Restaurant 101: How to Deal With Screaming Children in a Nice Restaurant

Time out.
Time out.

The restaurant business is so much harder than it looks. Sure you, the customer, are aware of poorly cooked food and inattentive, rude service, but restaurant owners face a lot of challenges you, the customer, never see. Like paperwork, employees who steal or don’t show up, and broken equipment.

Then there are the diners and the rally slogan: The customer is always right.

We all know this is not true. Especially now that Yelp! is here to enable bad behavior. I love to see restaurants fighting back. I would. This morning I spotted a post of Gene Gates’ Facebook page. He and his wife, Julie, own and operate Battuto, a lovely restaurant in North Dallas. He asks;

Tough spot. A family of four, with a baby screaming and fussing, and a regular at another table ready to leave because of the kid. Should we understand kids are loud and fussy, or ask them to take the child outside?

My take? You ask them to leave and offer to pay for their dinner and comp them another visit. Why? Because other customers will see what you did and be customers for life. I’m all for taking kids to fine dining restaurants and schooling them in dining out, but when they misbehave the parents should take control. What’s your take?

50 comments on “Restaurant 101: How to Deal With Screaming Children in a Nice Restaurant

  1. As the parent of an almost 5 year old little boy, we make a conscious decision to only frequent restaurants at certain hours and with a kid friendly environment. We have taken him to Lucia and other nicer places several times, but we go early so we don’t run the risk of him becoming loud or disturbing others enjoying their dinners. You have to be respectful of both the child’s age and the limitations that accompany it and mindful of other diners. That’s just common courtesy. Even at “kid friendly” places, you have to keep them engaged or you will face a meltdown. You can’t expect a toddler to wait 1 hour for a table then sit through a 1.5 hour meal quietly.
    It is not the restaurants responsibility to parent your child. If the kid is agitated, step out until they calm down or leave. That is the right thing to do but not always done. No need to comp a meal in my mind-ask them to leave.

  2. Well, your solution sure sounds appropriate to me. The correct solution is NOT to call the police before you talk to the parents about the noise/disturbance a la the recent Applebee’s incident. As a customer who cannot dine out often because of the costs (meal, tip, babysitting, and tip), I would certainly appreciate that if I had paid a sitter, then I should enjoy a pleasant kid-free dinner. Of course, all kinds of situations warrant bringing the kiddos with you even to nice restaurants. Please show kindness to your fellow diners and take the ruckus outside if the kids can’t handle sitting for an extended time.

  3. As a non-parent and frequent restaurant-goer, when I spot kids in a restaurant, I ask for a “kid free zone,” from the hostess, instantly avoiding any potential disturbances. I realize not everyone can afford a babysitter, but if you want to dine out with your offspring, you should slap an iPad in front of them or do whatever you can to make sure they’re not bringing the ruckus to the restaurant. It’s definitely not the restaurants responsibility to take control and comp the parents. Why reward them for ignoring their misbehaved child? I think comp a drink or appetizer for the disturbed patrons and let it be.

  4. The Customer is NOT always right. Sometimes the customer is uninformed. Sometimes they are dead wrong. But the customer is ALWAYS respected. And that goes for all customers engaged in a group activity such as dining.

    Christmas dinner at a nice restaurant. The baby would not stop crying. The parents refused to go outside. The management politely moved them to a table in an unoccupied room. I greatly appreciated that the management did not cower to one table and a possible negative reaction but instead respected all of the other diners. If I walked in to a restaurant and started playing a Vuvuzela what would the response be? Why is a crying baby any different? Or babbling on a cell phone?

    I suggest that management post a sign at the entrance politely explaining their behavior policy—no phone calls at tables, crying babies outside, etc. Set the expectations at the door and then enforce them. Word will get around quick.

  5. Wow, so if you bring a fussy child to a nice restaurant and are unable to control said child, you should be rewarded with a free dinner that night plus ANOTHER free dinner? Completely disagree here. What’s wrong with kindly going to the family and asking if they can keep it down and if they cannot, moving them somewhere further away from the regular? Throwing free stuff at parents with a child who probably shouldn’t even be there in the first place, seems ridiculous. I never set foot in a fine dining establishment until after I was 15, which is fine. Why do babies need to go to Bob’s?

