Years ago, Bryce Kuhn managed a restaurant in Hollywood, and some of his least favorite customers were parents with small children.
They often let the kids run wild and behave badly, he said, and worse, the parents didn’t seem to notice a problem. Managers were encouraged not to confront the parents.
Kuhn, who opened the upscale restaurant Twelve, at 12111 W. Maple, just before his first child was born two years ago, said those experiences help him identify with a diner owner in Maine who grabbed headlines last week. The owner, who lost her temper and screamed at a 20-month-old child who wouldn’t stop crying in her restaurant, defended her actions, saying she had asked the parents repeatedly to do something about the child and was ignored. The parents said the diner owner had traumatized their child and should have been more compassionate.
Kuhn said he was relieved to find when he opened Twelve that Wichita parents were, as a whole, more conscientious when dining out. Though children tend to get a little crazy during Sunday buffets, he said, he’s found that parents keep their kids in check.
“I’ve lived in several other states, and Wichita parents are much more in tune with other people around them,” said Kuhn, who says his experiences have made him hyper-aware of his own daughter’s behavior in restaurants. “I’ve never had to ask anyone to shape up or ship out. That’s for sure.”
The story out of Maine has revived an age-old conversation about the etiquette of dining out with young children. If parents aren’t keeping their children under control in restaurants, do others have the right to intervene?
Many local parents said that the onus is on the parents to teach their children manners and appropriate public behavior. They wouldn’t appreciate a stranger letting their child have it, they said, so they try to never let it get to the point where that might happen.
Local blogger Cat Poland, who writes about her experiences with her three children, ages 6, 4 and 5 months, on her blog Mom On the Range (http://momontherange.com), said the story out of Maine caught her attention immediately. She’s been the mother with the kid acting up in public many times herself.
Like many parents, Poland said her instinct is to remove the child from the situation immediately – and not to give children the message that public tantrums are acceptable. Poland said she’s been in situations where she ends a shopping trip and leaves a cart full of groceries, apologizing to the store manager on her way out, when her children have grocery store meltdowns.
“I’ve been in those parents’ shoes before,” she said. “I’ve had a kid who is acting up, and it’s horrifying. You just want to crawl under the table and hide. But it’s an opportunity for you to try to work with your child and get them to calm down. Personally, I feel like you should remove that child from the situation when it starts to escalate.”
Poland also recalled a time when a store employee corrected her daughters, who were crawling on the checkout stand as she was distracted trying to pay. She didn’t take offense, she said, because the checker was in the right.
But the checker was diplomatic about it, Poland said, while her take on the diner owner in Maine was that she was over-the-top hostile.
“The cashier was like, ‘Get down,’ and I thought, ‘OK. That’s fine.’ And my girls kind of looked at her wide-eyed and got right down. I didn’t say anything to her about it. They were acting out of line.”
Schane Gross, who owns The Anchor at 1109 E. Douglas and Fork and Fennel at 3425 E. Douglas, joked that adults often behave worse than children in her restaurants.
Gross is a mother and often takes her daughter Mila, 7, to restaurants. Mila isn’t always the picture of maturity, Gross said, so she identifies with parents whose kids are acting up in her restaurants.
She has her own technique for dealing with children who, for example, climb on the repurposed church pews that serve as booths at both of her restaurants or run around near servers carrying trays of hot food. If the kids are too young to understand that they’re putting themselves in danger, Gross said, she calmly tells the parent that, for the safety of the child, they probably shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. She’ll often bring the young child cups to play with at the table or show them a magic trick to redirect them.
Gross will directly address older kids, encouraging them to consider their own safety.
In all situations, though, she said she keeps her cool – and tries to keep the unruly behavior in perspective.
“An owner should always be on their best behavior,” Gross said. “They can survive anything for a half hour.”
Local mom Jessica DeVader said that when her 9-year-old son Gage was little, she had zero tolerance about poor restaurant behavior to the point where her friends would sometimes tell her to ease up. But her parents raised her to be respectful in public, and she never wanted to be “that parent” who sat idly by while her child disrupted an entire room.
DeVader said she recently sat next to “that parent” on a plane. The woman’s 2-year-old was screeching at the top of her lungs from takeoff to touchdown, and the mother just sat there staring ahead as though she didn’t hear it. DeVader wanted to say something but decided to just endure it.
DeVader remembers a time when Gage was 4, and she had to take him to the restaurant restroom to correct his behavior.
“I had a mom come out of the stall and say, ‘I really wanted to tell you that I really appreciate the fact that you brought your kid in here. I appreciated the way you talked to him,’” DeVader said. “We’ve probably been to the bathroom dozens of times for attitude adjustments. There is no way I would let my kid sit there and scream like that. Not only am I not enjoying myself at that point, but I know that everyone around me is annoyed and getting angry.”
