We have recently started taking our five- and three-year-old children to dine with us at restaurants. Earlier, we took them only to open-air places or child-friendly eateries. They tend to make a bit of noise and run around, even at regular restaurants, which I feel is alright. However, my husband and I differ on the way we think this should be handled. He wants them to stay at the table and not raise their voices. I, on the other hand, feel it is fine if they’re themselves as long as they don’t annoy other diners. What is your opinion?
It depends on what you perceive is “annoying to other people”. Most restaurants in our country are full of kids running all over the place, getting in the way of waiters, talking or crying very loudly, climbing on to sofas with their footwear on or tapping on the fish tank. Most diners are a tolerant (long-suffering) lot, and are loath to yell at a kid, and so it appears that they don’t mind. But I think it’s time we taught our kids that there is some distinction between private and public conduct. I know this may sound like a Victorian concept, but it isn’t.
Eating out: Manners are a must. Photograph: Jupiterimages, India
When you dine out, you dress appropriately, sit at your table, avoid talking and laughing or arguing very loudly, don’t you? At least, I hope you do! This kind of protocol exists the world over, and not just at upscale restaurants and fancy clubs; it is common even in informal dining situations, and makes life easier for everyone. It doesn’t mean that your kids have to be straitjacketed and forced to eat their dinner in silence. It just means that they modify their idea of fun, just like you do, in a public place.
Most importantly, it means that they take into account the presence of other people. Your husband seems to have some idea about this, and I would like to say that he is on the right track, as long as he doesn’t expect total silence from them, which is unlikely. Yes, kids need to remain at their table and, if there is something fascinating for them to look at — like a fish tank or a fountain or any kind of display in the restaurant — one of you could accompany them there to take a look, and get them to come back to the table without stopovers at other tables to peer at food and stare at people.
Dining out is also a family activity and not, as a lot of people seem to think, a place where husband and wife can catch up with each other while the restaurant takes care of the kids and their entertainment. Your husband and you can come up with ways to keep the kids engaged and involved at the table. It’s a good way to bond with each other, learn a few lessons in civic/public/considerate behaviour. You don’t have to lecture them, you just need to communicate that they are not to behave as if they are at home, even if it is a “family restaurant”.
Your husband and you could gently “pre-warn” them before going out about what they shouldn’t do at a restaurant. They are young, but they will soon get the point, and dining out (or going to any public space) will become more doable and fun.
Send your queries to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org