November 9, 2005

Baby Gangland Warfare Erupts in Chicago Restaurants

When I got an email a few days ago forwarded from a NYT reporter seeking examples of kids in restaurants, I dutifully sent along some anecdotes of the kid's meltdown at the conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Tokyo. But until I read the story this morning, I had no idea what a minor league game I've been playing.

This is so awesome. Nothing rivals the intensity of being a parent in Chicago. A restaurant in the yuppifying neighborhood of Andersonville put up a sign saying kids must use their "inside voices," and all sorts of parents stormed out in a huff.

Well, not all sorts; in an open letter responding to a brewing boycott, the restaurant owner called the protestors "former cheerleaders and beauty queens who have a very strong sense of entitlement." The owner reiterated his calls for kids to be taught manners and consideration for others when they are in a social setting.

There are some examples from other cities of kid-in-restaurant confrontations, but with waiters announcing "We got ourselves a screamer!" and mothers demanding their right to relax in a cafe like anyone else on the other, Chicago's brawls take the cake.

At Center of a Clash, Rowdy Children in Coffee Shops
[nyt via dt reader dianne]

23 Comments

I just saw the article on nytimes.com and after reading it came here to see your take.

The "we've got a screamer" comment seemed out of line, but I dont think there is anything wrong with resturants and shops asking parents to leave if their kids are being loud to the point of disrupting for the other patrons. Its not that you cant go out with the kids, but if they get out of control, why should everyone suffer?

You have a kid, you have to be the grown up now, which means sometimes having to leave before you want to, so the rest of the resturant can enjoy their meals.

How about getting asked to leave a library with your children because you were too loud?

Sounds like a reasonable thing, but I should add that we were in the children's section of the library, which is on a seperate floor and completly segregated from the adult section. I had a 10 month old who was making the kind of general happy cooing noises most children his age make while playing with the puzzles said library kept out on low child-height tables just for that purpose, while I was sitting on the floor next to him, reading in a loud whisper to his 3 year old sister some books she had picked out. This has baffled me forever. Haven't been back to that library since.

I'm with Anya. I had trouble mustering sympathy for parents whose kids are disrupting the entire restaurant.

Kate, sounds like they took that one to the extreme! I still remember as a kid being told to either be quiet or we would have to leave the library, but I dont think whispers and happy cooing noises are unreasonable. But I think most people would agree that the librarian went to far there.

I think the restaurant owner has the right to do this -- of course, he will not get some of the people as repeat customers, but then again, he might get other people who know that at this particular restaurant, they don't have to hear kids. Though I find it hard to have actual expectations that the kids will always be calm. It seems easier just to not go to a place like that with kids.

Greg, nice juxtaposition with the other NY Mag article.


and Kate, your library story is absolutely horrible. what's the point of setting up all those puzzles and toys in the children's section, if they're not for playing with and, um, having good quality 10 month old conversations with?

Kate, take your child back to that library - especially if it's your local one. The person working there may have been out of line, but you need to make sure your child learns how important a library is. Don't give up that easily - your child will thank you in the long run.

don't worry folks, we go to a different library now :)

the restaurant thing is crazy...yes, in a fancy-shmancy place loud kids (and sometimes just kids in general) shouldn't be allowed/tolerated. that i can understand to an extent. but in a casual coffee shop? where you queue to get your coffee as opposed to having table service? some loudness should be tolerated, especially in the middle of the morning/day. should parents be responsible for keeping their children from bounding off the display cases like red rubber balls? hell yeah. but a little noisy chatter and the occasionaly fuzzy/hungry/tired/poopy infant is just part of living in a community, folks.

But did you guys read that part where a cafe created a "family friendly" area and some parents decided to sue? I would love it if a cafe around my neighborhood created an area like that--just so I could relax a little over whether or not my child was a) disturbing anyone and b) getting in the way/ hurt. I used to go to a cafe in a neighborhood I've since moved from that had a "quiet room" and a "kids room" and it was great. Kids room had toys, books, high chairs, changing rooms...quiet room had adults tapping away on computers or reading the paper--it was perfect.

