When the server brings over a highchair, I can tell you're wondering whether we're going to have an issue. And I understand that you don't go out to restaurants to listen to my kid. But at the same time, I don't intend to stop eating out. Serious Eats just published a poll about whether kids should be allowed in high-end restaurants, a question that simply exacerbates the issue.
Rather than pick sides, I think we just need some ground rules. If we can agree on these basic rules, then I'm fairly certain we can avoid your meal and my meal being ruined. You might recognize these rules from your local pool -- I've tried to adapt a code of conduct that we, as a society, have previously agreed upon.
5 to 6 p.m. is open swim. The first hour should be a mulligan. It's typically easier to feed kids earlier, and this leaves the rest of the evening to the general populace. We could even have a transitional half-hour from 6 to 6:30 p.m.
No running allowed. The table is home base and the home is where the family stays for the meal. Trips to the bathroom are fine, but otherwise we are all sitting in our seats for the duration of dinner.
Children under five must be supervised by a responsible person. I know the restaurant situations in which my daughter will be OK. There are some five-year-olds who can handle a dinner at the American and there are some 50-year-olds who can not. In exchange for a bit of trust, parents will agree to perform an honest personality litmus test on their children -- recognizing that even on a given night, the best kid can be poorly behaved.
Three whistles, clear the pool. If my table gets three strikes, we're out of there. Food on the ground -- we'll call this one the automatic strike -- a mild screaming fit, and talking to someone else's table are all examples. The potential list of fouls would be agreed upon before dinner commences.
A lifeguard will always be on duty. If I signal for the check, it's got to be ready. This is crucial because I can't leave until I pay and if it needs to happen quickly, this will take a bit of co-operation.
No iced coffees. Assuming we've had a great evening, I agree not to
push it. My wife and I refer to this as the "iced coffee" rule,
wherein we attempt to stop for iced coffee while driving home and discover that those seven minutes really did make the difference between a great day and everybody crying a little.
[Image courtesy of Katy Regnier]