No Shirt, No Shoes, No Toddlers?
July 13th, 2011

When my sister and I were little girls my parents made a concerted effort to throw us into a wide variety of social situations.  These included backyard barbecues, church potlucks, pre-theatre dinners before the opera, rodeos, and country club brunches.  Their intention – which worked – was to ensure that Anne and I were comfortable in any setting – that we would be neither daunted by formality, nor unable to relax and enjoy a more casual atmosphere.  It’s a strategy that GAP and I plan to replicate with our own children.

The lynchpin of this strategy, though, is exposure.  The only way a kid learns how to behave and acclimate to a formal restaurant is if you take them to one.  Or, rather, to several.  No number of at-home lessons on “start with the fork at the outside and work your way in” can match the exposure that the real experience provides.  As a parent you have to expect that your first foray into new territory – whether it’s with linen tablecloths or cowboys and bull riding – is going to be fraught with hiccups.  Kids acclimate quickly, but not typically without a few errant assumptions and awkward questions.  It’s just part of the learning experience.

With all of this in mind, I was disheartened to learn that a restaurant in Pennsylvania has banned all children under the age of six.  They claim that young children create excessive and uncontrollable noise that disturbs other customers.  I claim that they are intolerant and a bit too big for their britches.

As the mother of a toddler I know well the pitfalls of restaurant dining with a little kid in tow.  IEP is a pretty good restaurant patron, though we have certainly powered our way through a few meals that were interrupted for disciplinary trips outside.  In most of these moments few, if any, other diners were bothered because we took care to remove the tiny tyrant from the dining room and rectify the bad behavior someplace else.  Thankfully, we’ve never gotten so much as a cross look from a waiter or hostess.

So I wonder why this restaurant wasn’t willing to take a more individualized approach.  Why not address each family when a problem arises?  Why punish all families, even those with mannerly tots?

I have always found that it is the most upper-crust places that are the most tolerant of young kids.  Their approach is one of service which applies to all customers.  These establishments seem to pride themselves in playing a role in helping children learn how to behave in an environment that may be new and different, and I always appreciate that.

It’s hard to raise kids who know how to behave in public.  It’s a lot of work to expose them to different situations and teach them the social protocols for each.  Of course it’s easier to just stay home and order pizza (and there are plenty of nights when we do just that).  But trying to teach kids to know something a bit broader,  well, it’s not for the faint of heart.  We need all the help we can get.  And that’s exactly why news like this leaves me crestfallen.  If this particular decision becomes a trend (surely not!) we parents will be left with few options, and a generation of 10-year-olds who know only how to behave at Pizza Hut.

10 Responses to “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Toddlers?”

  1. Rebecca Says:

    Or a generation of 30 yr olds that slurp their soup!

  2. Cathy Says:

    Hi Gale, I agree with your goals of getting your children exposed to and comfortable with all types of scenarios. And, I completely agree that the more expensive restaurants appear to be more tolerant than those at a more middle level. However, I do not have a problem with a restaurant placing an age minimum. If the business is trying to draw a certain crowd, that is its prerogative. That also means I don’t have to frequent that establishment and show support for it either. If the business is successful, then perhaps there is merit to providing an environment for diners that is free of small creatures.

    The thing I find the silliest of this though is that siblings, no matter what the age, tend to act up when confined and bored (as in, sitting and waiting in a restaurant). It’s not an “age” thing, it’s really just understanding kids will be kids.

  3. Cathy Says:

    Also, if a restaurant is not friendly towards kids, I would rather know up front. There is this restaurant we used to frequent until I realized that we would always wait forever for a table (likely hoping we’d just leave and go elsewhere) and when we finally got seated it was invariably in the far back near the kitchen. It became clear after a few visits that this place did not want kids – so we don’t eat there anymore. They just don’t deserve my dollar.

  4. BigLittleWolf Says:

    I always find it interesting to see where kids are “disallowed” – and by whom. Even before I had children (and used to travel on business), I may have been annoyed if a baby screamed on a long flight, but I certainly didn’t think the parents (and child) had no right to be there. Babies cry. Kids get fussy. That’s life.

