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Children in restaurants stirs debate

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - I'm not afraid to take my kids out to a nice restaurant. Rather enjoy it, actually.

I am, however, wary of the icy glares and eye rolling I know I can expect when I do.

And listen, I get it.

You go out to eat to relax, to have a good time, to savor a nice meal. A gaggle of screaming kids running around the table slinging mashed potatoes is probably not your idea of a good time.

But here's the thing: It's not mine, either.

We go out to eat for the same reasons you do - to enjoy ourselves - not to give our children free rein to drive people bonkers. We don't want yours crawling under our table, either.

I don't care how cute your kids are. If they spray me with gravy, it's a problem. A parenting problem. Sure, "kids will be kids." But "parents should be parents."

I'm not saying my boys (10, 8 and 5) are always perfect little gentlemen, but they have been raised to know the difference between right and wrong, to know how to behave in public, to listen to their parents.

They know what is and isn't acceptable behavior, especially in public, because we've taught them accordingly. When they start to cross that line, we tell them to stop and, lo and behold, they do. Because those are the rules, and kids do need rules.

It's not an easy row to hoe, but it pays huge dividends.

We still hire the occasional sitter to enjoy a date night out. But if plans call for a celebration out or friends invite us over to their house, I don't think twice about bringing the kids along. More often than not, they do me proud, and I can't tell you the number of compliments they get from servers and strangers.

So the next time you see me waltzing past your table, three boys in tow, give us a chance before presuming your silent night has just been shattered. Those little guys just might surprise you.

***

The whole kids-in-restaurants debate heated up so much in the Pittsburgh area recently that a restaurant there banned children 6 and under from the premises.

Mike Vuick, owner of McDain's Restaurant and Golf Center in Monroeville, insisted he was acting on the behalf of customers who complained that their meals were ruined by loud or unruly children.

During the media storm that followed, Vuick described the situation as a three-part issue - the presence of small babies who can't be controlled, a growing number of toddlers with "increasingly poor manners" and parents who become offended when staffers ask them to control their kids.

And he says most people side with him. He contends that of the more than 2,000 emails he's received on the topic, folks support the ban by an 11-to-1 ratio. A Pittsburgh TV station's news poll drew more than 10,000 respondents, with nearly two-thirds also supporting the ban.

On the other side of the coin is Danny Meyer, owner of the highly regarded Union Square Restaurant Group. He's opposed to such bans, but cautions that it's up to parents to keep their little ones under control or leave the dining room.

Likewise, instead of turning away kids some restaurants are catering to them like never before. After observing mothers ordering regular food and mashing it up for their little ones, GustOrganics decided to begin doing the pureeing for them. The New York restaurant offers organic choices like beef tenderloin puree with zucchini, carrot and bay leaf, plus a banana and dulce de leche pureed dessert.

Some Starbucks cafes offer a line of packaged purees and baby food is also on the menu at San Francisco Bay-area restaurants owned by celebrity chef Tyler Florence.

***

To help ensure children, their parents and the anti-kid crowd all enjoy a relaxing night out, I consulted parenting experts at online care provider Care.com to adapt a few of their tips for dining out with young'uns ...

* START AT HOME - Sitting down for meals as a family at home is great practice for restaurant trips. We do that almost nightly, making sure we use our utensils, place napkins in laps, chew with our mouths closed ask each other about our days. And yes, they help clean up afterward.

* CHOOSE THE RIGHT SPOT - Start out at so-called family-friendly restaurants. They are used to the challenges children bring and can help minimize the drama with a patience wait staff, kid meals, spill-proof cups and crayons. But don't resign yourself to a life of nothing but T.G.I. Friday's. If you teach and expect good behavior there, it's easier to work your way up to nicer places.

* GIVE TECHNOLOGY THE BOOT - It really IS possible to live without your BlackBerry for an hour while you eat. And it really IS possible to keep kids entertained without an iPhone. It's OK to have both - just not at the dining table. Here's a novel thought instead: Talk to one another! Engaging in good conversation is all part of the family meal experience.

Amen, on that last one. Restaurant cellphone etiquette has gotten completely out of control.

I'm as wired-in as just about anyone, but there are times when you just need to push the ol' phone aside. The dinner table is one of them.

Contact writer Steven Keith at dailymailfoodguy@aol.com or 304-348-1721. You can also follow him on Facebook and Pinterest as "DailyMail FoodGuy," on Twitter as "DMFoodGuy" or read his blog at http://blogs.dailymail.com/foodguy/.

 


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