Lunchtime poll – families behaving badly
December 14th, 2010
01:00 PM ET
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Remember when we had kvetch week a while back and all manner of folks weighed in on the myriad ways their fellow diners/shoppers/drinkers/party-goers collectively curdle their cream?

Yeah, we're back in that place. Perhaps it's the free-flowing boozeahol at seasonal soirees, the stress of the season or the overwhelming dynamic of the undifferentiated family ego mass that our shrink keeps going on about (at the tune of $100 an hour), but holy heck, have we run into some badly-behaved families out at dinner in the last short while.

Most notably, this past Friday, a multi-generational group of approximately two-dozen people, clearly out for their annual holiday soiree, screamed, bloviated and otherwise harshed the mellow of the other patrons in our local bistro for the better part of an hour, completely oblivious to anyone's happiness but their own. We sat at our table as members of the family smashed up against us, chatting in the aisles, kid picking his nose and licking his finger, adults screeching back and forth over the tops of our heads about health matters, the whereabouts of Rina's coat and where that lazy, lazy waitress was with Grandpa's leftovers.

As said server was impeded in the blocked-up aisles, we sat there, getting hungrier and hungrier, getting whacked on the shoulders by swinging gift bags and increasingly, unwillingly intimate with the minutiae of these strangers' lives as they took their sweet time to collect themselves and leave. By the time the food arrived, our mood was thoroughly spoiled (as we could tell was that of those at tables nearby) and we just wanted to leave.

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soundoff (222 Responses)
  1. D

    My response to the unruly family would be to "get a room"...yes, that's right...if they are going to have a party and disturb everyone, they should have reserived a separate dining room or area. The restaurant management should have also given them an ultimatum (did I spell it right? If not, nick pick til you knock yourself out, I dont care!) to ship up or ship out. If the Barbarian family can't behave, they should stay at home.

    December 23, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
  2. SoSueMe

    Why wasn't this family of heathens simply given a private room, with a door? While we're at it, let's remember that when children behave badly in public, it's because they are not taught at home. No one should be so polite or politically correct so as to have their evening ruined due to the lack of breeding of others. Take a stand.

    December 16, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
  3. Lauren

    Large family groups are just awkward. As a teenager, I went to a small, bistro-type restaurant for my aunt's wedding rehearsal dinner. There were probably forty of us–and some of my cousins were completely obnoxious. The owner complained to the bride and groom, who were humiliated. My grandparents were both infuriated. But the parents of these cousins just ignored them. It was the most horrible example of disregarding other people's feelings that I have ever seen. Probably all of the above tactics in the poll were employed in this situation–except calling out the parents. But no one in my family really wanted to start a fight. Except my grandmother, who told the offending parents that their kids were bad after leaving the restaurant. So–sometimes the offending behavior has been noted. And I avoid public places with certain family members to this day!

    December 15, 2010 at 10:37 am |
  4. Mary

    When the hostess takes us to our table, I scan the area to see if there are any large party tables nearby. If there are, I ask for a different table. If someone brings something to your table and you need a drink, ask him instead of hoping that your server will check on you. In fact, order another even if you don't need it right away. It also helps if the waiter knows that you are a good tipper. They don't want you to get so annoyed that you may not come back. If it's a restaurant that you've had good experiences with in the past, just walk over to the bar and get your own drink. And unless you're a masochist, don't order dessert.
    I live in a town where we get tourists every winter so during the season, I like to look for restaurants that are a little out of the way. I go back to my regular places when the tourists go home and then the staff is glad to see me.

    December 15, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  5. Emmaleah

    As a former nanny and former waitress, I taught my child to behave at restaurants. Sadly, you can't retrain a lot of adults.

    If you want a well-behaved child at a restaurant–teach them! First, have "Fancy Nights" at home. Candles, napkins, even menus. It'll make your tuna casserole extra special.

    Later, take your child out after they've eaten a meal, after they've napped, and go somewhere nice. Follow the same routine as Fancy Night. Order appetizers to share. It shouldn't cost you much and it'll be worth every penny. Keep up the routine, and figure out what toys and activities are best for your kid at this time.

