Etiquette Disaster of the Month

Unruly Child Ruins Restaurant Experience

Tom: “Recently, my wife and I treated ourselves to dinner at an upscale restaurant after a stressful week of business and travel. We left our children at home with a babysitter in order to enjoy a quiet evening together. Seated near our table was a large family with a young child. At first, there were no disturbances from these diners and our meal began pleasantly. But as our entrees arrived, the child became unruly, shouting and running around the table in a distracting and unsafe manner.

We tried to be patient, but the interruptions became so annoying that we summoned our waiter to complain. He shrugged his shoulders in helplessness. The restaurant was full, so he could not move us to another table. When the child’s outbursts reached the breaking point, I got up and approached the parents, asking politely if they would mind keeping their child quiet so we could enjoy our dinner. The father became defensive and combative, and we exchanged some heated words. He told me I was the one being “a jerk” and refused to discipline his child. I immediately asked for the check (which, by mid-meal, was over $100) and we left the restaurant feeling angry and frustrated.

How could we have handled this any differently?”

Sharyn: “Unfortunately, you encountered parents who were defensive about their parenting skills and clueless as to the proper decorum required when dining at an upscale restaurant. Approaching people directly can indeed put you at risk of confrontation, as you experienced.

My suggestion would have been to summon the manager and explain the situation (this was not a fast food restaurant or pizza parlor where a high noise and activity level might be expected). Let the manager deal directly with his/her customers. Should the child continue to misbehave, politely - yet firmly - explain to the manager that if the disturbance is not immediately resolved, you will leave the restaurant, never to return.

P.S. A note to parents when your child becomes unruly: Be considerate of other diners and take her to the lobby or out of the restaurant. Often the child is simply tired, bored, or over-stimulated. If it is obvious that your child can’t behave properly, then it is time to wrap your meals “to go”. Resign yourselves to leaving a restaurant when your child reaches the end of her rope (before other diners reach the end of theirs).

Bravo to you for attempting to expose your child to the restaurant experience, but it should never be at the expense of other diners. Perhaps a family friendly restaurant that tolerates a higher activity level would be a better choice. When an engagement at an upscale restaurant reappears on your social calendar, consider hiring a babysitter.

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