Friday, August 5, 2011

The 3 year old and the Spanish restaurant

In the past few days, I have been hearing many stories of children in restaurants and the discomfort that comes about because of them. In response to this, I have found myself relating - or wanting to relate - this story a number of times. Since the topic seems to be making the rounds now, I thought I would share it with you.

My daughter was 3 years old, and we were in Manhattan (henceforth referred to simply as "the city") to see the circus at Madison Square Garden. My son was only a year old at this point, so it was just my wife, myself and my daughter.

After the show, we decided to visit a small, out of the way Spanish restaurant that we often frequented. It is not in a location where tourists to the city would be, and unless you actually knew about this restaurant you wouldn't simply walk in off the street. It is in the back of what looks like a seedy bar from the outside ... probably because it is a seedy bar on the inside. However, in the back of the bar is a wonderful restaurant. Not high on ambiance, but the food is terrific! It's run and frequented mostly by folks from Spain, though some of us Americans go there as well.

When we entered, we were seated in a small room which can accommodate three parties. One table was empty and the other was occupied by a woman in her 30's (?) dining alone. When we walked in we could see that she was upset by our presence, but continued with her meal and her book.

We ordered, and our food came. As we were finishing our main course, the woman had finished her meal and got up to leave. As she passed our table she stopped and asked us if she could ask a question. "Are you and your daughter American?" I thought that was an unusual question, but was pleased to answer, in the affirmative of course. She then responded by telling us that she had never seen an American child, especially one so young, sit through an entire meal as well behaved as ours did. Needless to say we thanked her and were properly proud of our daughter at that moment. (Not the first or last time we were of course. We still are!)

In our case, with both of our children, we started bringing them to restaurants, and other places, when they were very young ... well under a year old. As such, they were used to being in those places and situations, and were not overwhelmed. They were also taught right away what was acceptable behavior and what was not. We were lucky parents in that they learned those lessons early and well. Today, I see children being brought into restaurants who clearly do not know how to behave. I have seen video players immediately placed on the table (and played at high volumes!) to keep the child occupied. I suppose this is easier than actually teaching the child restaurant manners and proper behavior. Video players have a time and a place, but I don't think a restaurant is one.

I will admit that there are times I do see parents trying their best to have their child behave in an appropriate manner, but for one reason or another their efforts do not work. However, all too often I see parents who simply allow a child to do whatever they want, regardless of the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of the behavior. These are the parents who have stopped parenting in my opinion and are deserving of the dirty stares and harsh words they may encounter. Though my children were generally well behaved in restaurants, there were times when things did not go smoothly, perhaps they were tired, or not feeling well, or just plain uncomfortable for some reason. In that case, either my wife or myself would remove them from the surroundings so that they would not interfere with the dining pleasure of others.

How do you feel about this?

For another take on this topic, please read my friend Tania's blog.


  1. I would say that these days my kids do pretty well in restaurants. There are ages that seem much more awkward than others - that point where they become incredibly determinedly mobile! We go to restaurants that are family friendly, not fine dining and I am happy that in California that there are plenty of these. I find that the grumps are generally grumps no matter what. One thing that really does help is bringing along some crayons and paper or books - my kids have managed to be engaged for long periods of time with these simple tools when we have had to wait for another group to join us before beginning a meal. And that has drawn compliments. Of course there have been other times when absolutely nothing works and going outside for a bit is the only option.
    We have no DS (hand held mobile) players in this house. I feel similarly although I am sure there are some kids in some situations where it is a lifesaver - but when it is just the automatic thing to do then I agree that it is yuck.

  2. Yes, I agree about crayons being a wonderful way to occupy them. Many kid friendly restaurants supply them as soon as a child is seated, and that's a wonderful thing. My grandtwins will stay occupied with crayons and paper for quite a while as well.

  3. I do agree with you, Mark, and Michelle too.

    My kids are by no means perfect, but I do always try to encourage/remind them of the correct behaviour in these situations. Of course, they get bored easily if food takes a while to come. We will play small games, or give them pencils/paper, or if needed one of us will take them outside for a walk.

    We only take them to restaurants that are kid-friendly too. I just think it's unfair to expect small children to behave like an adult in situations that aren't kiddy oriented. Our regular places have "boardrooms" (as we call them), play rooms, for the kids which makes things more enjoyable for everyone.

    I understand that sometimes you might have to take the kids for a meal when they're tired/cranky/whatever, but at least make an effort to encourage them to behave appropriately. It's those ones who ignore the carry-on that give all parents a bad name.

  4. We don't take the kids out to restaurants because a) they're so fussy they hardly eat anything, and b) they never go to the play room unless one of us goes with them, which kind of defeats the purpose.

    I love going to restaurants, however. It's one of my favourite pastimes. So I'm looking forward to it becomming a regular family event when they've outgrown the fussy stage. I hope they do!!

  5. Not all parents are skilled at parenting!

  6. we went to a very good restuarant last night to celebrate an important family event and in tow had 10 yo twins, a 7 yo and a 3 yo all of whom managed a close to 3 hour meal/occasion without crayons/books or anything else simply by talking with the adults around them and catching up with one another. Must say it makes me very proud to think that my 3 did this and were a positive influence on the 3 yo at the same time. It is a case of exposure, timing and patience and definite correction when they are doing the wrong thing. We frequently talk about the need for restaurant manners which is not to say we don't expect manners at home it just means we expect a higher level of behaviour that is considerate to others who are eating there as well. Sarnicad

  7. Kids misbehaving at a restaurant is a reflection on the parents, not the kids.

    I'd tell you about bringing my kids out, but I think I've done this a couple of times with you.

  8. Rob - yep ... I believe Gia was just about a year old the first time I was in a restaurant with you. Your kids are a joy.