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Fine Dining With Kids in Dallas: Good or Bad Idea?

She’s excited about her 8pm reservations at The Mansion on Saturday!

Yesterday, I posted a reader review of Al’s Steakhouse and Salad Bar. Basically the woman complained about the service and food at the restaurant, but at the end of her rant I “wondered” if the fact that she had two small kids with her was part of the problem.

Full disclosure: I am one of those frequent travelers who breaks into a sweat when I spot a frazzled single mother with two young kids making her journey down the aisle on an crowded  airplane. However, I am a great believer of taking small kids to fine dining restaurants.

Over the years, I’ve used my young nieces to test fine dining servers many times. At the same time, I’ve used the upscale restaurants and servers to teach my young nieces how to behave in an upscale restaurant. I feel it’s important for them to learn about sitting still and talking instead of coloring on the tablecloth. Their lives are so busy and most of the time they eat on the run. Rarely do they spend time around a table sharing a meal that requires manners.

I remember dining at The Mercury several years ago. It was a busy Saturday night and the table next to me was having a multi-generational dinner. The two youngest kids (maybe 3 and 5) were wired to portable DVD players while their parents and grandparents were wired on high-priced wine. One of the people at my table remarked that it was a brilliant idea—the DVD was a great way for the kids to be with the family, etc. I disagreed.  I say, take the headphones off and engage them in the ritual of dining. If they misbehave, take them outside.

If you are a parent and have a magic formula, I’d love to hear it. Meanwhile, I’m taking two 11-year old girls to The French Room. Whoops, that’s a dead giveaway. Shirley Temples anyone?

38 comments on “Fine Dining With Kids in Dallas: Good or Bad Idea?

  1. An 11-year-old, maybe, but there’s no way you’re gonna engage a 3-year-old in “the ritual of dining.” I wouldn’t take a child under the age of 6 or so (depending upon maturity) to a nice restaurant. If for some reason I had to, then I’d probably go the DVD route (or something similar).

  2. I do the iPhone with my 3 year old. He only does fine dining on Easter and Thanksgiving. (steve fields and III forks both offer childrens menus on holidays) I agree though that at about 6 years old letting them experience fine dining with out being hooked to an electronic device is a great idea.

  3. At 6 years old and 8 years old, my children started earning ‘manners points’ at dinnertime. They lost them for elbows on the table or talking with food in their mouth, and earned them for remembering napkins and hands in the lap. Also, if they set the table correctly, including the dessert utensil across the top, they could earn 2 for 1 points. After they had earned a set amount, they took a friend with them to a ‘nicer restaurant’, and worked their way up the stars to the finale of taking a friend to a 3-4 star lunch over a school break. [Weekday/Lunch was wonderful!] And yes, I am a single mom with two kids who now understand fine dining AND one daughter who has earned her own Gold flying status.

  4. Those kids who are given toys and other distractions in restaurants must be the ones that have grown up and can’t stay off their dang iPhones all throughout a meal! Does anyone else find that totally offensive?

  5. A 3 year old plus an 18 month old with one adult is not the same scenario as teaching kids how to dine out. For one thing, the adult is outnumbered, big disadvantage if stuff starts to happen.

    And learning to dine is no different that other stages of development – crawl, walk, run. Meaning there are going to be bumps and bruises along the way, so don’t start them out at a venue that would not be age appropriate for their concentration levels. You put kids in a situation where they hate it, and you’re going to have a tough time getting them to be enthusiastic the next time.

  6. @Borborygmous – what in the hell does your nom de blog mean? I digress. OK – I have two kids, now 15 and 13. Once I got past the trauma of my 2-year-old choking on a chip and barfing on the entire table, I started taking them to eat at nice places and they were almost always well behaved. Mealtimes are revered for us whether we eat at home or out. And I think one of the keys to getting them to behave at restaurants is to get them to respect mealtime in general. I also think that giving them DVDs and whatnot is a total cop out. It’s outsourcing parent responsibilities.

  7. @Borborygmous – what in the hell does your nom de blog mean? I digress. OK – I have two kids, now 15 and 13. Once I got past the trauma of my 2-year-old choking on a chip and barfing on the entire table, I started taking them to eat at nice places and they were almost always well behaved. Mealtimes are revered for us whether we eat at home or out. And I think one of the keys to getting them to behave at restaurants is to get them to respect mealtime in general. Giving them DVDs and whatnot is a total cop out. It’s outsourcing parent responsibilities.

  8. I’ve been in many an English pub where dogs were more welcome than small children.

  9. Long time ago, I was a single dude out there with the hot-chick date, and now … married with 3 kids under the age of 10. I must say: don’t judge. Let’s take the DVD/itouch issue. We try not to include the itouchs when we go out, but there are times when wife says (for example): “this is a night out for my mother’s birthday and I don’t want to risk a problem”.

    You, as the observer, just don’t what tonight’s situation is.

    And there is no magic formula. The magic formula changes for each event, different restaurants (el Fenix vs. the French Room), number of adults, number of kids, and time of night.

