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Monday, October 5, 2009

Table for 2.5?

On Saturday night two of my grown-up (read: responsible) friends took their 10-year-old son out to dinner with them at Piccolo in North Hobart.

Reportedly, as they walked in the door, the whole room looked up with concern, as would I have done if a younger person threatened to ruin my dining experience in an upmarket (read: expensive) establishment just by their very presence.

We are talking about one very civilized 10-year-old, not a screaming toddler. So civilized he ordered from the menu - no requests for chicken nuggets and chips here - he sat up straight, he ordered politely and he never made a fuss. Why not? Because he's 10, not three, and his parents have raised him to be a polite and well mannered young man.

So why shouldn't my friends be able to take their son with them to a nice restaurant for a nice meal, if he will enjoy the evening as much as they would? Their son after all, did not behave like a child. The were home at a reasonable hour, not sitting at the bar sinking gin and tonics (as I would have been) while their bored child played Gameboy. Society dictates that restaurants are the domain of grown-ups (as they are, most kids find them terribly dull) on a Friday and Saturday evening, but perhaps their is room in our restaurant circle for a few well mannered young guests, no?

Behavior is the key. I for one would be perfectly happy to sit at a table next to a young adult who was behaving like an adult. And I for one would expect nothing less from my (currently imaginary) children.

My friend tells me that during their very enjoyable evening a number of customers commented on their son's very good behavior, as did the staff as they were leaving. She also tells me this happens fairly frequently.

This I like. God knows I know bugger all about parenting, but I think my friends are definitely doing something right. And the world needs more little boys like this one, because good kids grow up to be good customers, hallelujah.


Marc said...

I agree, its great to hear this. While I don't have kids, my sister does have three gorgeous girls and they have been frequent diners at a range of eating establishments. They can sit politely at more formal establishments, or run around and have fun at more causal child-friendly locations. It is no accident that they are well behaved, and it is no accident that other children misbehave.. My nieces know about respect for them-self and those around them, and they know right from wrong. Yes they will grow up to make good customers, but also great people and parents when their time comes.

I welcome more well mannered children in the venues I eat at.

steve said...

Interesting post Maggie & one that has excited much opinion in the past.

I like to see kids in restaurants. I also like the parents to guage when their offspring are entering the more 'needy' zone. This zone can have adverse effects on other diners enjoyment. Restaurants can help here. get the kids meals out early, get them fed then give them something to occupy themselves when the adults get their meals. crayons, pencils, paper etc

Conversley, if you are a parent or guardian of young children the last thing you want to deal with when you go out on a well planned, rare, child care-paid-for night out is the possibility of someone else's kids running amok.

The problem is that it is a social taboo to enforce a code of behaviour on kids in communal dining situations. If more people were aware & respectful of other people in the room they would make the appropriate decisions to maximise everyones enjoyment.

Some pious parents believe that inflicting their childrens behaviour on other diners is simply based on the monetry exchange for the service & the food. What these people dont equate is the simple act of being polite & showing some universal form. If your toddler or baby is screeching, remove yourself & them from the room & leave everyone else in peace. You know what, its not their problem just because its yours to deal with.

Kids are unpredictable but some common sense rules need to be observed when taking them out.
If they are tired you are asking for trouble. Same goes if they are hungry or bored. Make sensible arrangements to minimise the possibility that they might erupt into a banshee of chaos.
the golden rule is: Its YOUR responsibility, not the restaurants.

Lisa said...

Most excellent write-up on a very touchy subject.

I have twins who are 4 1/2. When they eat at home, it is off stoneware with regular utensils, not plastic plates with pictures of cars or donkeys or what-not, and they use the same drinking glasses (albeit juice-size) as everyone else. They are used to this kind of environment so, when we have ventured out into restaurants, they are not surprised by the table settings. They are asked what they want and I find something appropriate for them on the full menu because, let's be real, kid's menus are usually crap. We have been very lucky each time to have had servers who watched the interaction and recognized the boys as diners, not nuisances, and we've been very lucky not to have had any meltdowns. In fact, several times one or both boys have asked me why babies are crying or other kids are running around. I also make sure that it's an appropriately paced meal: no apps or desserts, just one course, a beverage, in and out. Kids get cranky when they're expected to sit for extended periods and, if you faff about, you'll pay the price.

Yeah, I've been damn lucky.

I also have never taken them to a fast-food joint. They've never seen the inside of a McDonald's, Burger King, etc., so they haven't been exposed to the rather frantic and unpleasant experience one gets whilst eating in those places.

I personally feel that it is my responsibility if I take them out for a nice meal to keep them well-behaved and properly settled. In a store, I've left a full cart behind when one or both have had a meltdown because I refuse to let them make asses out of themselves. They've gotten the hint and shopping trips are now, for the most part, fairly quick and pleasant.

So yeah, kids belong with adults but it must be recognized that they do not behave the same way and that we, as the adults, must take this into account before we venture out in public with them.

Rita said...

Coincidentally I too was dining at Piccolo last Sat night, but was at the second sitting (8.15 pm), and presume the child would have been at the first sitting.

Like Marc, I too welcome well behaved kids wherever I'm eating, but there's nothing guaranteed to upset me more whilst trying to digest than a crying-screaming baby/child nearby. This happened a few weeks back at The Grain on a hectic Sat night. The crying went on for ages, and even though the parents eventually took the poor soul home, we the punters had been subjected to this distressed wailing for quite a while beforehand.

Others might be able to selectively not hear this baby crying, but as a mum who has nursed 5 children, I can hear the implied 'voice' of this crying child, and empathise with it wholeheartedly.

Being an adult also, who understands the desire to eat out occasionally with friends, I know why the parents have chosen that particular path, but it DOES make it hard on others to fully enjoy their experience.

Susannah said...

A touchy subject indeed - and I can understand why. In a sense, children are seen as public property, and everyone has an opinion on appropriate parenting. (dare i say, especially the childless?).

People (and this even includes children) learn by seeing and doing. If our children never visit civilized restaurants, how are they ever to learn the delights of fine dining?

When my children were small, dining at home was always a family event - something we did together, sitting up at a table. Toddlers could handle this for short periods of time, and by the time my two were about 4 and 7 respectively, they were quite capable of sitting at our dining table, participating in family conversation, and eating a civilised meal.

Equally, they could also do the same at a restaurant. We chose the venues, and the timing, with some care, to ensure that our family had a positive experience without disturbing other diners. Italian restaurants were favourites, both in terms of the menus and the general atmosphere. My children behaved well, enjoyed the food, and we would have a normal family conversation. As they got older, the range of restaurants we chose expanded (my son at about 11 developed quite a passion for sashimi).

The children we have seen in restaurants who are not behaving well seem to be those for whom the dining experience is not familiar. They do not seem to be familiar with sitting still, and don't seem to be included in the interaction at the table. And they put on a turn about the food, perhaps because they are unfamiliar with good food.

The story of the well behaved 10 year old at Piccolo. It sounds as if he has been educated to be a civilised diner, able to participate in an entirely appropriate way. When we complain about the lack of interest in good food, we should remember that the appreciation of good food and good dining experiences is something that needs to be fostered and encouraged. By watching, and doing.

Lisa said...

Great insight, Susannah. I'd love to eat with your children (maybe mine could learn a thing or two!).

Susannah said...

my dear little children are now 23 and 20. My son no longer lives at home, but sometimes visits for dinner, sometimes bringing takeaway sushi (with plenty of raw tuna). Daughter, at uni and still living at home, cooks dinner for the family two or three times a week.

They still have nice table manners!