    You can even do this at McD's. Take them out after they've played, eaten, and been to the toilet. Put out napkins like you would at home. Take them in line, order sundaes or something small, then go sit and eat. Even children with behavioural delays can benefit from this–autistic children really benefit from learning a routine in new situations. If you find a good local restaurant, you can make it a familiar place for your child; talk to the staff and explain what you're doing. People are usually excited to be part of improving a disabled child's life. Then, you'll always have a place to go with in-laws, parents, and friends.

    Go when there's no stress on you or them. Kids love it. And you will love the compliments you get when you take them out to a big dinner.

    For adults, the best ideas are to have alcohol-free meals (kids don't need to get the idea that alcohol is part of socializing) and to make sure that hard-of-hearing attendees are seated at the center of activities. Also, ask to have the ambient music turned down–it can make it very hard for older people to hear and they raise their voices as a result. To make a meal go smoothly, arrange a 'family menu' with the restaurant. Many are happy to serve family style meals and it makes things easy on everyone.

    Happy eating–and good luck not ending up in the same place and time as THAT family.

    December 15, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  6. Ma Kettle

    If a group were mildy annoying I would say go about your business and maybe a disappointed look on their way out to shame them. But this sounds extremely rowdy for a diner. I would have likely excused the first bump but said something to the people bumping if it happened again. If that had no positive effect I would seek the manager to find a solution. If said manager could/would not I'd walk out – but would be sure to give the waiter a tip – he did do his job to his ability after all.

    I have 7 children and we love to go to restaurants when the opportunity presents. My children are rather well behaved and receive frequent compliments on their behavior. We've even had waitresses bring us a paid bill more than once stating another patron paid it already with a compliment on a delightful family.

    The problem is not just parents. It's also the people who encourage parents to NOT dine at restaurants with young children. These children who are rowdy may not know table manners but more often they DO have table manners at home. The problem comes up when a child's sole experience of restaurants is fast food places that indeed ENCOURAGE poor mealtime behavior. If you want children to sit at a table and learn manners DON'T eat in a playground. McDonald's has a separate eating area outside the playlands. Teach your children to sit patiently at a table to wait for their food, eat their food with table manners, and after the table is cleared THEN visit the playground. So when they sit in a proper restaurant it's not a foreign experience, just a new place with familiar rules. And of course let your children see you CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF. Yes, restaurants do employ cleaning staff and the busboy clears the table. But there is no excuse to allow your child to throw food under the table and leave slop on the table top. Keep the mess to a minimum and pick up after yourselves. It only takes a moment to put your child's food back on the plate and pick up the trash you allowed him to throw under the table. A dropped spoon can wait til the meal is over but if your child is dropping mashed potatoes all around their seat and the carpet it's time to remove the plate and hand him a more easily cleaned cracker. Busboys clean dishes, they aren't your personal maid for the meal.

    If your family has a tendency to be rowdy at the holiday meal (and yes, you certainly should have some clue of the possibility from past years experience) then you should plan accordingly and book a private room or request seating that is not in the main area. And if you arrive at a restaurant and your kids start acting up or making excessive noise then you should do your job and PARENT THEM. Whether you spend your meal standing outside with a wailing toddler or have your food boxed for take-out it's your job and going to a restaurant doesn't make you any less responsible for their behavior.

    Parents who don't teach these things to their kids make others cringe when my large family walks in. It's just assumed that the last little uncontrolled brat experience will be multiplied by 7. I'm proud to say that we're doing our best to change that stereotype and leaving compliments in our wake. OK, off my soap box. Enjoy your dining experiences!

    December 15, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  7. Jennifer

    If family is clearly invading MY family's space (bags hit over the head, kids running around us, etc), then something will be said to them, like it or not!!
    I see this way too much when going out, and it's a shame the lack of control parents have over their kids. They let them run around like imbeciles forgetting they are in a damn restaurant and not a playground!!!
    The whole etiquette thing starts at home; if parents act like heathens then so will the kids! Table manners are a MUST!!!

    December 15, 2010 at 1:03 am |
  8. cindy

    ridiculous- id say something to manager. then, if necessary, leave. mid meal or not-

    December 15, 2010 at 12:50 am |
  9. Gigi

    I picked 'other' because a polite word to the restaurant manager – who should have intervened and either moved the family to a party room or more secluded area, or asked them politely to respect the other patrons. It's appalling that a manager didn't come around and at least attempt to get them to take it down a notch.

