When eating out, the focus shouldn’t be all on the kids

The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed Daniel Eddy, a New York City chef, on how to have a successful experience with a child in an upscale restaurant. The newspaper obviously thought that being a chef qualified him as an expert the subject; it seems to me, however, that a waiter would have the better perspective.

Eddy’s first advice is to time the experience so that it coincides with the child’s usual mealtime. That seems like common sense. Then, he says, prep the child for the experience so as to “build some excitement.”

Speaking as one who travels for a living and eats many meals in nice eateries, I do not appreciate having an excited child, much less parents who are trying to help a child have an exciting experience, sitting within fork-throwing distance of me in a restaurant. Nice restaurants are not for having exciting experiences. They are for having calm, and perhaps even stimulating (but not exciting) conversation, over a well-prepared meal.

To summarize the full extent of Eddy’s advice, a parent-child restaurant experience should be 100 percent child-focused. Parents should even prepare for the possibility the child will become restless by bringing along toys and books — new toys and books, mind you, so the child will be excited by them. I am reminded of the time my wife and I were seated next to a family of four in an upscale restaurant in San Francisco. The two children became restless, so the parents pulled out a portable DVD player. My wife and I ate the rest of our meal to the accompaniment of the sound track from an animated film. Then there was the time on Kauai when two restless children were allowed to stand on their chairs and serenade the rest of the patrons. And the time in Atlanta, when two restless children began skating through a restaurant while their parents sat at the table, oblivious.

Eddy is like too many parents these days: His over-focus on the child renders him oblivious to the comfort level of others. The mere fact that a child might become restless in a restaurant is reason enough to leave the child at home with a sitter. And if one cannot obtain a sitter, then call the restaurant and cancel. Or go to Chuck E. Cheese’s where, according to its website, “a kid can be a kid.”

Eddy obviously does not understand that parents who bring things to entertain a child in an upscale restaurant are the very parents who should not have brought the child in the first place.

My commonsense advice:

▪  Children should not go to nice restaurants until they have learned proper table manners. The place to teach such manners is at home. My wife and I insisted on proper at-home table manners because, as we told our kids, “You are in training to eat in nice restaurants and other people’s homes.”

▪  A restaurant experience should not be child-focused. Rather, children in restaurants should be, for the most part, observers and students. That is their place in the world, after all.

▪  The purpose of taking a child to a nice restaurant should not be — as Eddy suggests — to help the child have fun but to help the child learn how to properly act in a restaurant.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website,

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