No one enjoys listening to crying children while they're dining out, and parents are no exception.
Mindful parents - and there are many of them - know the drill when it comes to eating out with children. They stick to family friendly restaurants, know the signs of an oncoming outburst and won’t hesitate to scoop up their children at first wail. That is if they decide to take the kids out in the first place.
Those parents wish restaurants didn’t need to publicly state policies for dealing with unruly children or even ban them outright. They shudder when the media shines a spotlight on establishments that go that route; the controversy gives parents a bad name.
“I think it's unfortunate that a restaurant would need written rules,” said Britt Reints, a freelance writer and mother of two. “I can only imagine that comes after having too many parents not respect the dining experience of other patrons.”
The controversy was reignited last week after Grant Central Pizza in Atlanta added a disclaimer to its menu asking parents to take crying children outside, out of respect to fellow patrons.
Whenever a restaurant assumes a public stance on dealing with unruly children, it risks alienating customers. But it’s a chance more and more restaurants are willing to take, with increasing support from the parenting and non-parenting public.
“I have children and I support grant central's policy 300 percent. I wish more eating establishments had the good decency to stand up and say no more to uncontrolled and undiciplined [sic] children,” one commenter said on the restaurant’s Facebook page, where owners thanked people for supporting them “during this nationwide controversy.”
“We plan to eat in at Grant Central more often now. Thank you! We love kids, but parents need to take responsibility for occasional bad behavior,” another commenter said.
McDain’s Restaurant and Golf Center in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, drew national attention last summer after deciding to ban children under six. Less than a year later, owner Mike Vuick said he is reaping the benefits of a sound business decision: sales are up 22 percent and he’s looking for more wait staff.
The restaurant lost some regular customers, but they were replaced by a new crop of customers searching for a relaxed atmosphere, according to Vuick.
“We’ve had nothing but quiet dinners, and not a day goes by that I don’t get e-mails from people thanking me or congratulating me,” he said.
A number of factors played into the decision. Increasingly, parents seemed unwilling to stop children from running around the dining room or remove them if they were screaming or making noise. Polite nudging from staff was met with indignant responses, and in extreme cases, people stiffing them on checks.
“I did it on behalf of parents who left their children at home expecting to have a nice dinner at a quiet venue,” Vuick said. “I knew it could backfire but it was a risk I was willing to take because I felt there would be enough people who’d appreciate what I was doing.”
He has nothing against children, he says; it’s just a function of the kind of business he wanted to run.
“There are plenty of places where families can go and it’s implicit that the dining experience will be subjected to noise and they have coloring books and playgrounds,” he said. “There are plenty of those around and only a handful of places like mine.”
Indeed, some chains have family friendly built into their brand. For example, some parents go to The Cheesecake Factory because they know that children who require high chairs will be greeted with the complimentary “baby plate” sliced banana, freshly baked bread and an orange as soon as they are seated.
“The Cheesecake Factory strives to provide our guests with phenomenal service, and servers are trained to customize their approach for each situation, focusing extra attention on the needs of families with young children,” spokeswoman Susan Pasarow said in an e-mail.
Simply providing a children’s menu and crayons also goes a way, blogger and mom Rebecca Levey said. Other necessities include high-chairs, amenability to customized menu items like plain pasta, fast service, plastic cups and stroller parking, she said.
Responsible parents also travel with an arsenal of toys and electronic devices to keep kids occupied, she said.
“Families tend to travel in similar circles,’ said Levey, who runs the site, KidzVuz.com, which lets children rate and recommend games. “Parents tend to know the places that can accommodate them. because most don’t want to be in the position.”
Family friendly places are also prime training grounds for instilling manners, Reints said, from treating wait staff courteously and saying please and thank you to speaking in a low voice and using good manners.
“I think the key thing is to take your kids to restaurants often if you want them to learn how to behave,” she said. “The more experience kids having in these public spaces, the easier it is to bring kids to less "family friendly" restaurants, knowing your children will know how to behave.”
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