    To anyone who says they have a right to act like that, yes they do – but that doesn't mean they should act like that. The family obviously knows themselves, they should have known they would be a loud boisterous group and booked a party room so they could move around, talk and be boisterous without disturbing other patrons.

    December 14, 2010 at 11:45 pm |
    • Gigi

      I forgot to add, if you are apart of a large group and asked politely to calm down – you should respect the facility you are at and do it. I have seen people start to argue with the manager or waiter who politely asked that they keep it down a bit. I think that is even more rude and obnoxious then being loud to begin with.

      December 14, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
  10. Bub

    I am part of a large family who gets together on a regular basis to celebrate birthdays. I am sure there are some people annoyed with our party of 20 – 30+ but we really don't care. We usually get a corner away from others at a couple of local dives or we reserve a party room at a nice place. We actually meet all kinds of people by inviting those sitting near us to join us for cake and conversation. We also warn the staff that we are coming so they can sit people accordingly or at least warn them. There is one couple we met via cake who always shows up for our December "birthday party" because they know when and where we will be (they are now regulars at the place also).

    December 14, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
  11. tmp

    the dining room is the restaurant managers responsibility. no restaurant is financially in a position to turn away large groups. talk to the manager, point out how much you like the bistro/food/service but if faced with a similar situation you would choose to come back another day. managers will gladly try and move large groups to less busy times, offer a limited price-fix menu to speed up service/billing, put a welcome sign for the group (notify regulars) in the entry/lobby, make grander but softly spoken welcomes, wine and dessert presentations etc., etc., etc, maybe even have the chef come out and say a few words – all to keep control of the mood.

    December 14, 2010 at 10:35 pm |
  12. KellyinCA

    While my husband and I often bring along our daughter to sit-down restaurants (sometimes casual, sometimes formal), we do our best to set for her the right expectation for how to behave and are more than willing to enforce it. A good chunk of her education has been from example – we do our best to ensure that other patrons are able to enjoy their experiences while we enjoy ours – but a good chunk also comes from the art of selection. I find that so-called "family restaurants" are just too overstimulating in general and can be a nightmare when there are lots of children running around. A more formal, quiet setting, on the other hand, makes the dining experience a much calmer and more pleasant experience for all of us.

    December 14, 2010 at 9:41 pm |
  13. LEB

    Speaking as an American, American families behave TERRIBLY in public. When I was in London I stopped at a "family" restaurant for a quick bite (there were Ben & Jerry cartoons playing, so it was clearly kid-oriented), and I was utterly FLOORED by all the families around me who had children sitting properly in their chairs, eating their food nicely, and talking with their other family members. The restaurant was so calm for having so many kids in it... it was eerie. I even praised one little boy to his aunt for being so well-behaved.

    You wouldn't see that in any American restaurant. In restaurants here, the kids get up and run around, throw food, drop food, scream, cry, make a mess of the table, and generally won't stay put unless they're asleep in a carseat. Then on top of that, the parents tip lousy. I think that many American parents have taken the "let kids be kids" attitude rather than "let's teach our kids how to become grown-ups" philosophy. No wonder England sent Supernanny to try to straighten us out!

    December 14, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
  14. Simon and Gar Farkel

    Bad behavior does infringe on the rest of us- those of us who know what is acceptable in public. I go out to a restaurant to enjoy a good meal, relax, but not to be surrounded by obnoxious people with ill-behaved children. As an adjunct to that, I don't so much blame the children as I blame the parents for not controlling them. I agree with Kat that it is the responsibility of the manager to handle the situation. The poor behavior of those guests is affecting everyone else in the restaurant.

    December 14, 2010 at 8:18 pm |
  15. Don

    I would have stood up and stated loudly that I was calling the police and filing charges for disturbing the peace, child endagerment and general stupidity as I dialed 911 on my cell phone.

    December 14, 2010 at 7:10 pm |
  16. spasticherby

    I am a former server, and agree with a lot that is being said. If you, as a customer, dine in an establishment and let your child(ren) run around the dining room as if it's their personal playground, believe me I'm going to say something. Empty tables, booths, crane machines, high chairs, etc. are not there for the purpose of elevating your child to the window so they can smear their handprints all over it. If your child(ren) are running around the dining room, they will most likely get run over unseen by the server carrying YOUR tray of food. My parents taught me to behave ANYWHERE we went regardless of if it was a restaurant or the hardware store. This could be because my mother is a former server. Children now tend to be rude, obnoxious, and unruly. I thank customers when their child(ren) behave, and apologize to the customers that deal with unruly patrons.