During crazy days at Doo-Dah Diner – and most days are crazy at the popular downtown brunch spot – a loud and uncontrolled child changes the vibe of the whole room, said owner Timirie Shibley. Her chef husband, Patrick, who is known for shouting out meal orders to his staff in the kitchen, will sometimes use the same voice to implore staff members to give crying children some crackers.
Shibley, a mom to two teenage daughters, said she understands first-hand the dilemma parents face when dining out with children. When her girls would act up in restaurants, she said, she would respond by ushering them to the car for a little chat.
The story of the angry diner owner in Maine felt familiar, Shibley said. In the end, she said, it’s the parents’ responsibility to not put small children in situations they can’t handle. If she had to, she said, she’d likely approach the parent of a rambunctious child and ask them to consider people around them.
“I can absolutely see things from both the diner owner’s perspective and the family’s perspective. I’m a mom. I’ve had my kids melt down in public. However, as a diner owner, it is my responsibility to ensure a pleasant environment for all of our guests. It’s not uncommon for us to have an hour wait on the weekends. That’s just asking too much for most young children.”
Kuhn at Twelve said he appreciates parents who distract their fidgety children by bringing them over to watch the saute station in his restaurant’s open kitchen or who bring crayons or iPads along to help entertain them. He takes his daughter on daddy-daughter lunch dates every week, he said, where he works on getting her used to good restaurant behavior.
“Being in the restaurant business for the majority of my life, I’m very cognizant of not wanting to disturb other people, whether they’re having a business meeting or lunch with friends,” he said. “If she wants to scream, she can scream at home.”
Kids in restaurants: What other people are saying
Several Wichita Eagle readers shared their opinions on the topic on Facebook.
“Our task as parents is to help our children learn how to behave in different situations and how to determine the appropriate behavior for a situation on their own. That said, sometimes there will be some crying and fits on the part of the child. Once that has started, at least for a very young child, the teachable moment is over, and it is the responsibility of the parents to do damage control.” – Kath Mahoney, Wichita
“When did business owners stop having a right to operate their businesses as they saw fit?” – John Thompson, Wichita
“We take our children out frequently to all types of restaurants. We try hard to teach proper manners and behavior, but there are times when they fall apart. (They are normal kids, not robots). However, it’s not OK for one of our kids to ruin the restaurant atmosphere for other diners. Usually, my husband will take the offending child outside or even to the car. Sometimes it takes a while for them to calm down and that’s fine. My 4-year-old is very familiar with being removed from the restaurant. It’s simple. If you can’t behave and you throw a fit, you don’t get to be with the rest of the family.” – Christine Voncannon, Wichita
“I don’t think yelling at anyone is the way to go. I know emotions get hot, but there are more diplomatic ways to get the point across. It sounds to me like the owner was more concerned with making a big show of her own over-the-top, mouthy reputation than the feelings of others. I think kids are constantly bombarded with contradictory messages. It’s not OK for children to yell, but it is OK for an adult to yell.” – Alison Babb, Wichita
“When our son was a toddler, he started a tantrum, and I took him to the car while my husband asked for our meal to come out in to-go containers. (We had just ordered.) My kids didn’t get out of line too often, but when they did, we shut it down quickly and even made them apologize to other diners.” – Andrea Anglin, Wichita
“Not a mom here, but a father of two kids not much different than this little girl, and a business owner like the lady here. I’ve been in the parents situation and made the choice to remove the kids to the benefit of the other patrons. But I have also learned that by validating the child’s actions by jerking them out of a situation doesn’t teach them anything but to scream whenever they want something you aren’t giving them. But I’ve also been in the situation where people and children are disruptive in our business. You have to be respectful to parents and customers, no matter the situation. In my book, being rude and hurtful, especially to a kid, is never acceptable. There are always better ways of dealing with it over cursing and acting the way she did. It’s best to take the high road. That will pay off in the long run.” – Andrew Gough, owner, Reverie Coffee Roasters, 2611 E. Douglas
“As a mother, I would never allow my children to behave like that in public. If my children are having an off day and decide to behave poorly, I would leave. I feel it is extremely rude to disrupt everyone in the room just to have a meal. As a restaurant owner, I would not have yelled at the child. I would have addressed the guests discreetly. Reminding them that I have a right to refuse service, I would have pointed out that they were disturbing the other guests, packed their food up to go, possibly on-the-house, and sent them on their way.” – Jackie Aaron-Keefer, owner, Lotus Leaf Cafe, 241 N. Washington