Whining and Dining

Children in restaurants and PARENTS misbehaving.


Lately in newspapers there have been a spate of articles about children having tantrums and families being asked to leave restaurants.

This seems to be a passionate debate starter, and I find myself pretty passionate on the topic too.

Parents are outraged that their kids are not allowed to be wherever they are, and to behave like children. Meanwhile some other patrons are adamant that children should never dine out, lest their coffee/ wine/ dinner be disrupted.

For the most part I think it’s important to allow ALL people into these places. Kids have to learn to assimilate into public life somehow, and THEY ARE ACTUAL PEOPLE. How else are they to learn to behave in company if always denied access to the ‘real’ world?

Hiding in the darkest and furthest corner of our favourite restaurant.
Hiding in the darkest and furthest corner of our favourite restaurant.

I expect to be allowed to take my children with me to most establishments: cafes/restaurants/bars (the casual type, during daytime hours – I’m not talking clubbing with my kids here). However there are some places that I would never consider taking my kids to – fine dining restaurants for example (it is just not appropriate to have children there at all; for the other romantic diners, AND for the children who are probably out of their minds with boredom).

Children, especially toddlers are always going to have loud moments. The cutlery is shiny! It’s exciting to see all the people out! How incredible is this spaghetti bolognaise?! Why didn’t my juice come with an umbrella? Why can’t I eat ice cream instead of whatever this thing is?!

It wasn't easy cleaning up after this spaghetti party!
It wasn’t easy cleaning up after this spaghetti party!

It can be overwhelming for littlies, and that’s cool by me. I get it. I don’t mind a bit of kerfuffle. I don’t mind a bit of laughter, shrieking, and the occasional outburst. However, I do mind children clambering over tables or seats, running around a restaurant endangering themselves and others (think swinging kitchen doors, heavy plates, glasses etc), throwing food, and screaming.

Most people are at least slightly bothered by screaming from other humans. I’m bothered by my own children screaming and I’m seriously bothered by other people’s kids screaming in confined spaces. I’m not a kid hater. I don’t believe that children should be seen and not heard. I’m happy for kids to have a shriek of joy or a crazy scream, I just don’t expect it to go on and on WHILST THE PARENTS SIT BY AND IGNORE THE WHOLE THING.

I just don’t get it when parents pretend that the outrageous and disruptive behaviour of their children is not happening, or make no attempts to remedy the situation. If at home the chosen method of response to tantrums is to ignore them, then that’s their own prerogative, but in a restaurant everyone else can hardly be expected to join in the crusade!

My kids are no saints; I’ve left supermarkets in a major hurry after my children have exploded, with one screaming as though I’d cut him because the frozen items were cold, I have had to leave restaurants with shouting baby/ toddler in tow because the spaghetti bolognaise came with some chopped parsley on top, I’ve left birthday parties after meltdowns over wanting more cake etc. I’m not a parent of children who are total angels and never have horrendous outbursts. They can be total terrors but for the sake of EVERY OTHER HUMAN PRESENT I try to do something about it. Most of us do.

I wholeheartedly feel for parents in situations where they/we/you are stuck – like a plane or other transport, but in a restaurant or dining space, we are FREE TO LEAVE.

behaving like angels on this particular occasion.
behaving like angels on this particular occasion.

Here are my thoughts on how to handle children (especially my own) in restaurants:

  • Preparation! Bring toys/ colouring in book/ ipad/ whatever it is they deem entertaining, for if/when required.
  • If there is screaming, try to diffuse the tantrum. Make SOME effort to reduce the volume (conversing/ begging/ bartering/ distracting), and if there are others around, an apologetic nod to show an awareness that this kid is being a disruptive nightmare.

If that doesn’t work……

  • After a short time, take them away for a few moments to cool down. Go for a walk outside or show them something shiny and return to the lovely dining experience.

If that doesn’t work……

  • Pack up as quickly as is possible and GO THE FUCK HOME.

Sound harsh? Maybe. Maybe they’re one of those kids who are just awful in public, and no matter what anyone does they are crazy in restaurants and cafes. I feel for people in that situation. Honestly it sucks that they can’t go out without a major meltdown, but it really shouldn’t make everyone else’s lives suck too. Stay home! Or get a babysitter so you can go without them! Everyone wins.

Restaurants are not ‘public spaces’, they are privately owned establishments that are well within their right to demand a certain level of behaviour, and that really is up to them to define; same as we all do in our own homes. If a kid has difficulty in a standard setting (read: caters for adults mostly), then maybe consider taking them to a specifically child friendly venue. There are amazing places catering specifically for families that are much more accommodating to the temperaments of babes.

It is the minority of parents who ruin it for everyone by thinking that their experience is more important than the sum of all others. Most parents are well aware of the unspoken code: it goes along the lines of ‘Clean up after your kids’ and ‘Don’t be a fucking asshole’. If we all actually adhered to this then everyone (with or without children) would be much less inclined to roll their eyes when families roll into restaurants.

Most parents are people who care about giving their children awesome experiences in the world where they can participate and learn how to have a fantastic time, without ruining other people’s vibes. Now if those pesky 5% could just eff off, we’d all be welcomed with open arms!

4 thoughts

  1. Well said Gabe! My pet peeve is when parents let the children bang the cutlery on the table. ANNOYING! I certainly don’t let Rafael do that, currently he’s still a good baby in a cafe, but for sure it depends on his tiredness… I would be the first to pack up and leave if he goes beyond misbehaving!


    1. Yes totally!
      As it happens we haven’t attempted a restaurant or cafe date with both babes for what feels like forever, due to sickness and general grumpiness of the wee ones.
      Can’t inflict these germs or the whining on others!


  2. First, your children are adorable in their matching outfits.
    Second, I think most parents would agree 100% with your post. My husband and I have had to quickly pack up or dinners and scuttle away, because our 17 month old just couldn’t handle sitting in his highchair, one more minute. As you said, a nod to onlookers that you acknowledge the problem and will be handling it, either by settling the child down or leaving if necessary, is all that people really expect of you.
    Personally, I think that poor behavior is on the rise, not just from parents, as people walk around with their faces buried in their personal devices, they literally don’t even see what is going on around them. How can you be socially polite, if you are oblivious to your surroundings?


  3. YES! THANK YOU! I cannot stand when parents just sit there and allow screaming to continue as if everyone should just have to deal with it. It’s one thing if you’re stuck on a plane and there is nowhere to go; at a restaurant you can walk out for a bit & calm your child down, if that doesn’t work leave! My husband and I realize going out with our son is a gamble & we are ready to throw in the towel if needed; we’re vacated several restaurants and events when needed.


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