Iraq? New Orleans? Is that guy serious? I am all for parents being responsible too- I know if my daughter starts whailing, I take her out of the place, but this guy sounds over the top! And then how he described the people who complained as being former "cheerleaders" and "beauty queens"? It sounds as if he has some personal issues of his own. Come on guy, you are selling the equivilent of child-crack: Sweets, and you are this much of a people-hater?

Get over yourself!

Being a father of a toddler, I can't figure where I stand on this. I keep my son under control, but some parents have no idea how disruptive their children are and don't even care. That's what bother me.

"I love people who don't have children who tell you how to parent," said Alison Miller, 35, a psychologist, corporate coach and mother of two. "I'd love for him to be responsible for three children for the next year and see if he can control the volume of their voices every minute of the day."

This is just dumb. The guy isn't telling anyone how to parent -- he's a private property owner who has every right to decide what kind of ambiance he wants to sell. And parents who don't like it have every right to go somewhere else, or to boycott. Isn't freedom grand?

Personally, I full intend to attempt to teach my daughter how to eat at a nice restaurant once she's old enough to understand. If she gets disruptive, I would leave.

As far as restaurants telling parents not to bring their kids or leave, I'm not sure where I stand. Part of me wants to say that if you bring your children to a nice restaurant, the owner has every right to expect them to adhere to the standards they would hold an adult to. That is, if they are loud and disruptive, the owner should be able to ask the party to leave, just as they would if an adult was loud and disruptive...

That's how I feel now. Ask me again in a couple years or maybe even tomorrow. I may change my mind.

OK, I've read the article and I'm pretty neutral. The guy sounds like a jerk, but I'd just exercise my right not to shop there. My kids are 3 months and 22 months, so I hardly take 'em anywhere, and my major problem is people talking to my older girl and precipitating a major stranger anxiety attack.

But this is the part of the article that gets me: a FEMINIST bookstore gives kids a hard time AND told someone not to breastfeed???? I wish they'd expanded on that, 'cause I'm floored.

"Many of the Andersonville mothers who are boycotting Mr. McCauley's bakery also skip story time at Women and Children First, a feminist bookstore, because of the rules: children can be kicked out for standing, talking or sipping drinks. When a retail clerk at the bookstore asked a woman to stop breast-feeding last spring, "the neighborhood set him straight real fast," said Mary Ann Smith, the area's alderwoman."

You know what? I used to go out to restaurants all the time. And now? I have 2 kids under 2, and it's not happening.
I guess I am ambivalent on the issue as presented here. The cafe owner sounds like a jerk, but truthfully, being a parent means you have to be a bad guy sometimes. If your kid is yelling, then yeah, you should leave the restaurant. People go out to a restaurant as a treat to themselves adn shouldn't have to suffer through other people's screaming kids. I have NO sympathy for parents who sit down to read the paper in a cafe while their kid lies on the floor and obstructs traffic. None. I feel bad for the kid, though, since clearly the parents didn't get the memo that they are now responsible for a human being.

sorry, been driving and getting puked on all day and missed the followup. That feminist bookstore anecdote cracked me up, too. I wonder if there's some larger issues at work in Chi-town, maybe something to do with gentrification and straightification of the neighborhood, with old timers clashing with the newbies.

I'd like to think I could spot an over-entitled ex-cheerleader from across a restaurant, though, so I don't begrudge the Scone Nazi's characterization much, even if I do wonder about the customer service aspects of saying it.

But what takes the cake is the mom who complained about her right to relax at a cafe being impinged upon. Someone who wants a kick back and lose herself reading Paris Match at a cafe better damn well leave her kid at home. And if she tried freeranging her kid at a cafe I was in, I'd tell her to hit the road, too.

"I full intend to attempt to teach my daughter how to eat at a nice restaurant once she's old enough to understand"

I take my 16 month old daughter out to restaurants and coffee shops all the time. I'm always fully prepared to leave if she melts down but I believe that even little children can learn that there are places where we behave a certain way or we leave. :) So far so good but the tantrums have only just recently begun, I may revise my habits accordingly!

