The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed Daniel Eddy, a New York City chef, on how to have a mutually successful experience with a young child in an upscale restaurant ("How to Take Your Kids Out to Eat and Actually Enjoy the Experience," July 14, 2016). WSJ obviously thinks the fact that being a chef qualifies one as an expert on the subject; it seems to me, however, that a waitperson 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 good 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 evening 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, equally well-served.
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 young 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 soundtrack from a popular animated film. Then there was the time on Kauai when two young and 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 on wheelie shoes while their parents sat at the table, oblivious.
Eddy is like too many parents these days: His over-focus on his 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 the very parent who brings things with which to entertain a young child in an upscale restaurant is the very parent who should not have brought the child in the first place. He does not understand because he is the parent in question.
My eminently commonsensical advice, in three parts: (1) 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 upon proper at home table manners because, as we told our kids from early on, "You are in training to eat in nice restaurants and other people's homes." (2) A restaurant experience should not be child-focused. Rather, children in restaurants should be, for the most part, observers, students. That is their place in the world, after all. (3) 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.