Thursday, October 2, 2014

Family Dining or Customer Consternation?

Someone was giving a radio report suggesting that there should be child free restaurants. They spoke about whether it's a good idea. Imagine, in this age of inclusion, even suggesting such a thing. I must admit, that there might have been a time when I would have advocated for this. Nowadays, I have come to realize that the idea is not feasible, just, or necessary.

Several things come into play here.  Shouldn't parents have enough common sense to consider these questions? What type of restaurant is best suited to my child, his age and his developmental level? What is the attention span of my child? Have I properly prepared him for this type of setting? Of course, it's always best to begin teaching children at home and then start with a fast food, then family restaurant before attempting a fine dining establishment. Too many people just take their children to restaurants without prior preparation or planning.

Parents ought to be teaching children table manners early on and by early on, I mean as soon as they are near a table in any type of seating. Of course, there's no need to expose a one year old to the fine art of using a knife and fork. At first, they might simply be expected to aim for their mouth and sit for short times without fussing and needing constant attention while their parents are eating.

Part of the problem in some homes is that there's no longer a designated, sit down family eating time. Often children load up their plates and wander off in front of a tv or electronic device, while nibbling. Some are even allowed to go to the hub of all entertainment, their rooms They graze over the offering for the next few hours while their meal becomes cold, curdled and crusty. Parents make excuses and come up with reasons why this is allowed. The children never interact with the family and they can develop habits which are unacceptable in public.

I have sometimes wondered whether there should be limits to behaviour that is tolerated at restaurants. Should management be able to ask unruly families to leave the premises? Where would they draw the line? How about three ear piercing shrieks, one episode of food flinging, one jog around the perimeter of the restaurant and you're out? Should there be a special cash deposit for people with children? After all, why should patrons who want a peaceful evening dining experience be exposed to the lack of parenting skills which cause them anguish and indigestion?

I was at a quiet, dimly lit sushi restaurant with family members a few evenings ago. We had just begun our meal when a couple with two smallish children arrived at the table across the aisle. The first things that were pulled out were the electronic devices. Dad spoke on the phone paying no attention to the children. Mom was playing some sort of game on her device. The older child was punching buttons on the restaurant ipad while yelling out various foods. The younger had his own gaming device which held his interest for about five minutes before the screaming, crawling and yelling began. Dad kept talking on the phone. Mom checked the restaurant ipad food order. The other child started to outshout the younger. It was chaos and made me wonder whether the same sort of activities existed when they were eating at home.

My daughter suggested that the problem was not the electronics, but rather the lack of previously taught social skills. I agreed but only in part. I think it's a combination of the two. I reminded her that she was removed from restaurants for misbehaving a few times.  One parent always made the five minute sacrifice to take her to the car, have a timeout and a chat.  Also, no matter how busy we were as a family we were certain to sit together most dinner times. That's not to say we were perfect, but at least we made the effort.

So there's my opinion. Teach children dining behaviour at home so that the skills translate to restaurants. Talk to them about expectations prior to going out. It will save a lot of annoyance and will prevent ridiculous suggestions like child free restaurants. On the other hand, perhaps we first need to educate some adults about how to behave in a restaurant.

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