  6. We have started avoiding restaurants that tend to have a high kid quotient– ie Taco Diner at Preston Center. The parents there completely tune out their kids and let them scream as loud as they want. I don’t want to spend money dining out so I can hear your kids. Restaurants must start addressing this.

  7. Father of an adorable 19 month old here. We were able to take her to any restaurant up until about 15 months (she could sit through 2 hours at the Preston-Royal Neighborhood Services without a peep). We were lucky. Now that she wants to be in and out of the high chair as quickly as possible, we only take her to family appropriate spots at appropriate times because we understand our limitations. Get a babysitter for anything nicer. The thing is, there are plenty of rstaurants in Dallas to take your kiddo to that are better than whatever crummy restaurant springs to mind at the term “family friendly.” Goodfriend’s patio is swarming with kids right up until bedtime and then the hipsters gladly take over when we vacate. Who doesn’t like cheese fries and a good beer (or more if you can get your wife to drive).

    I have zero sense of entitlement as concerns my situation – I pretty much don’t like kids save for my own, and I assume everyone else has a similar opinion. If the guest is in over their head, they should step out or get a check, stat. If they don’t handle it themselves, I don’t have any more of a problem with a restaurant alienating the disrespectful parents than I would with a restaurant asking a loud-mouth drunk to leave. Let’s all be responsible for ourselves, yes?

  8. There is no right answer for a restaurant owner. It is always dependent on the restaurant, the target market (upscale or fast food), the family with the screamer, and the offended customers. The owner or general manager needs to be smart, polite, and decisive. It is situation-dependent.

    There is a right answer for parents, and @Dallaslaw gets it right in the firsts paragraph of his/her comment.

    Slapping an iPad in front of the kid is not a solution. That’s just raising a self-entitled, spoiled kid. And refusing to work with the restaurant management team is self-entitled on the part of the parents.

  9. “This just doesn’t seem to be working well tonight. How about I pack your meals for you and prepare your check so you can take care of the situation, and I make a reservation for you another night?” IF they agree, THEN I might think about the COMP status. The best answer/comment was about respecting both sets of diners.
    And BTW Hillary, sometimes its not a CHILD misbehaving or “bringing the ruckus” in the restaurant and it has to be addressed as well.

  10. While these parents are at it, why not school your 5 year old on how to merge into traffic on LBJ? School them in dining out when they are 9 or 10. Most of these situations are caused by parents that don’t want to pay for a babysitter. The customer is always right, but sometimes the customer is looking for a day care center instead of a restaurant.

  11. Great discussion.

    I was the no-kids-in-restaurants queen….until I had one. We don’t cook that much, so we take our now 23-month old daughter to restaurants all the time. We are incredibly sympathetic if she goes bat&^$% (which isn’t often) and take her outside to try to soothe her. If she becomes inconsolable, we’ll get the food packed up and leave. This has only happened once, at rather kid-friendly Mi Cocina, no less.

    We have found a solution that is effective but makes me cringe: the iPad or iPhone at the table. I promised myself I wouldn’t be one of those parents who had a kid at the table with an electronic device but it works.

    We are also try to make other concessions:
    Going to nicer places at off times, like Dallaslaw suggests. An early, 6pm dinner has become a pleasant change of pace when we can make it work. We also ensure she’s had her nap and is well-rested if we know we’re going to be dining for the long haul.

    It’s a trial and error process. I promise, as parents we’re as mortified by the screaming kid as the childless patrons are.

  12. As the parent of a 3 & 5 yr old, and a foodie, there are appropriate places for children. A nice restaurant is not it, IF your children are not well behaved. I do believe in a baby sitter, because I know not to expect preschoolers to sit still thru a nice dinner. Even if I am dining at a family friendly restaurant I will remove my kids from the dining room if they are not behaving. It is not for the manager or other patrons to tell me how to make my children behave, but I should not put other diners out either.

  13. If I ever opened a restaurant, I would not even purchase high chairs, booster chairs or prepackaged saltines. I have sat through too many dinners while ‘the little dumpling’ screams like a wampus cat in a trap and throws saltines like Rip Taylor’s confetti while the parents casually drink cocktails and ignore the child. They may be used to his incoherent babble and crying, but I am not.
    Good Day, Sir.

