An Open Letter from DEFCON Dining

Categories: DEFCON Dining


To be clear, the incident was certainly disruptive, though fleetingly so, and people acted as if they'd been fleetingly disrupted. That's not always how it goes. I've been witness to parents letting their kids run pell-mell around the restaurant, dodging waiters and jostling diners. That's being an ass****. I've had other diners glare at me and mutter under their breath when one of my kids had a moment of less-than-decorous behavior. That's also being an ass****.

Dining out with kids always has the potential to head south. Children are, in a way, "civilized people" in training. They're learning the ropes, testing the waters, and testing the limits for acceptable social behavior. It's a natural process, and one that always has its share of bumps in the road. It's also a process that each of us has faced at some point, even if only on the tantrum-pitching end. As a parent who's been on the receiving end plenty of times, I know that bad behavior is an occasional fact of life.

Children tend to be loud and lacking in social graces; that's why we teach them how to mind their manners. To me, that education is not merely for the benefit of myself and my children, but for the benefit of the broader community in which we live. I consider it a part of the social contract implicit in participating in public life that I keep my family's behavior from negatively impacting the experiences of those around us. That doesn't mean forcing them to sit straight-backed and silent, but it does mean keeping them in their seats and maintaining a volume and demeanor appropriate to the environment. If they get out of hand, I do what I can to mitigate the impact the impact. In short, I try not to be an ass****. Parents, this goes a long way.

When I find myself in the rare situation of dining without my kids, and am surrounded by other people's, I try to be understanding of the issues parents face. Nobody wants someone else's kid throwing rolls in his soup, but we should be able to tolerate the slightly more boisterous nature of children without wrinkling our noses in ignorant contempt. If a kid in the table next to mine bumps my chair while returning from the bathroom, I assure the embarrassed parent that it's no big deal. I've been there, and besides, that's just basic human consideration. Non-parents, this goes a long way.

So, back to the point at hand. I think there's something inherently unsavory about an otherwise normal restaurant banning children. After all, it's not the age but the behavior that is problematic; a well behaved 4-year-old makes a better dining companion than a loud and obnoxious twenty-something (or forty- or eighty-something). That a restaurant feels that the best way to serve its clientele is to bar entry to an entire group of people seems somewhat contrary to the ideals of inclusion and non-discrimination that guide so much of American culture and law.

That said, kids aren't a protected group in public accommodation law; neither are the elderly, as far as I can tell. I wonder what the reaction would be if a restaurant decided that it was going to ban patrons over the age of 65 after 7 p.m.?

It's not that I really have a problem with the ban, though. It's easy enough for me to patronize other restaurants when I have my kids in tow, and I'm always careful to consider the appropriateness of a given restaurant for my kids on a given day. If a couple of restaurants fall off of our rotation because my kids aren't welcome after 7, the impact is relatively small.

In the end, though, I think the broader implications are more troubling. To me, it points to the fact that people aren't following that simple rule I mentioned above. Let's not ban children from our restaurants. Let's ban ass****s.



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12 comments
emilyash79
emilyash79

I agree with most of the post, but having worked in restaurants and hotels, I have seen how badly behaved many children are these days. It's one thing to bring your children to a public place and watch them like a hawk, but it is quite another to tolerate the bad behavior and assume that everyone else will. Also, La Fisheria is not banning children completely. After seven seems fine, as I have also seen kids that are up way past their bedtimes, and it is not pretty. I am the oldest of four, and my parents had a code for when we misbehaved. It was, "would you like to sit out in the car?" which meant that "I will take you out to the parking lot and put the fear of God into you." Maybe it wasn't the best way to raise children, but we knew when we needed to behave. Again, I don't mind if children are well-behaved (they are so much fun!), but the unfortunate truth is that there are some places they do not belong if they cannot be counted on to behave. Sorry...

jacobsimonbocanegra
jacobsimonbocanegra

i dont want to got o Las Vegas ,Cancun, or anywhere outside my house and see unruly kids. if i see unruly kids , i'll take my business elsewhere, get a goddamn babysitter or stay home....

notthatsimple
notthatsimple

Seemingly simple solution right?  Ban the a**holes who don't manage their kids but don't ban  all kids.  But NOW your solution makes it personal.  So NOW the restaurant has to police the a**holes.  Which means it's after the fact.  After the family has sat down.  After they have ordered.  After the kids have started to turn the dining room into a playground.  TOO late.  Now it's personal.  "Dear Sir/Madame, we find YOUR children's behavior unfairly disrupt the dining experience of our other patrons.  Could you please a) mind your kids or b) leave." I can't imagine many managers or owners who want to have that conversation.