  10. Don’t judge? Please. My husband and I have seen whiny kids in PJs at Chamberlains and have had kids flat-out ask us if they can have what we’re eating at another restaurant. Mom’s reaction? “I guess he isn’t shy! *giggle*”

    Oddly, if I say something…I’m labeled the PITA who “doesn’t understand”.

    Bottom line – if your kids are in PJs or can’t sit still or need electronic entertainment, do what our parents did and get a babysitter.

  11. On one hand these parents are saying that they bring their kids to nice restaurants to teach them manners and proper etiquette but then they give them a DVD or iphone to occupy them? Not exactly good manners. Why even bring a young child out to a nice restaurant? Manners can be taught anywhere — they don’t need to be at a steak place learning that they need to put their napkin on their lap. I wish restaurants would have family sections and then adult only dining sections.

  12. Fastfood, who are “these parents” that you are quoting? I am sure that there are some parents who take their routinely misbehaved children to upscale restaurants way too late and use the iphone as the babysitter. Just like there are parents who take their 7-year-old kids to the latest R-rated movie at 10pm.

    Most parents however, try their darndest to ensure that their children are well-behaved with good manners. You will not understand that until you are there. And why does the child have an iphone at a nice restaurant? Everyone has their different reasons; almost as many different reasons as their are children. For the most part, though, the parents are trying their best to ensure that other patrons, like you and Stacy, don’t even know that they are there.

    There will always be unruly kids and bad parenting, as Stacy pointed out. Each situation is unique though.

    Why bring a child to a nice restaurant? Well, perhaps they are traveling. Perhaps its the grandparents anniversary and they wanted the children there. Perhaps the family got there early, and now their meal is just now ending as yours is beginning, and there is some overlap. Perhaps that little girl just finished a violin recital that she has been working on for 6 months, and eating with Mom and Dad at a “fancy restaurant” is part of her reward for all of the hard work.

    Again, you’ll just not get it until you are there. I sure didn’t.

    Having said all of that … our approach is to try to teach as much as we can at home. On occasion (usually a reward), we get a babysitter for 2 of the kids and just take one out so that we can focus on just the one child. If we do take all 3 out, then the highest end that we would go to might be Celebration or Popolos (RIP). And you bet that we’ve got iphones stashed just in case they are needed.

  13. Bottom line, if your kids are bothering other diners, it’s your responsibility to remove them from the restaurant. No one should have to remind you to mind your children, and if they do need to say something, you apologize, not try to make them feel like the bad guy for wanting to enjoy their meal in peace.

    And yes George, I have kids. They know how to behave in restaurants without iPhones — better than some adults I’ve seen!

  14. From personal experience, I find that casual dining restaurants seem more able to deal with people with children more so then fine dining restaurants.

    Usually when showing up to a ‘Fine’ dining establishment you get the odd look of ‘What are you doing bringing a child here’. One restaurant was not even able to offer us a high chair, only a very old booster seat.

  15. Kris, I absolutely agree with you. If on rare occasion one of the kids suffers a little meltdown, it’s still going to take 5-10 minutes to get the attention of a waiter, get the credit card processed and discreetly get everyone out, trying as best as possible not to disturb everyone else.

    My point throughout this thread was simply to not judge someone with children too harshly. Don’t judge someone for whipping out the iphone. For the most part, they are doing their best to not bother everyone else.

  16. In the last twelve months I’ve taken my 8 and 9 year old to Bolsa, Craft (for my 18 year old’s birthday), Restaurant Ava and York St. No DVD players, iThings, DS’s, etc. They did fine, didn’t bother anyone and actually ate the food. (They liked Bolsa the most.) One tip: Go early, say 6-6:30.

  17. George — If two adults are there, one takes the kids (or just the offending child) out to the car and the other handles the check, to go boxes, etc. Not only do you spare the other diners, you teach the child(ren) that their behavior is unacceptable by immediately removing them. Letting a child melt down in the middle of a restaurant is unfair to everyone.

  18. Kris, of course. Doh. Didn’t you see me agreeing with you? Still though, it’s going to take a few minutes from the time the problem starts to appear to removal.

  19. @George – yes, I think parents do their best but kids are kids. I have just had too many meals that have been miserable due to unruly kids and their parents – either trying to discipline them or ignoring them. As evidenced by this comment thread — nobody thinks their kid is a problem. If I’m spending $100-$200 on a meal – I don’t want to be bothered by kids or parents trying to control them. I avoid restaurants with a high kid percentage. If a restaurant doesn’t have high chairs, kids menu or sippy cups — I think that should be a clue to parents.

  20. Topics like this always turn into a bunch of parental dick-swinging.

    There’s only ONE way to handle a disruptive child: a swift kick to the eye!

  21. @fastfood – I agree once more. I’m not about to take my kids to a really high end “fine dining” restaurant. They are 95% very well-behaved, but I’m just too cheap to spend that kind of money when my child would be just as happy at Rafa’s. Though occasionally, a couple of times a year, perhaps a Ziziki’s or similar, typically for a special occasion.

    My original point, for our single friends reading here, is that *most* parents do their best, as you pointed out.