  14. If a child is throwing a temper tantrum in any restaurant the parents should remove them. Period. I don’t care if this is temporarily (to talk and calm them down) or permanent.
    This is nothing to do with customers being right or wrong it’s just plain good parenting.
    “I’m sorry little Billy but you are not being good therefore I’m taking you home and you won’t get to eat with us out again until you learn to behave”
    It sounds harsh but it’s easy simple parenting and after a few times of doing that I assure you little Billy will learn good restaurant etiquette that will hopefully stay with him for years

  15. I think it’s interesting that all the parents that have commented so far are the perfect parents and know how to control their kids. Ill behaved children in restaurants are not the exception but really the rule. Kid friendly place or not– control your kid!!

  16. maybe it just comes with age but when I was younger and went to dinner a crying baby would just about put me over the edge. After I had my son and took him to restaurants I figured I’d paid my dues and it was time others paid theirs. Now as I am in my 50′s a crying baby is almost like white noise to me and sometimes it takes me right back to my son going out with us. You know it’s just their job to eat and cry. It’s what babies do and when they are grown and gone most of ya’ll will wish for the crying. Just my opinion, I could be wrong….

  17. your commentary is very refreshing to us who exclusively dine out every day, especially coming from a parent.

  18. I’ve found that the best source of entertainment for kids is just letting them play in the fountain at Cane Rosso’s white rock location. We went a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed a nice 2 hour dinner with some friends, the kids were outside the entire time and we never heard a word from them. It was great.

  19. Nancy, you obviously don’t have kids. Parents always try to take control, especially when they’ve lost control. Having said that, a screaming kid should always be taken outside. Doesn’t matter if it’s The Mansion or Denny’s.

  20. Agree 100%. When my 12 year old was a 1-5 year old she screamed like a peyote crazed banshee every restaurant we went to. I always took her outside until she chilled out. A major hassle, yes, but one must keep the peace!

  21. Oh for the days of Slider & Blues. Food was the worse, but the beers were cold and the kids were entertained. Parents just shouted above all the noise. It was completely appropriate for the setting.

  22. Why is it obvious I don’t have kids? I have raised five nieces and currently have a 5-year old nephew all of whom I have taken to fine dining restaurants over the years. They have all been schooled in dining out. When they misbehaved, we went outside and resolved the issue or left. I dine out a lot and have witnessed many a parent who doesn’t “always” take control. I wrote above to take them outside.

  23. During lunch at Chuy’s in Houston I was seated next to about 4 mothers and 6 kids. One child began wadding up napkins and throwing them at our table. After about 4 tosses I attracted the attention if a mother and asked her to stop this behavior. She looked at me like I was mad. A few more tosses later I threw one back at the child and the mothers were aghast and got in my face.

    I’ve never run into child behavior problems in Europe. It is an American phenomenon.

  24. Many have valid points here. It shows the various parenting styles. The fact is I assume that parents discuss the basics before stopping to dine, such as Budget, Menu, Environment, and Wait time. To know your kid and respect them you know what they can handle at what time. Eating a meal is used way to often as the parents decompressing time after a long day and they ignore behaviors they shouldn’t. There is a HUGE difference between Fast Food/Quick serve, (McDonalds) Casual Dining, (Olive Garden/AppleBees) and Fine Dining ( Nick & Sams/Fearings) I feel Battuto falls between Casual and Fine which is a harder dynamic. Maybe having the front area for families only and if there is a wait for a table there during dinner rush so be it. I have a belief that dinner time is to spend chatting with my children, and for us to relax and connect as a family. I really try hard not to throw the Ipad/phone and my kid, but to interact with them. To work with my 4 year old on being polite and eating nicely. My 14 month wants up and down so a environment that does not support that aspect is a bad choice for us. I would find it stressful to be worrying about “OTHERS” feeling and not enjoying my meal. My oldest 3 have always been well behaved in public. I have had NUMEROUS wait staff, or customer service compliment us on how well behaved my children are in various situations. That changed….. my younger 2 are the challenging personalities when hunger and various limits are involved. I have been at casual chain restaurants where parents let there kids run WILD and NOTHING has been done. They yell, jump, and bother our table. I have grown to understand that sometimes discipline varies in different cultures as well. I do not think that double comping a meal solves the issue. You will get families creating crazy scenarios in hopes of achieving a lovely free dinner for free. Parents should be in control by knowing their child is fussy for a reason and be aware of why and armed with the things they desire to help deter it for a nice family meal. If that means leaving because their child is unhappy or not feeling good it is what it is. Its called sacrificing for your child’s well being. I have had many cold meals.

