This week, a significant amount of media attention was paid to the story about the couple that brought their baby to a high-end restaurant after their sitter canceled. The restaurant, Alinea, is fish-heads-on-a-platter upscale dining and requires pre-purchasing tickets that cost $470 for two. If you ask me, that already sounds like it could be a recipe for "dining with assholes," which might explain why the parents opted to bring along their baby rather than cancel the reservation and potentially forego the $470. When you're spending close to $500 on food before figuring in alcohol, tax, and tip, you're already a calibre of person who may or may not think the world is his oyster. Or fish head, or whatever. Speaking as someone who could, perhaps, be enticed by a $235 meal, I'm not suggesting that every single person who eats at a restaurant with Michelin stars is self-centered or insanely wealthy. But I am saying that restaurants of this nature anticipate a level of sophistication from patrons that some of today's foodies may not possess.
It's common sense that parents shouldn't bring a baby to a Michelin-starred restaurant, particularly when the restaurant doesn't offer a kids menu. It's also common sense to take the baby outside if he gets upset. When the Alinea couple didn't do that, and the chef took to Twitter, a debate ensued that didn't even exist for parents of a previous generation. Back then, for example, signs like this weren't commonly seen in sports bars:
Yeesh. Good-natured signs about giving unattended children free kittens and espresso are officially a thing of the past. We've entered the era where sports bars and fine dining restaurants like Alinea now need to spell out in stern terms for patrons, a few of whom they clearly detest, that their unsupervised or loud children are not welcome. This upsets the rest of the parent population, because exposing children to restaurants early on can be a good learning experience. Those parents get the stink eye when they take their kids out -- even when their kids are being good, even when it's 5:30pm and they're at a family friendly restaurant -- and think it's unfair to hate on all children in all restaurants or relegate kids to fast food chains.
I'm not sure if there will ever be a true middle ground, because people on both sides are so sensitive to the issue. Some parents don't want to be "called out," and most patrons without kids have had bad experiences with parent entitlement. In the case of Alinea, those other diners might be cautious to return if they're forced to endure another $500 dinner next to a screaming baby. Even if, as Jessica Grose proposed, the chef shouldn't have tweeted about the incident, it's a discussion that people will continue to have as long as clueless parents bring their kids to inappropriate venues or stop paying attention to them at family-friendly restaurants. Let's check out some examples that highlight this on-going tension:
1. Explanatory Charts
When a chart like this gets created and passed around on Facebook, it signals two things: 1. That parents are, obviously, aware of how difficult it can be to dine out with small kids, and 2. That it shouldn't be a surprise if servers get frustrated by extra messy tables or other diners are unhappy about disruptive children sitting nearby. But I think most of the parents who share it are thinking of the situation purely from their own perspective. They see the difficulty as being a burden on their shoulders, so why should anyone else complain? If their kids are well-behaved, parents might feel like they deserve a medal, but if their kids act up, they expect other patrons to understand that "kids will be kids." It's a fine line to toe.
Melissa, Shannon, and Rebecca live in the real world where bad restaurant experiences often happen to perfectly good diners. Angela and Terri don't want to think about that world, because they'd rather label anyone who makes a request to be moved away from children a "rude JERK!" But, isn't it entirely possible that this man has been seated next to a barfing child, or had food flung in his direction, or had his head prodded with a fork, all to the amusement or obliviousness of the parents? I think it is. Also, ladies, it's okay to say "butthole" as an insult in the 21st century. Really, it's fine. Cursing still gets you into heaven.
3. Exerting Flower Power
Okay, Meg, are you really not capable of understanding that this flower arrangements gig is this "crabby lady's" main job? Like, her whole job entails making pretty arrangements for events and restaurants and stuff, and therefore she's a little possessive over them? Kind of the way you are about your incredibly bright, well-mannered, and reasonable precious angel? We've all seen generally well-behaved children treat restaurant property like its meant to be played with, deconstructed, or destroyed, and believe it or not, some of the people who work there cannot fucking stand it. Sorry.
4. Overheard: Whiny Crybabies
No, Michelle, the world does NOT need more kids like "Ayelet," because then there'd be a bunch of kids named "Ayelet" running around. What is it about some people that causes them to post on Facebook about incredibly mundane occurrences that most people forget the second after they happen? So what if the person said kids belong at McDonald's and not at steakhouses? That statement isn't entirely inaccurate, depending on the kid and the restaurant. I used to wait tables at a steakhouse and would've thought it odd to bring a toddler in for dinner, especially considering most tables are ordering expensive bottles of wine and $40 plates of meat. Sure, it's wonderful to expose kids to a variety of eating environments, but taking your kids everywhere? As in,everywhere everywhere? No. Sometimes the kids can stay home. And sometimes they shouldn't be named Ayelet (even if it's cultural).
Way to add levity (?) to this intellectual discourse, Nina, but I'm not sure the joke is all that funny. Yes, it was rude of the old lady to "sneer" about Melissa's kid to the server, but how long did Melissa and Matt wait until taking him outside? Sometimes all an old lady wants is to be a sneering bitch who eats her food in peace. It's exactly the same as being a kid who just wants to scream and cry at dinner. Both the kid and the old lady are being precisely who they're supposed to be, who they want to be, in this situation. Why fault either of them? Maybe Melissa and Matt's kid isn't ready to be taken out to restaurants yet. Maybe the problem isn't with their kid or with the old lady -- it's with them. Not that I think parents shouldn't bring their kids out to eat just because kids are capable of meltdowns, but what constitutes a "throat-punch" these days? Someone who intentionally runs over your dog, or an old lady who doesn't like sitting near a wailing baby at dinner? I only see one person in this scenario who's acting histrionic, and it's Melissa with her rant and stupid hashtag.