Hobie and Monk: What to do when the kids aren’t all right

Dear Hobie & Monk,

I looked back through your columns, and I’m surprised that no one has written in about this topic considering the wealth of restaurants and children in Alexandria.

When my son was young (infant to 5 years old), we very, very rarely went to a restaurant for the main reason that there was a possibility of disturbing others. I have been in many restaurants lately where not only do parents routinely bring little ones, they allow them to run about and generally disturb other guests. And after a few minutes of running about, there is the inevitable fall, which results in the inevitable crying fit.

I had one of these situations happen during Easter brunch this year. It was a difficult situation for us and the restaurant, as the parents seemed mostly oblivious to the disturbance that the five small children in their group were causing. The restaurant wouldn’t step in; when we raised the issue to staff members, they mostly shrugged their shoulders. Other than merely walking out, any advice?

- Hungry for 
recommendations

Hobie: I think you’ve touched on the third rail of public parenting. And while all involved appear easily electrified by their positions on this issue, all share in the responsibility, too.

So hold your fire for a second and consider each of these rules: One, children are allowed in, and need to learn how to behave in, restaurants. Two, parents are responsible for monitoring their children in restaurants and appropriately disciplining/removing them if necessary. Three, restaurant staff members are responsible for graciously asking parents to monitor their children and making the situation pleasant for other patrons. And four, other patrons, while needing to acknowledge rule No. 1 and realizing that most Easter brunches are not full of perfectly behaved people, should first ask staff to follow rule No. 3.

If restaurant employees are unwilling to speak with parents of seriously misbehaving children, you should consider saying something quietly to the parents — some will be gracious and some will not (Did you see our column about crying babies on airplanes?). I know the adage about it taking a village to raise our children can become trite, but I do think we all share in making the everyday parts of our community more accessible and enjoyable.
It was your decision to stay out of restaurants with a young child, but I don’t think everyone should have to make that same decision. They do, however, need to respect the rights of the people sitting one table over.

Monk: Agreed. And what do restaurant folks think about the issue? I decided to ask the experts at two of my favorite Alexandria establishments — Del Ray Pizzeria along Mount Vernon Avenue and Bittersweet along King Street.

Both restaurants welcome children and families and maintain a friendly, neighborhood atmosphere. Sean, manager of Del Ray Pizzeria, and Jody, owner of Bittersweet, are pros and confirmed with wry smiles that balancing boisterous guests — not just children — and nearby tables can be tricky.
Safety is a big issue. Kids who climb on furniture or jam up aisles place themselves, waiters and other guests at risk. And diners, big and small, who are loud enough to repeatedly disrupt other patrons, should and will be asked by management to tone it down.

As Hobie suggests, a discrete conversation with restaurant employees (ideally management) is the first and best option for addressing disruptive diners. Restaurant management wants every guest to have a safe and pleasant experience — and to come back again and again. A savvy manager is your best bet for getting a bad brunch back on track.
To submit questions to Hobie & Monk, email hobieandmonk@alextimes.com.

Hobie and Monk are two Alexandria women with husbands, children, dogs, jobs, mortgages, unmet New Year’s resolutions, obsessions with impractical shoes, English novels … and Ph.D.s in clinical psychology. Their advice, while fabulous, should not be construed as therapeutic within a doctor-patient context or substituted for the advice of readers’ personal advisors.

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