The Problem with Children in Restaurants (Hint: It’s Not the Kids, It’s You)
A quick perusal of restaurant biz boards like Bitterwaitress and Stained Apron reveal a disturbing consensus in the world of servers: They loathe when you bring your kids to their restaurants.
Behind her welcoming smiles and thoughtful little gestures (Milk? High chair?), your friendly waitress is actually hating your breeder guts. Why? Because she’s just mean? Or are her complaints based in reality?
Now, I’m gonna be all alone on this—no chef, GM, or maître d’ will go on record as anti-kid. You might as well ask them come out against puppies and Christmas. But as a restaurant-world veteran and the mother of a toddler, I’m going to offer my opinion on this hotbed Westchester dining issue. Why don’t servers like parents with children?
Here’s a roundup of the usual complaints:
• Tables with children require extra attention—common extras include fetching high chairs, heating bottles, off-menu orders (pasta with butter and cheese or half-portions), rush orders, straws, and lidded cups. There are tons more.
• Often, tables with small children require a huge amount of extra cleanup—including wiping down chairs, high chairs, and banquettes; carpet-sweeping debris; mopping up spilled drinks; and on and on.
• Tables with children usually have significantly lower tabs than all-adult tables. Consequently, their tips are lower. Why? Parents typically don’t drink much alcohol when dining with their children. Kids’ meals traditionally cost much less than adult meals. Often, appetizers are skipped (along with coffee, cheese plates, whatever), all in an effort to get Junior home without incident.
• Tables with noisy children can elicit complaints from other diners, who may be paying a babysitter 15 bucks an hour to escape their own set of brats. If confronted with a noisy neighboring table, unhappy diners might leave early or tip poorly—both affect your server’s bottom line.
• Let’s just face it: Loving your child is like living with brain damage. Sometimes you cannot recognize the awfulness of his or her behavior. I’ve seen parents with a screaming child turn to childless diners and say, “I’m sorry—it’s just that Junior’s teething. It hurts him so much…” and then look pained while seeking sympathy. Guess what, idiot? Junior needs to leave the restaurant.
• Kids suck at sitting still through long meals—so waiters might have to dodge kids squirming under tables or wandering into waiter drag strips (under the radar of a server carrying three entrees on his arm). Parents often take fussy kids “for a walk” around the restaurant, which disrupts other diners and clogs server highways.
All reasonable, but what can parents do? No one wants to be doomed to fast-food joints or sticky-table “family” restaurants. Here are my Dos and Don’ts for dining with kids:
Don’t take your child to a restaurant that’s not 100 percent, perfectly suitable. If you’re not sure, call the restaurant and ask if many other parents visit with their kids. Ask whether the restaurant has high chairs or booster seats. Ask if half portions are available for kids. Avoid the loaded question, “Is your restaurant child-friendly?” In an effort to avoid sounding child-hating (child-friendly’s opposite), the staffer answering the phone may not accurately represent the truth.
Don’t take your kids to a restaurant late in the evening. Not only is your child more likely to be cranky, but diners at 8 pm or 9 pm are less kid-tolerant than the 5:30 to 6:30 crowd.
Don’t push it. Save the three-hour, multi-course dinner for when you have a babysitter. If you need to “walk Junior around” the restaurant, then you probably need to go home.
Don’t expect your child to code switch. If his usual dinner is a five-minute affair conducted in the glow of SpongeBob, then you can’t expect him to sit still through a leisurely meal in a restaurant.
Do bring an activity bag with coloring books and crayons, muted electronic games, or whatever you can find that’s both absorbing and utterly noiseless. (I know electronic games are touchy, but give your kid a break. He probably didn’t read that New Yorker piece that you’re discussing.)
Do train your kids to eat dinner like adults as soon as they’re ready. Sit in the dining room, light a couple of candles, turn off the television, use cloth napkins, discuss (and demonstrate!) table manners. They’ll be more likely to “get it” the next time you need them to be well behaved.
Do empathize with your server. Realize that, as a parent toting a child, your tab will probably be significantly lower than at all adult tables. Plus, you’ll probably require more work. Tip lavishly, and make efforts to keep your area tidy.
Do know when to pull the plug. When your child is miserable, you’re miserable, and then dinner is doomed. Might as well go home and try again later.
Parties are Back!
After the August events desert (when calendar writers like me are left to hopelessly scratch gravel), local parties are popping back onto the schedule. Dust off your party shoes and get out on the town.
A Fountain of Music at Le Fontane Ristorante
Thursday, September 23 7 pm – This Katonah standard will celebrate its 20th year with dinner and dancing— expect the Gerard Carelli Trio to perform Gershwin, Porter, Buble, and Sinatra. An à la carte menu of La Fontane favorites will be available.
Smuttynose at the Birdsall House
Sunday, September 26 5 pm – The plaid-clad beer boys at Birdsall House are welcoming New Hampshire-based Smuttynose for a party. Polish up your vintage frames and don that Western-yoked plaid shirt—this is going to be a hipster hoedown.
Evening at Stonewall Pond for Forever Families
September 23 – Six local restaurants are joining forces to benefit Forever Families, a Rye Brook-based agency that helps build “forever families” through adoption. The event will take place in a Greenwich, Connecticut, estate, and food will be provided by Sonora, Morgans Fish House, Ruby’s Oyster Bar, Barcelona Wine Bar, The Melting Pot, and Café Mirage.
Doh! Pleasantville’s Mr. Donut Offers Krispy Kreme Klones!
Do you remember that golden moment when Krispy Kremes were the rage du jour, when drunk clubsters on West 24th Street queued up as soon as the “Hot” sign lit up? (That line was always the place to be.) Those light, oddly gooey, fried treats soon showed up at Starbucks—and then, you could find them practically anywhere on the planet. Overexpansion drew the inevitable crash, and Krispy Kreme addicts were left hanging without their hexagonal glazed. Why, now those poor addicts have to travel to frikken Uncasville, Connecticut, to get a hot Krispy Kreme fix.
Krispy Kreme may be gone, but Pleasantville’s Mr. Donut is offering a reasonable facsimile. Check out these squared-off, light, and weirdly gooey donuts fresh from the fryer. The only thing that I’m missing is the “Hot” sign and that line. Say, I wonder what happened to that nice man in the see-through plastic pants?
501 Marble Ave, Pleasantville
Finally, Chappaqua Spawns a “Cheftestant.” Way to Go, Chappaqua!
Check out this Fox and Friends clip on YouTube of local boy Seth Caro making bacon donuts. Caro, who cooked at Perilla and Grayz, , will be competing on Top Chef’s pastry spinoff, Just Desserts. I don’t know about you guys, but these donuts kinda make me feel dirty (in a good way).