Bad behavior shouldn't be babied at restaurants

Parents take note: Your delightful little darlings aren't welcome in every dining room.

That's the unsubtle message to patrons at Shake's Old Fisherman's Grotto on Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey.

As a mom of two mostly well-behaved toddlers, I absolutely support the spirit of the Northern California restaurant's policy.

A sign at the restaurant reads "Children crying or making loud noises are a distraction to other diners, and as such are not allowed in the dining room." (I think I might have a sign like this made up for our dining room, too.)


This story has been making the rounds of news sites and social media recently, highlighting parental outrage. But this parent is outraged that this is even an issue.

What's wrong with a restaurant setting a behavior code along with a dress code? And they aren't saying no to all kids -- even if they are saying no to child-specific accommodations such as strollers, high chairs and booster seats. They are saying no to unruly children.

The restaurant's site actually features a comment from a patron thanking them for helping the family celebrate her 9-year-old daughter's birthday.

In my circles, replete with parents across cultures and generations, most everyone agrees: Meltdowns make for a most unpleasant dining experience -- even when the kids are yours.

Who wants to be assaulted by wailing and screeches while trying to savor a $45 lobster tail melting in your mouth with a $345 bottle of Opus One? I'll take the hum of pleasant conversation accented by violins and reserve those other strains for a hot dog outside Costco or split pea soup at Norm's. Heck, I get that for free at home; why would I want to pay for that while I'm out?

But it's not only about getting a peaceful dining experience because you're spending lots of money. The restaurant says it wants to provide a certain dining experience for all of its patrons, and it has the right to curate its clientele, within reason, to accomplish that. I think it's a stretch to call this age discrimination, as some are.

There are plenty of family-friendly dining rooms, including the one at home, to accommodate the mercurial fluctuations children can experience. Not every venue needs to be part of the village raising our kids. We can do a little prep work before shepherding our flock into the hut.

We have a rule at our own dining table at home -- there's no whining in dining --and it is enforced. If you can't sit, eat and behave properly at the table, you're not welcome and will be summarily excused or escorted to the bedroom to recover or rest.

About a week ago, we left a family-friendly Thai restaurant at the first sign of a tempest in a toddler. I could hear the relief in the room, and I could stop being on edge because my kids were being, well, kids.

A number of our readers agreed with the restaurant's enforcement of its policy, which isn't actually new for them.

"Good for them!" one of readers writes. "The patrons of this restaurant deserve to have a peaceful meal. If your children aren't behaving, or if they're too young to be taken to a restaurant of this type, you shouldn't be there. That's part of the responsibility of having children." 

As I was growing up, parents understood that children needed to be taught and provided an accepting environment in which to learn, how to behave properly in public. It was a treat to be trusted to go out, to meet expectations.

A reader who identifies as a parent with kids who are generally well-behaved, but have kid moments, writes, "I would feel more comfortable if there were more restaurants like this so people who really don't like kids won't ruin my enjoyment in taking my kids out to a family-oriented restaurant. They don't like my kids, well, they should have gone to a place that doesn't serve children."

Another reader points out the thing that I have been having a bit of trouble reconciling: A restaurant that promotes itself as a family restaurant might want to indicate at what age kids might be welcomed into the "family," allowing for seating and transportation accommodations. 

He writes, "If the restaurant is promoted as a 'family restaurant' then one should expect small children to be accommodated and be present." On the flip side, he writes, "If I am going to a 'fine dining' establishment and paying 'fine dining' prices one of the things I am paying for it the 'ambiance.'"

Parents, let's be honest. Even as our kids are impossibly cute, brilliant and amazing, they have their demonic moments -- and even we don't always want to be around them.

And remember when there were no children tugging at our legs and snuggling in our arms? Before we gave ourselves over to parenthood, the piercing cry of a disconsolate child would hit us like a Slurpee to the brain, too.

Again, I fully support a restaurant alerting potential patrons upfront rather than judgmentally sneering when a child shifts from mellow to exuberant to wildly overtired without warning. Equally disruptive, however, is the unruly adult.

Let's all support a policy of reining in the adolescent adult in public venues. I'd love to see the restaurant also exclaim "Off with their bread!" or "No chowder for you!" in response to grown-ups fixated on their phones at the table, over-talking into them in the restaurant instead of stepping out, and to the baby boomer abusing the wait staff or losing it because the restaurant has run out of his favorite soup.

The restaurant is right: There's no whining in dining and, while we need to let kids be kids, we as a society shouldn't baby bad behavior -- at any age.

Going through the growing pains of parenthood? Join me on the journey: @mmaltaisla