyeball." But, says dad, he did get underfoot as she was carrying a tray, so "she spoke to him pretty sharply to go back to our table."

Needless to say, dad was terribly upset that the server took some initiative. He says she should have come to them and made them do the very job they were neglecting.

I'm paraphrasing a bit.

So he tipped her five percent and complained to the manager who did nothing about it.

Next, he wrote to Care and Feeding to garner some sympathy.

Except Care and Feeding was not having it.

The columnist wrote: "Yeah, this is your fault. It's hugely your fault. . . You weren't parenting, so a server did it for you. She was right. You were wrong."

They then said the dad should return to the restaurant, apologize to the manager for complaining, and leave a proper tip.

I know corporal punishment is bad now, but I laughed when that dude got spanked!

There's a time and place for everything, including kids who want to run and play and explore. Like on playgrounds, for example. Or their own rooms. Or their house. Or their yards and parks. Or anywhere that's not museums, theaters, and restaurants.

Unless it's a restaurant where you order food from a clown's mouth and there's a playground in a sound-proofed room. Otherwise, there's no reason for a child to "play and explore" at a restaurant.

When people go out to eat, they want a nice relaxing time. They don't want someone else's kid screaming and running around their table, tripping up the servers.

But most parents don't seem to understand basic restaurant etiquette, and they get upset when they're called out on their own bad parenting.

I think we could avoid the problem if more restaurants stated their "Keep an eye on your own kid so we don't have to" policy up front.

An Arby's in Elk River, Minnesota recently did just that. They put a sign on their front door that stated what they considered acceptable behavior from their young diners.

"Only well-behaved children who can keep their food on their trays and their bottoms on their seats are welcome. If you can’t do this you will be asked to leave," said the sign.

Christina Hemsworth saw the sign when she was walking into the restaurant with her 11-year-old and 2-year-old children. She worried her toddler would violate the rules since he often liked to stand on his chair while he ate.

So she took a picture of the notice, and posted it on Facebook. Then she sent it off to KARE11, Minneapolis-St. Paul's NBC affiliate, where it was then picked up by the Today Show.

"I'm not a complainer," Hemsworth said. "I'm really not."


She continued, "The manager could have addressed the message to people individually, not assigned it to the general public."

Except that's not realistic. You're expecting the manager to profile every parent of young children and quietly hand them that notice as they walk in. Or to wait for someone's kid to disrupt everyone else's meal before saying something to the oblivious parents.

And since parents were apparently doing a terrible job of monitoring their children in that Arby's, management felt it was necessary to post a sign for the general public to see.

When a kid can't behave in public, that's on the parents. Either they need to do a better job correcting their behavior at home, or they need to make other arrangements and go to a restaurant where kids are allowed — and even expected — to run amok.

But to expect a restaurant's servers and patrons have to deal with children running around and getting underfoot, just because you can't be bothered, that's the height of unreasonable selfishness and self-importance.

Being a good parent doesn't just mean showering your children with love, or feeding and clothing them. It means teaching them how to behave in public early on so they don't grow up to be spoiled brats who can't sit still for more than five minutes without being entertained.

If you can't manage that, keep your kids at home until you all learn how to behave.

Photo credit: Mr.TinDC (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available on Amazon. You can get the Kindle version here or the paperback version here.