    Time for this thread to die…

  22. When I was younger, so much younger than today…it really bothered me when parents brought their kids to what I thought was an adult event. Dinner, movie, etc. I glared and made rude comments. Then, low and behold I became one of them. I took my son everywhere I went. dinner, movies, etc… You know I figured I endured everyone’s kid all those years. Kinda paid my dues. Now my son is grown and I miss all the time we spent together and when I hear a kid being fussy at an adult event I just smile and remember when…..
    By the way, how are they supposed to learn how to behave if you don’t let them out and teach them?

  23. As a kid growing up in Dallas my parents took me out to their favorite places from a young age. I learned how to order for myself, how to ask questions and enjoy being in a dining room of a restaurant and to try new foods. If they hadn’t, I may not be in culinary school right now.

  24. i’d like to know what great quality, amazing food, incredible service and kid friendly restaurants are out there??? Not Chiles or Applebees, but GOOD restauarants!

  25. As long as parents pay attention to their kids, and make them behave, no one minds having them around. It’s common sense, and not being a “lazy parent,” that makes everyone have a good experience. If you can’t control the kids, then don’t bring them out where others are trying to have a nice dinner. It’s “happy hour, not UNhappy hour.”

  26. I remember being a young waiter in a local steakhouse cringing at the sight of children. Many years later, now in the suit and tie and more than a few diapers changed I smile at the sight of parents teaching their children the art of dining. I comp desserts for children who cut their own entrees without help using both knife and fork(though sometimes use dessert as a bribe as well LOL)… I remember watching a group of prom kids dine at Nana and every boy in the party of ten stood up whenever any of the ladies left the table. It left me speechless and determined to teach the kids in my family how to behave at the dinner table. Kids are kids. They get loud and don’t always do the right thing. That’s where parents and a trained staff can easily dissolve a bad situation. Folks teach your kids what dinner is about. Bring em on, and if a restaurant is less than accommodating to your children let the restaurant know. The Mansion and Nana treat children properly, hell the Mansion used to offer etiquette classes for the kiddos(Do they still do that??). We all learned how to dine. Pass it on. Oh and to stay on topic, if your kid has no interest, give him your iphone. Just keep them in check. If you were at the next table celebrating your 20th anniversary you wouldn’t want a kid at the next table rambling all night or throwing his peas at you. Let’s make dinner a family affair again(albeit a proper affair:D)!

  27. Teach the manners at home or in a more casual restaurant – you don’t need a fine dining restaurant. Putting your napkin on your lap, not talking with your mouth full can be taught anywhere. When the kid is mature enough, take him/her to a nice restaurant. Just like anything else, start small. I think it’s hysterical that these parents talk about how it’s culturally good for the kid to be exposed to fine dining. As with all things — within time – yes – as a toddler it’s a joke.

  28. We take out 2.5 year old with us everywhere as we enjoy her company and leave if she becomes a distraction. I wish I could say the same for the abhorrent behavior of the overly loud cell phone talker, the guffawing of the ladies lunch crowd, the peacocking of the Chris Chris, and on and on…bad behavior is bad behavior. Kids just take it in the shorts because, well, they are kids.

  29. I currently have three kiddos, with the oldest being 4. One of the places they actually do the best is at Palomino, as compared to louder more casual restaurants. I think it’s more like “home” and as a result they behave much better. To us, it’s all training. It starts at home and works out from there.

  30. Take your kids early and often to fine dining restaurants. Teach them how to act. Hope they’ll look around and catch on. And if they act up, be prepared to leave. Or beat the sh*t out of them and pray no one has CPS on speed dial.

  31. There are too many parents who do not exercise the smallest measure of control over their children. Once at brunch at Chuy’s my party of six adults was seated at a booth, behind which were six mothers and at least six children. The kids were left to their own devices, one of which became a game of standing on the seat facing our table and throwing wadded paper at us, a game the mothers pretended not to notice. A few polite requests to the moms for crowd control were ignored; the moms were clearly enjoying their mom lunch and mom chat and were not going to have it interrupted. When my next request was not so polite the moms looked at me like I was some kind of monster.

    Too many parents believe their children are just so amazing even total strangers will recognize the amazingness and will be unbothered by the charmingness of the kids’ unrestrained antics.

    On a different issue presented by children at dinner, last Thursday I dined at Cane Rosso and the three children at a table adjacent to me were well behaved, but the highseat girl left a 3ft circle of food, napkins and other refuse. It looked to me like at least a 40% tip situation but somehow I doubt the parents had the same calculus.

    If they can’t be controlled they should stay at home. If they get out of control they should be taken outside. They should never bother another diner, whether at McDonalds or the Mansion. Sadly too many of today’s parents are too selfish to disturb their meals with managing children who shouldn’t be there.

  32. I know I’m late to the party but ‘m gonna add a vote for teaching the kids at home. I was raised in a blue collar, single worker family. Every night at our dining room table, my mother made us act behave as if we were eating out. Staying in our seats, using quiet voices, napkin in lap etc. When we did go to a restaurant, we knew how to behave. I never experienced fine dining until my late 20s but mom’s lessons stuck with me and still applied. I am constantly amazed at the number of people my age, even in casual dining establishments, who don’t know how to behave themselves.