When I polled parents and servers on my Facebook page, I heard essentially the same thing from both groups: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. You may not care if your kids are running all over a restaurant, but keep in mind that the people at the table next to you may be forking out a small fortune to keep their kids at home with a babysitter while they enjoy an oh-so-rare night they thought would be free of squawking children. And although some restaurant servers might not yet have kids of their own, parents warn that they too may one day find themselves running on zero sleep, dragging around whiny kids they usually like but not right now, desperate just to get lunch after the soccer game and before the pool party. That said, everyone I talked to had advice to share.
What Parents Want
Napkins, napkins, napkins. "I can't tell you how many times I have said 'Yes, we need more napkins,'" says Kathleen Holt Larese. Nearly every parent I talked to mentioned this. Also: lids on cups. Little ones are prone to spontaneous gravity storms. You can help minimize the damage from these predictable events.
High chairs and booster seats. Parents love it when you have clean booster seats and high chairs with working safety straps. Also: changing tables in BOTH bathrooms. Dads change a lot of diapers these days.
Booths. Parents nearly universally love booths because it allows them to blockade their kids, making it harder for the little monkeys to escape and wreak havoc.
Kid's menus."Kids need to be placated in restaurants but not slowly killed with heart disease and gastronomical boredom," says Jolene Gutierrez Krueger, a former restaurant critic who has six kids. For example, Cleopatra's Café offers chicken nuggets and a single-size pizza, but also a chicken gyro and a small order of spanakopita.
Crayons and something to color on. Having crayons and a little something for them to scribble on goes a long way toward keeping them quiet.
Quick service. Kids can go from fine to starving-to-death-meltdown in, like, 30 seconds. Having crackers or bread at the table right away can avert a crisis. And bringing the kids' food out right away allows parents to help get them started before their own food arrives.
Play areas. Becoming a parent makes you suddenly understand the tremendous appeal of fast food restaurants with those brightly colored plastic hamster-cage playgrounds. But fast food sucks and they don't have booze, so parents become extremely fond of any restaurant with a play area and a liquor license. Cowgirl BBQ is a perfect example.
What Restaurants Want
Restaurants want you to remember they're trying to run a business. They want to make you happy—and everyone around you, too.
"Parents should ask themselves why they are taking their children to a restaurant," says mother and grandmother Kate Padilla. "If you are seeking fine dining, leave kids at home."
Most restaurants do welcome well-behaved kids and their parents. Here are some of the things they told me they wished parents would do.
Keep a short leash. No, not literally a leash. But everyone hates it when parents let their kids run wild around a restaurant. Other diners get annoyed and servers hoisting heavy trays say it's terrifyingly dangerous to have little ones running in between the tables. If you can't keep kids at the table then keep them at home.
Mind their manners. Restaurants really appreciate it when parents work on behavior and table manners before they bring kids to dinner. Kids who dine in grown-up restaurants should be able to behave like grown-ups (or pretty close).
Be prepared. Do bring something to keep the kids occupied, like books, small toys or a coloring book. You know what they like. Throw a little something in the bag.
Take it outside. Babies gonna be babies, right? If your little one starts to scream, other patrons appreciate it when you take them out of the dining room until they've calmed down.
Break the rules. When all else fails, give the kid your phone. Let them eat an entire ramekin of ranch dressing. Maybe you hate to do it, but this is one of those times when it's worth breaking the rules.
Tip well. If the table looks like a Superfund site when you get up to leave, make sure you've tipped your server well. It's a real hassle to shovel up all of those Cheerios and emptied sugar packets.