I've had some strange comments (like the work colleague who said people shouldn't take prams into cafes or restaurants, ever) but I still risk most cafes with my nineteen-month-old daughter. Even the family-friendly places get a hard time from oblivious parents. A cafe near us used to have a fenced play section with toys and books until one mother left her two toddlers there and went down to the supermarket to do her grocery shopping. Spoiled it for the rest of us.

My daughter is just about 16 mos, as well. We do take her to a lot of restaurants. Some of them are pretty nice, but there are a lot of our favorites that are really nice that we haven't taken her to, yet.

She's still learning to not scream and throw stuff on the floor, so we're giving it a little more time until she gets that concept.

Even though I have an 18 month old daughter, I must admit that I am on the Scone Nazi's side on this one. If you can't be bothered to try to teach your children how to behave in a restaurant or to use basic manners, don't take your kids out in public.

Not to brag, but my little one already knows to say please, thank you and excuse me at the table and to tell me when she's finished. I know I can take her places and have her be well behaved because I make the experience fun for her, too. I don't ignore her behind my Globe and Mail or Toronto Star. I bring books that we can enjoy, small quiet toys for the table and if all else fails, nothing beats a quick walk around the cafe or restaurant (while holding my hand, of course). We're in prime tantrum phase now and not once have we experienced a melt-down in a restaurant (shopping malls and subways cars, yes but never in a restaurant). I also make sure that we've had a run through the park or the zoo or the playground and that I have snacks on hand in case she doesn't like the cafe offerings. It's also important to make sure your kid is not overly tired or crazy hungry when you go so the wait for food doesn't drive them crazy!

My point is this: if you want to lose yourself in your newspaper, magazine or Times Crossword, leave your kid home with the nanny and go to the cafe alone.

P.S. WTF is up with the FEMINIST BOOKSTORE not allowing a woman to breastfeed?! I'd like to hear more about that one! I'm shocked!

[those Canadians, always so polite! -ed.]

Yes, that's us Canadians for you...polite to the extreme! We have laws that state how many times a day we must say please, thank you and you're welcome, you know! :)

What's next with these parents who feel their entitled to have their children run around a cafe or restaurant screaming, climbing--they're entitled to let their children talk and kick the chair in front of them in a movie theatre? Aren't they worried about the safety of their children with hot foods, coffee, utensils, etc.? Do they think their children will wake up one day instantly polite and courteous without constant teaching opportunities? Take your children out in public, prep them as to what is appropriate and not appropriate and have consequences for not following guidelines. Take them out of the restaurant once or twice as enforcement, and they will learn quickly. By the way, I have two boys, and my husband and I took turns taking the boys out to cool (quiet) down if they were acting inappropriately. They're 11 and 8, so it wasn't long ago I was in your shoes. Moms, you definitely deserve your coffee-time with the other moms, but so do the other patrons of cafes. They might not have the skill you have of tuning out your children. Help them, too.

Times change, and so does the world. But what ever happened to "be seen and not heard"? I see nothing wrong with being able visit a resturaunt, and to be able to relax. Children are welcome in my eyes, but when the parents allow them to get out of line and disrupt the atmosphere of the resturaunt, then it's time to draw the line. It's time to quiet the children down, or leave, and to show respect for the other patrons of the establishment. If a few people get their feathers ruffled over such a thing, then they probably don't need to be at that particular resturaunt anyway.

A few words on Alison Miller, if she is the same person I am thinking of. She claims, for instance, that it's bad for children to be obedient to their parents because as teenagers they're less able to resist peer pressure. Never mind that real-life studies (instead of her psychobabble theoretical speculation) show that the LESS obedient kids are the ones more likely to get into drugs, drinking and sex as teenagers. I know one can't keep control of children all the time. But I bet you people like Miller purposely don't try to control their kids because they're "squelching their child's creativity" or "hurting their self-esteem."

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