Living

Here’s some food for thought about kids and fine dining

When is a restaurant too fancy for kids?
When is a restaurant too fancy for kids? AP

Surely you’ve heard about the North Carolina restaurant that banned children five years old and under from its dining room, fueling a longstanding debate about kids behaving badly and parents who do little to stop such conduct.

The owner of Caruso’s, the upscale Italian eatery, said it was a business decision, not a disliking of kids that prompted the decision.

“I had several customers complain, get up and leave because children were bothering them, and the parents were doing nothing,” Caruso told the Mooresville (N.C.) Tribune. “It started to feel like it wasn’t Caruso’s anymore, that it was a local pizzeria instead.”

As a mother and grandmother, I was initially appalled. I’ve long argued that pockets of society remain decidedly unfriendly to children, even as state governments hand out stroller parking decals and businesses struggle to come up with family leave policies.

Then, the Hubby and I went to dinner with longtime friends. Having raised nine children between us, we’ve survived sass and tantrums aplenty. Which is my way of saying that whining, loud noises and assorted disruptive behaviors don’t normally disturb us. We’ve been there, done that.

But that particular Saturday night at the table behind us, a family with three children seemed oblivious to the diners around them.

The daughter, about 5 years old, shrieked and shouted the entire time we were there. The parents did nothing — nothing! — to stop her. There was no toy pulled out for her entertainment, no attempt to remove her from the premises until she quieted, no admonishments or threats to encourage her to change.

In fact, the parents spoke over their child’s racket while two older brothers fiddled with their screens. My friend, sitting close enough to touch the little girl, turned to exchange looks with the mother, who ignored the cue. Minutes later, another patron asked for the bill and hurriedly left the premises.

“If you’re taking your kids out in public,” my friend complained later, “either you make sure you have them under control or don’t go out with them. The rest of us shouldn’t have to pay for someone’s lack of parenting skills.”

Look, I know how difficult children can be, even those who are normally well behaved. My kids threw fits in stores when I refused to buy them what they wanted and their collective raucousness — four boys are a handful, especially when directed by an older sister — invariably kept me on edge when we ventured out. So, yes, I understand the challenges and frustrations, understand, too, how certain segments of society hold unrealistic expectations.

But ... but too often I see parents who allow their children to run wild, parents who refuse to set boundaries, parents who think their child’s antics are funny, parents who are overwhelmed, overworked and desirous of taking a break at the expense of other moviegoers, diners and travelers around them. (Here’s looking at you, the mother who, back in February, allowed her little boy to kick the back of my plane seat for almost three hours, even after I asked the child to stop.)

The North Carolina establishment isn’t the first one, nor the last, to issue a ban on children. Other restaurants don’t allow kids, and there’s a movement in the travel business to adult-only hotels and resorts.

Some industry media have even floated the idea of child-free flights or special airplane seating. Predictably, there has been push back from angry parents who want to enjoy family time unrestricted.

I’m saddened that it should come to this, of course, for some advanced lessons in manners can be taught only in upscale public places. But until parents discipline their children and stick to the rules of indoor voices and public comportment, the well-behaved many will continue to pay for the wayward few.

Ana Veciana-Suarez’s column appears Sunday.

Write to her at The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami FL 33132, send email to aveciana@herald.com, or follow her on Twitter @AnaVeciana.

McClatchy News Service

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