  25. I’ve seen many children behaving equally as poorly in China, so it’s not a US phenomenon. To be fair, there are a lot of Little Emperor there, which is equivalent to many of our precious angels here. I have two children, and Dallaslaw (first post in this topic) nailed it on how I deal with my young children at restaurants. If only more parents show that same level of consideration.

  26. This is the proper way to deal with dining out with young children. Selection and timing of said restaurants makes all the difference most of the time. Manage everyone’s expectations.

  27. I recall going to Smoke the first week it was open and my first child lost it right after we ordered. My first experience with Smoke was enjoyed by eating it out of take-out boxes at home.

  28. An interesting angle in this discussion is the point-of-view of the kids. As parents, we need to teach our kids proper manners and how to behave in public places (among a multitude of other things). However, speaking from my own point of view as a child, I never really looked at going to a “fine dining” establishment as much of a treat. Rather, I viewed it as sort of punishment since service was slower than McDonald’s and menus were loaded with things too advanced for my hamburger and pizza loving palette. (I may have been unique in this regard, but I suspect that I’m not judging from the behavior that I see regularly from kids at restaurants.)

    When we take my child to a restaurant, I try to keep my personal experience in mind. We don’t forego dining altogether and cede control of our house to a 2-yr old child; but I do try to keep in mind that a 1+ hour long dinner is not something that my child views as a “treat”. He would be far happier to play with his toys while snacking on Goldfish crackers. However, we do occasionally take him to do things that he doesn’t want to do, such as dining out, and when it comes to dining out we try to bear in mind that the our time at an establishment is limited and we come prepared with contingencies. We have to be prepared with food that we know he will like in case there is nothing on the menu that he will eat. We have a couple of small (noiseless) toys that he can occupy himself with if our courses are taking longer than his. If we’ve exhausted all of the foregoing options, we will break out an iPhone or iPad to allow him to watch his favorite videos. Lastly, if all of these measures have failed, we will ask for to-go boxes and get out of the restaurant before we become a nuisance to those around us. (We even had one occasion when things turned south just after we placed our orders; so we asked our server to get the kitchen to put our food in to-go boxes before anything ever arrived to our table.)

    >95% of the time, our child behaves, is happy, and there are no issues. However, we try to be prepared for those ~5% occasions when something goes wrong. Beyond that, I look forward to the day when his palette changes and he becomes more interested in fine dining to view it as a treat and not a punishment.

  29. Again, the parents commenting are commenting on their kid’s experience at the restaurant and how they supposedly discipline them — this article is about how a restaurant should deal with your obnoxious kid. We don’t care to hear about your parenting — just like you don’t care if we have to endure your screaming kid while paying for dinner.

    Do we know how Battuto ended up handling this situation?

  30. It’s their job to eat and cry somewhere that I’m not paying for a nice evening out. You are so very wrong.

  31. I think we know how Battuto handled the situation…two free meals. You may not be interested in hearing parenting tips, but if parents parented, there would be no need for this article.

  32. A few restaurants ban kids altogether after 7:00pm. At least one of these has had a significant increase in business. I would patronize generously decent restaurants with this policy.

  33. Yes, it is odd how all the parents posting here have multiple redundant systems to prevent misbehavior, always take the the screaming kid away immediately, and select only appropriate restaurants, like Lucia. I will bet dimes to donuts these tales of advanced parenting and self sacrifice are to a large part, well, tales. Taking a kid to Lucia? You have to be kidding. The place is small, the patrons either book in advance or wait for the 4 unreserved tables. No toddler should taken to a restaurant of this type. It is pure selfishness.

  34. I have to been to restaurants where parents let their kids run wild between the tables, shrieking at a decibel that even I can hear (despite a 90% hearing loss). I’ve always been so tempted to trip one of these brats aka precious snowflakes. However I refrain, despite my annoyance, because I know it is the parent to blame. As a result, I have refrained from sticking out a well-timed leg.

    I applaud the parents who remove their kids from the vicinity until they calm down. You are my heroes and I will go out of my way to thank you for exhibiting such great parenting skill.

    For parents who don’t do this, there is a 10th level of Hell that I reserve for you–and I dub it Apathy. Be considerate of those around you and teach your kids to do the same.