    And given that my kids are half-European, they were hauled on transatlantic flights from the time they were infants, including through their toddler years and antsy preschool years. Occasionally they were uncomfortable and fussed; mostly, they learned and were fine.

    As for restaurants, I brought them as babies, as toddlers, as little kids. I will say if either fussed, I left. You can’t exit an airplane; you can exit a restaurant. But BAN children from a restaurant? I find that absurd.

    Then again, you should pop over to Motherlode and read the various posts and comments on the woman with the crying baby on the overseas flight. The adults are – in my view – ridiculous.

    What we need is common sense – not banning kids from restaurants or first class flights. Common sense, and community.

  5. Gale Says:

    Cathy – You make a good point about restaurants making their kid-policies known up front. I suppose I would rather be told not to come than to be allowed in the door and treated poorly. The flip side, though, is that if restaurants aren’t going to set an age minimum then they have no right to treat some patrons poorly just because they don’t like having kids around.

    BLW – Common sense and community. Exactly.

  6. Ana Says:

    BigLittleWolf, I was going to bring up the Motherlode post. The comments were kind of scary and disheartening. To see the lack of community and compassion exhibited by adults (some with children themselves) was chilling. Some suggested—seriously— that this poor mother get home from France via train and BOAT (!!!) or charter her own plane. All to prevent the inconvenience of the fellow airline passengers.

    I agree that an individual restaurant has a right to set its own policies, but I do find such overarching policies overkill, and worry about other restaurants and businesses following along.

    I guess what I’ve noticed is an overall sense that children should be neither seen nor heard in our communities for fear of offending the delicate sensibilities of others. This spreads to a general intolerance of anyone that isn’t fully able-bodied and well-behaved at all times (the elderly, mentally ill, disabled). There is no sense of community—of wanting to help each other out because who knows when we’ll need the help.

    I take my toddler on planes and to restaurants. And yes, we leave (the restaurant, of course) if he gets disruptive. I shouldn’t be limited to chuck e cheese and the local playground for the next 18 years!

  7. anne Says:

    amen sister! I couldn’t agree more. Out here on the west coast, there are numerous restaurants with “play areas” for kids. On the one hand, I love it. We can go to our favorite bakery and have a cup of coffee while someday our little girl plays in their sandbox. BUT….it also means the child never has to sit still and just…well…be bored sometimes. A blessing and a curse.

  8. BigLittleWolf Says:

    Ana,

    I’m with you 100%! The comments on Motherlode were idiotic. And I’m equally concerned about the level of general intolerance (that goes hand-in-hand with entitlement?).

    (I will admit, though, it’s always amused me to see the number of dogs in restaurants in France and Belgium – sometimes more numerous than children.)

    Great topic, Gale!

  9. Gale Says:

    Anne – You raise an interesting point. Like you, I think it’s great that restaurants be tolerant of kids. The idea of a play area is an interesting one. For very young children, I think it’s probably a good one. I know that there have been plenty of times when we’ve struggled to keep IEP occupied at a table and would have embraced an area where he could run off some energy. But, as you suggest, part of learning how to behave in a more formal setting is actually experiencing that setting. And I wonder if shooing the kids off to a play area undermines that? I imagine that – like many aspects of parenting – it all boils down to how you use it. Is it okay for a three- or four-year-old to get fidgety? Yes. Should a ten-year-old be able to sit through a meal without a jungle gym? Yes again. (The danger with the ten-year-old is not the play area, but the smart phone loaded with games. And that is a whole other issue…)

  10. Kathryn at Good Life Road Says:

    My husband and I have been taking our daughter to restaurants since she was sitting in a Bumbo as the centerpiece. She is four now and completely at ease in restaurants hip/fancy (ie we don’t take her to really high end places)and casual. Sometimes we are the only family there and sometimes there are other brave souls but I do think the exposure to all kinds of situations is good for kids and to some extent the parents too. It’s good to teach yourself how to relax and set a good example even when it’s a bit more challenging. We have been out with friends who were by far more stressful than their kid just because they were constantly thinking their child was going to do something disruptive.