Stephen Jardine: Can’t control your child? Don’t eat out
AS ANYONE with a toddler will know, they choose their moments. Tantrums are reserved for the most embarrassing occasions and locations.
Supermarket check-out queues are good but nothing beats the excruciating tension of a restaurant packed with disapproving diners. We’ve all been there. You go out for a quiet meal and a glass of wine with your nearest and dearest at the end of a long day and end up sitting next to Dennis The Menace.
I walked into an Edinburgh restaurant recently and felt the atmosphere before I saw the child. Even for a toddler it was quite a display. The screaming was bad, the food throwing was terrible but it was the constant banging of his plastic cup on the table that was driving other tables to distraction. When the family left, their table was like a battlefield, but you could almost hear the sigh of relief from staff and customers alike.
It’s a tricky subject. Parents don’t want to stop eating out just because they have a child. But at the same time, it is their child so why should everyone else have their meal spoiled if it behaves badly? For restaurants it is a social battlefield. In these hard times, they want to be seen as child-friendly to attract as many customers as possible. But become too popular with families and you risk discouraging childless twenty somethings or older people looking for a bit of peace and quiet with their meal.
At the end of the day, it is up to the restaurant where they draw the line. In an Edinburgh café last week I heard an indignant mum berate the owner for only having two high chairs. They were already occupied and to add insult to injury, there was no room for her juggernaut-sized cross-country pushchair. “But you’re supposed to be child-friendly”, she loudly moaned.
Well, to a point. Nowhere yet does the European Convention on Human Rights say all restaurant and café owners must bend over backwards for kids. It comes down to common sense. Children are the customers of tomorrow and every restaurant and café needs to educate and engage with them if they want future business. But they set the rules. Some parents seem to believe wait staff are glorified childminders who will deal with their offspring while they tuck into the chardonnay and abandon all responsibility.
The past ten years have seen a big change in family dining with the growth of child friendly chains. From balloons to crayons and special kiddie menus, these places are best prepared to deal with the demands of young diners.
But some parents don’t want that and will continue to head to the places they frequented BC – before child. That’s fine as long as they remember why people choose to eat out. A well-behaved child can make a restaurant and a badly-behaved one can ruin it. Responsibility rests squarely with the parents.
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