    As far as comping the parents of a whiny kid, I disagree. Instead, comp the civilized diner who is forced to put up with said whiny kid. Just my 2¢. I

  35. This is exactly how my son was raised. He’s been in some of the best restaurants in the world. It is not the responsibility of the restaurateur or their staff to discipline children. He’s 22 now and his behavior at a recent dinner was so obnoxious, I told him we were leaving….lol He was totally shocked, but I was dead serious!

  36. And you’re the reason we no longer go to Cane Rosso. We used to love sitting out on the patio until irresponsible parents started letting their kids run wild on the patio while they sit inside. Thanks a lot, jerk.

  37. I cannot stand when there are screaming kids anywhere especially when I’m trying to enjoy my time dinning out. Parents are scared to hit their kids because someone will likely call it “child abuse”. It’s not! Discipline your children before they get to this point. Put the fear of God in their hearts & minds & they will not embarrass you. That being said, I think this writer is on to something. I would love for this to be implemented, not just in a restaurant all over would be great!

  38. I agree! Take them out to restaurants and teach them how to behave. But when you tell them to do something don’t back down. So many parents do not want to parent their children and end up raising obnoxious adults. Don’t enable them.

  39. Ask them to leave. You ruin everyone’s experience for the sake of one set of “duh” parents. They should not be able to bother everyone else.

  40. Parents should never take thier child to a restaurant if they cannot control them. If they act up, they should take the child outside or leave. Why should the restaurant comp them a meal. I think it is so rude for a parent to allow a child to scream. I have actually asked to be not be seated around children. I taught my child to act accordingly. She taught her children to do the same.

  41. I know I’m late to the party here, but as the owner of a family restaurant I have to put in my two cents. This is an ongoing problem and I just don’t understand why some parents think it is fair to subject others to their screaming child. I raised kids too, and if one of them got fussy at a restaurant, my husband would take them outside while I got our meal wrapped to take home. That is what a responsible parent does.
    Now days, when we gently attempt to tell parents that our other customers are complaining–they usually get irate with us – and often verbally abusive — and then the minute they get in their car, they get on their smart phones and write scathing reviews on Yelp, Google, etc. about how mean we are to kids.
    When babies are crying non-stop or kids are throwing tantrums, it’s usually because they are exhausted and should not have been dragged out for dinner. There are days I wish I could keep the kids and toss out the bad parents. And don’t get me started about screaming kids at the movie theater!

  42. I know I’m late to the party here, but as the owner of a family restaurant I have to put in my two cents. This is an ongoing problem and I just don’t understand why some parents think it is fair to subject others to their screaming child. I raised kids too, and if one of them got fussy, my husband would take them outside while I got our meal wrapped to take home. That is what a responsible parent does.
    Now days, when we gently attempt to tell parents that our other customers are complaining–they usually get irate with us – and often verbally abusive — and then the minute they get in their car, they get on their smart phones and write scathing reviews on Yelp, Google, etc. about how mean we are to kids.
    When babies are scrying non-stop or kids are throwing tantrums, it’s usually because they are exhausted and should not have been dragged out for dinner. There are days I wish I could keep the kids and toss out the bad parents. And don’t get me started about screaming kids at the movie theater!

  43. Today I went with my partner to a restaurant that serves great food and I believe is not a kid friendly restaurant. I dont mind being around children but if we are spending a pretty penny I should have the right to sit and enjoy a quiet meal. well after over thirty minutes of these kids screeching and when address to the waiter being asked if we wanted to sit outside i could not hold my tongue and made a comment only to be treated as second rate customer by the manager and him brushing us off to run to the family with the disrespectful kids. I am not mad at the children it is not my fault their parents have no control over them or respect for other. They apparently were offended by what I had to say, well I was offended by spending my dinner hearing a kid screech. Do I have children they asked why yes and when she was that age she would have never behaved in that manner or I would have left the restaurant .There is a way to behave in public and it doesn’t matter how young they are teach them since infancy I say. I don’t display public affection to my partner in a restaurant setting out of respect for others I normally watch my foul mouth for the same reason I walk even further away to smoke from the designated area all I ask is to enjoy a good meal in peace and not be made to feel like an awful person because I want to enjoy a peaceful dinner . those parent who show consideration for other I applaude you those are the children that will respect you and respect authority at an older age