If you ever want to start an argument about something other than politics or vaccinations, I invite you to discuss banning children from restaurants. That’ll get the ball rolling, real quick.

I happened upon this topic again recently when I read about a restaurant that banned children ages five and under from its dining room. It happened two years ago at a North Sydney restaurant, another incident like it made news in New York City last year, and yet another cropped up this week.

“I had several customers complain, get up and leave because children were bothering them, and the parents were doing nothing,” said the owner.

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I remember when my youngest was just in a high chair, which he loathed. He would squirm and squawk and have a fit, and a plate of food put on the tray in front of him would become ammunition he’d hurl in random directions. My oldest was about eight at the time, hyper, impatient, rambunctious. I remember taking them to a restaurant in Lower Sackville, where we lived. We hadn’t been out to eat since having the baby, and it was a treat to get out, or so we thought.

We spent so much time worrying about keeping the kids quiet and stressing out about the massive failure of our efforts that we ended up asking for the food to go and bailing out.

Were the other patrons upset that a baby was fussy, or that a little boy was talking loudly? Who knows. It was undoubtedly more noticeable to us than any other customers, and the staff certainly didn’t make us feel unwelcome. Whether or not it ruined our outing, the last thing anyone needed was a crying baby and a pile of noodles mixed with broken Crayons under the seat. We were just trying to be considerate of people who had paid to enjoy a nice meal and wanted to prevent our kids from ruining their experience, and the wait staff’s night.

I was a waitress for many years, back in the day and again not so long ago, and I can tell you the attitudes have changed when it comes to parents taking kids to restaurants. People don’t scoop their unruly kids up and head out, not anymore.

With exceptions, people seem to think they can take their kids to a restaurant and as long as they’re paying for the food and service, the rest of us had better hunker down for the racket and suck it up for the duration of their visit.

Both as a waitress and as a customer, I have seen kids scream, throw things, take off their clothes, run full speed around the dining room, approach other tables, grind food into the floor, wander into the kitchen, and dozens of other things they shouldn’t be doing. And all while parents looked on, or didn’t even pay attention.

And see, that’s the problem – not the kids, the parents. You have to be aware of your child’s limits when planning outings. If you know they are going to have a hard time sitting still for an hour and probably flip out when you try to reason with them, maybe don’t go to a busy Italian restaurant and order drinks and appetizers. If they missed their nap this afternoon, avoid a 7 p.m. dinner seating. If they get antsy on large amounts of sugar, don’t hop them up on ice cream sundaes so you can finish your wine.

If this seems insensitive, I’m sorry-not-sorry. Kids are going to act up, it’s not their fault. It might not even be yours. But the thing is, it’s definitely not mine, nor is it that waiter’s, nor is it any other patron’s. And if anyone has to sacrifice their dining experience, it’s only fair that we use a Darwinian approach to decide who.

Look, I know how difficult children can be at restaurants, even those who are normally well behaved. I understand the challenges of having young children and failing despite your best efforts to keep them well-behaved in public, and I understand, too, how certain segments of society hold unrealistic expectations of children’s behaviour.

But too often I see parents who allow their children to run wild, or who think their child’s antics are funny, or some who are overwhelmed and determined to take a break at the expense of other diners.

Until someone lays down the law, the well-behaved many will continue to pay for the wayward few. I’d lay blame with inconsiderate parents, not conscientious business owners.

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Gina MacDonald is a freelance columnist, mother and wife who lives outside Port Hawkesbury.