If that didn't work before, why would it work now?  So it completely makes sense why La Fisheria did it.  Now everyone is treated the same.  You may not think it's fair but it is equal treatment and solves the problem BEFORE it happens, not after.

lambmn
lambmn

Nick - the FIRST time your daughter tried to tip the table over, she should have been relocated so that it couldn't happen again.  The second time?  More times?  And so this could have been prevented if you'd been more attentive and not "just let them be" ... this is how these things happen. 

DrGF
DrGF

Thank you so much for weighing in on this -- I was one of the folks who'd hoped you would, back when the La Fisheria story first broke. I completely agree w/ your argument here, particularly your final one about the broader implications of such bans. Alas, children aren't a protected group under public accommodation law... but ass****s of legal age are. If only we could ban the adults who are ass****s we would all have an easier time enjoying ourselves at restaurants (and movie theatres, and stores, and bars, and concerts, and...).

nomadsheart
nomadsheart

I do know that I am every bit as entitled to a night out to eat a meal in a restaurant, free from drama and yelling, food throwing, tantrums, diapers and special feedings of baby food and cheerios smeared over a child, the table and floor.  That doesn't make me an assh*le, as the author would say; it makes me exigient in being able to have a calm and relaxing dining experience when I am spending money.  Because of this, I applaud and support the restauranteurs who have established an age or behavior standard for their restaurants, to insure that all patrons can enjoy the same.

nomadsheart
nomadsheart

Growing up, we ate dinner every night as a family and practiced "our manners".  If we behaved all week, we might go to dinner on Friday night; as long as everyone behaved at the restaurant, things were fine.  At the first sign of trouble, we (the offender) would be escorted out of the restaurant to wait for everyone else to finish, and the next week, we practiced "our manners" including dressing for dinner, at home, around our own table.  The incident that the author describes would never have even been a thought - of my parents or of the children.

Often, I think that no one practices "manners" at home, but suddenly brings a child who has never had to sit at a table, engage in convesation with elders, use knives and forks and maintain behavior for a solid hour.  Is this the child's fault or the parents'?  Is it parents risking a date night in a nice restaurant with possibly undisciplined children in tow? Or it is a failure to teach manners at home in advance which results in drama in public?  I don't know the answers to any of these.(1/2)

WestSideBob
WestSideBob topcommenter

Well reasoned and well written.  Unfortunately the vast majority of those who let their children run amok in public will not read or understand what you've said.  Thanks for trying though.

asicign
asicign

I totally agree with everything the author had to say.  We raised 5 kids, and ate out often.  We tried hard to teach them appropriate behavior in a public environment, and we often received complements from others on how well-behaved our kids were.  When we are out dining now, I enjoy having people of all ages around me.  It is unfortunate that some parents feel no obligation or desire to teach their kids how to behave in public: they are too preoccupied with having a good time as if the children weren't with them.  Because of these inconsiderate parents, I have no problem with an establishment barring young children.  I just wish it didn't come to that.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

The problem is the ass****s (both parents and non-parents) are entitled little sh*ts that think their behavior is perfectly acceptable, and if you don't call them out on it, they will continue to act that way...

kelMOd
kelMOd

@nomadsheart This does not necessarily mean that ALL parents and children fall under this 'undisciplined' category although it is become much more common. Therefore, ALL children should be banned from certain restaurants? Unfortunately, there is no prerequisite to having kids, much less to dining out. I agree with your pt. 1, but do not think that my awesome kid should have to suffer the fate of other little sh*theads. So where do we go from here? 

nomadsheart
nomadsheart

@kelMOd...I am not suggesting that kids have no place in restaurants - indeed, I think it is a great place for children to learn how to act and interact; I am suggesting that children's first experience with dining be at home with their families until they are able to dine relatively securely and at an appropriate level. A child in diapers should probably not be dining at Tony's; well-behaved children earn their place in public through their positive behavior at home and have attentive parents; if children are truly swinging on a table like Bart Conner and Mary Lou Retton, then perhaps they don't belong in a restaurant - yet.

Also, I would suggest that any restauranteur has the right to set the rules for their establishment - and this includes children.  Valet/not valet, happy hours or not, menu specials, reservation acceptance and attire requirements are up to the restauranteur.  As a patron, you can choose to accept them or decline, being a client or not.  It is your choice - and that of fellow diners - which validates a restauranteur's choice of rules.  They will either thrive or fail based on it.

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