There are places in restaurants, places you’ve probably never seen.
They’re back behind walls. They’re right next to a rowdy bar. They’re right next to the kitchen.
You know these areas well if you walk into some restaurants with young children, though. They’re not saying you and your children are unwelcome, but they show it.
When it comes to entertainment, my family likes to eat at restaurants. It’s the only way each of us gets to eat what he or she wants, and we enjoy the quality time spent laughing and telling stories in a way we can’t match when making meals at home.
We start every outing with a discussion of whether we’re looking for a lighted board (fast-food restaurant) or a printed menu (sit-down restaurant). Whenever possible, I like to push for a sit-down restaurant.
I know there are people who see a young family and assume we love every place with a kids’ combo meal and a toy. Maybe I’m being a food snob here, but I just don’t like fast-food that much. The flavors are intentionally bland, and I’d rather not pay $5 for cardboard I could eat at home.
I think you’re doing your children’s palate a disservice if you only serve them dull foods. How will they ever learn they enjoy Creole cooking if they never get to sample it? How do you learn you enjoy garlic mashed potatoes without tasting them? A restaurant taught me I don’t hate spaghetti nearly as much as I thought I did; I merely disliked my mother’s sauce. (Sorry, Mom.)
Besides, where else will your child learn how to behave politely in public? My children certainly didn’t learn to say “please” and “thank you” to a server at one of those lighted-board restaurants.
Unfortunately, not every restaurant is as thrilled to see our happy family as we are to see them. Don’t worry. I’m not going to call your establishment out by name. You know who you are. You’d be surprised how many places promising family dining don’t seem to like seeing a young family walking through the door, though.
They seem to expect the worst when they see a pair of children under the age of 5 walking through the door. These aren’t exactly five-star gourmet restaurants, with some of them offering a children’s menu that suggests they welcome families.
My daughters aren’t angels, but they’re not devils, either. Trinkos are known as good eaters, and they live up to that. Very little food ends up on the floor. They’re not terribly loud. They’re good at sitting patiently in a seat for 20 minutes or so awaiting their food.
That’s not what people seem to see when we walk through the door. As they lead you to your table, you often feel as though you should be dropping breadcrumbs in some places, as they guide you to some remote area where they don’t think you’ll bother other guests.
You end up behind some wall where you previously assumed they kept a pop machine or extra plates. You might land next to the rowdy bar area. Perhaps you find yourself by a kitchen, learning how much yelling happens in some places.
I’d like to believe I’m being paranoid, but experience tells me otherwise in these places. You march past plenty of empty tables that could accommodate you. You often end up at the exact same table or area if you return to the place. The real clincher was one waitress admitted they try to put families in a certain area at her restaurant, so we “don’t bother” everyone else.
Admittedly, families with children are on the clock. You can only expect children to wait patiently for so long. Then again, I’ve seen my children wait more patiently than some adults, who become angry if their food isn’t ready instantly.
I understand people go out to dinner without their children on occasion, and they don’t want to hear the whines and screams of children. Trust me, neither do most children’s parents. Segregating the families with young children off to the dark corners of a place are taking the parents off the hook from doing what they should be doing, parenting.
The parents need to tell their children it’s inappropriate to run around a restaurant. They need to hush a child who starts yelling or crying. They need to provide that guidance so their children know how to behave in public.
If the parents don’t provide that, don’t just guide them to a far-flung place. Guide them right to the front door, and tell them they’re welcome to return when they’re ready to parent their children properly in public.
That’ll just make the dining experience better for all of us, even the young families with children still learning proper etiquette who just want to sit with everyone else.