An Open Letter from DEFCON Dining
Dining out with children is an exercise in situational awareness. Each experience is unique, with different variables leading to different possible outcomes, DEFCON-like in their escalating threat levels. Keen observation, forward planning and prior experience are critical in determining the proper strategy. Here at DEFCON Dining, we do the grunt work for you. It ain't always pretty.
Nicholas L. Hall The most important rule, the rule you can never forget, no matter how much we cry, no matter how much we beg: Never take us to a restaurant after 7p.m.
So it's been a while since all the hubbub surrounding La Fisheria's policy change, banning children under the age of 8 past 7 p.m. The story touched many nerves, with responses ranging from the predictable to the (perhaps) surprising. In my time penning DEFCON Dining, I've seen many of those same responses in the comments section: childless diners telling me to keep my brood caged until they're old enough to vote; sympathetic parents shouting down those who say children should be neither seen nor heard; the few rare voices reaching across the aisle to suggest that perhaps some accommodations could be made by both parties.
I understand why it's a polarizing issue; people without kids want to have a nice time when they go out to dinner, and so do people with kids. Fair or not, popular perception seems to be that children can't behave themselves in adult spaces. This is exacerbated by parents and non-parents alike, promotes both real and imagined behavioral issues, and occasionally culminates in the arguably drastic step of banning an entire class of humans from the privileged domain of "civilized adults."
In thinking through what a ban on children means, and my response to it, I returned time and again to a simple rule that has long guided my behavior in public spaces, and one which should help diners of both camps navigate the turbulent waters of dining out with and among children: don't be an ass****.
A while back, we were having dinner at El Real (Montrose Mondays, whut.) with my wife's sister, her husband, and their 3-year-old son. The kids were horseshoed around the end of the table, trading whatever passes for witticisms between three people whose cumulative age doesn't equal one legal drinker. Things were going fine, except my gymnast daughter wouldn't stop practicing her parallel bar forms on the edge of the table. I'd warned her several times that she was going to tip the table over, and that she had better knock it off, but the kids were being otherwise quiet and unobtrusive, so we decided to let them (generally) be while we conversed amongst ourselves. Clearly, this was a mistake.
When my nephew started screaming bloody murder, the shriek ripping through the restaurant exactly like a 3-year-old screaming bloody murder, it took us a few seconds to figure out what had happened. I'd seen the table tip out of the corner of my eye, and momentarily feared, based upon my peripheral view, that he'd taken the corner in a most inopportune place. The nearest adult, I rushed to his side and tried to calm him, checking for signs of injury. He was inconsolable, though he did not appear to be injured. Still, he wouldn't stop screeching. It was as if the entire restaurant had turned into a funnel, with every scrap of light, sound, and attention feeling as if it were focused directly on our 30 square feet of mortification. It was like being caught in the event horizon of a black hole made of embarrassment.
The thing is, it only lasted a few seconds before my sister-in-law scooped him up and rushed him from the building. That's called not being an ass****. She recognized that her child's behavior was impacting other diners, and she resolved the issue quickly and with as little drama as possible. The world rushed back in just as quickly, and everyone went about their business as if nothing had happened. Nobody glared, nobody made a big deal out of it. That's also called not being an ass****.