An Open Letter from DEFCON Dining

Categories: DEFCON Dining


Kids_looking_serious_sized.jpg
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.
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.

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****.



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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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