    December 14, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
  17. crystal

    something should have been said to the manager. It is their job not the servers to control the guests in the restaurant.

    December 14, 2010 at 6:43 pm |
  18. Kat

    First off, it's not the place of the waiter or waitress to deal with these issues. One should call the manager over and explain that the table(s) in being disruptive and ruining the dinners of everyone in the vicinity. If possible, ask to be moved to a different table. Realizing, however, that not everyone can be moved and, in a small place, it may not make any difference, the manager should then speak to the person responsible for making the offending group's arrangements - or the person obviously in charge. Often that will not make a difference, however, as the group may feel they are spending more money there than the rest of the folks and are, therefore, entitled to do as they please.

    Having worked in the hospitality industry on all levels for years all I can say is sometimes you have to vote with your feet - canceling your order before it is delivered and quietly telling the manager why. Hopefully the will not charge you. But in some cases they will likely still try to do so. You might suggest that they add it to the group's tab as a "tip" for the poor service the rest of your received. Someone did that to me once, when I was a manager at a well-known restaurant.

    December 14, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
    • LEB

      If you complain to the server, they'll probably tell the manager so the manager can deal with it, doncha think?

      December 14, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
  19. Denim

    You should have asked for the manager.

    December 14, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
  20. Scooter

    It depends on the restaurant. If it's casual, then this is probably to be expected (especially around the holidays), but if it's more formal, then I wouldn't expect that kind of behavior to be tolerated. I'm guessing it was the former. I would have asked the waiter for a table far away from the offending patrons, or if that wasn't available, would have left and gone to another restaurant.

    December 14, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  21. 3ID

    I don't like it when your child is screaming over my shoulder. It's not cute. It let's me know that you're a bad parent who probably had children because you wanted to feel like a grownup. You're too scared/lazy/stupid, and most importantly, too selfish and self absorbed to discipline your child because the comfort of others doesn't matter as much as your fear/laziness/stupidity.

    December 14, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
  22. sandyB

    When this happens to us, we ask for the manager and ask to be moved. We're always polite, but we don't take no for an answer.

    It can be quite a production if we've already been served, and if the boisterous party is offended, at least they get the message – and so does management.

    We pay good money for our meals. There's no reason to be held hostage to a bunch of self-centered, rude idiots.

    December 14, 2010 at 6:09 pm |
  23. BB

    Unfortunately, not much you can do that would affect idiots like these...... they seem to think it's their god-given right to act this way, and never consider if they're bothering anyone else...

    December 14, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  24. portlander

    december in the service industry... i'd like to second what another server said above, that those tables with screaming children don't get priority with us because we think they'll tip better... we know better. we know they're not paying for drinks, they're not buying entrees, they're bringing in chicken nuggets from wendy's because our fine dining restaurant doesn't do fried chicken, they're throwing things on the floor and demanding their food right after they order it... unless we can grat (which i am opposed to, by the way), we're not making money on them. in fact, if you're the other table, i'll happily move you somewhere better. i understand not wanting to deal with screaming kids, drunk adults. if it is within my power and you politely ask me, i will gladly find somewhere else for you, away from the fray.

    and parents? please. watch your kids. and don't tell me, "oh, he's fine. whatever." when your kid drops three feet from his chair and hits his head on our slate floor. he's not fine, and you're a bad parent.

    December 14, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  25. S

    Should have gone to the owner/manager. Speaking out with these types of people most likely would not have resulted in anything more than more rudeness and more of their obnoxious behavior. I unfortunately have a co-worker whose family is like this and am SERIOUSLY wondering if it where them. They are very obnoxious people and really don't care about the people around them. Once in a restaurant someone did say something to them and it got worse. When she relayed the story to us at work everyone told her she was wrong and all she did was laugh. Really these type of people just don't care about others and are raising little darlings to mimic them.

    December 14, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
  26. Pork

    Ten bucks says these pricks stiffed the waitress.

    Pun not intended.

    December 14, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
  27. pam

    I would have said something to the manager, or asked the host/hostess to move me to another table.

    December 14, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
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