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Thursday, February 19th, 2015
Last weekend my husband and I decided to treat our three kids to lunch at a favorite casual spot. We walked in to find a new addition to the décor: a flat-screen TV. We chose the only booth where our kids’ eyeballs wouldn’t be glued to it, which was the table directly beneath the TV. We’re early lunch eaters and we were the only ones there, so I asked our server (nicely) if he could turn down the sound. He did.
Still, I’m bummed. In a time when it’s challenging enough to get everyone in the family to look up from the screens on their devices and phones and share a meal together, and maybe even (whoa!) have a conversation, flat-screen TVs in restaurants have never felt less necessary—nor more ubiquitous. The list of our favorite eateries that now have one or several flat-screens is growing: our favorite pizza place; the tiny ice cream shop that doesn’t have room for a lone table, but does have a flat-screen above the counter; and even a rustic eatery on a lonely road near a peach farm in the middle of nowhere, where my kids were treated between bites of their turkey and apple sandwiches to a freeway police chase.
I know I’m not alone in my dismay that dining out is now served with a side of screen. “We were in some tiny pizza joint in Astoria, Queens, and there was a horror movie on TV,” says my Parents colleague Erika Janes, a mom of two young boys. ”My kids were mesmerized. I had to ask them to change it.”
We hear so much about how it’s important to pick and choose what young children watch, especially when you consider sobering statistics like this one: The typical American child will be exposed to 12,000 acts of violence on television a year. So, I do my best to select movies and video games carefully. When I tune to our on-demand channel to find my preschooler a free kids’ show, I mute the sound and tell her to avert her eyes, since the movie promo that flashes on screen while I quickly click to the kidfare is typically a violence-fest of fiery crashes and shootings. But when we’re out and about and TVs are on at the doctor’s office, the dentist, the checkout line, and restaurants, I know I’m in a losing battle.
I recently brought my girls to lunch at our closest fast-food joint (yeah, we occasionally eat there! choosing my battles one at a time here). It had just been remodeled in snazzier fashion, and was quite the step up for us—lounge-style seating, even a faux-fireplace—but there was that new addition again: a flat-screen TV. I found one of very few tables without a view of it, but while taking my preschooler to the restroom, I passed a boy who looked about 6. His eyes were fixated on CNN on the screen, which was featuring a segment about ISIS, and the boy asked, “Daddy, who are those men with guns?” My heart sank as the father fumbled for an explanation, even as I wrestled with perspective: We’re much luckier, so much luckier, than the families we are seeing in the news on television.
People complain when they see parents of younger children in restaurants these days, their kids glued to games and animated shows on iPads and their parents’ phones. And theoretically, I agree—these glowing devices can be an intruder on others’ dining experience, and on what might be shared family time. But here’s another thing to think about in our TV-obsessed culture: If my choice is between Dora on an iPad in my child’s lap, and CNN airing a segment about the Taiwan plane crash on the restaurant wall, well: Which should a parent choose?
Maybe we’re just eating in the wrong places. I think of restaurant critic Adam Platt’s hilarious “Flat-Screen TV Axiom,” which states the following:
“The more flat-screen TVs that glow on a restaurant’s wall, the harder the food will suck.”
But Mr. Platt wrote that for New York magazine in 2008, before TVs were everywhere. And we do most of our dining out in suburban America, not hip New York City. Flat-screen TV’s, once mostly a staple of sports bars, now seem to be symbolic with a place having gone more upscale, strangely enough. Flat-screens have become part of the remodeling blueprint for chain restaurants looking to polish their image, along with glossy hardwood floors and leather seating, and also hang in the chicest of cafes. And some restaurants are already experimenting with “smart tables,” spill-resistant touchscreen tabletops that you can swipe while you dine. When that happens at the restaurants near me, I give up.
Someone must be enjoying all this TV watching in restaurants, or we wouldn’t see them everywhere. Maybe my perspective has just been so skewed as a parent that I see the issue differently than if I were a single, childfree 20something popping into any of these places with some time to kill. Who’s to say I wouldn’t enjoy a comfy couch and a nice large TV?
Or, I’d like to think, I’d be talking to whichever friend I’d come along with. It’s the same thing I’m hoping for with my family: to share some conversation over a meal, without the distraction of a television. So, I’m favoring restaurants without flat-screens, though they’re getting fewer and further between.
How do you feel when you see flat-screens in restaurants? Have you ever asked the restaurant to turn a TV down, or off?
Gail O’Connor is a senior editor at Parents and a mother of three.
Photo of a TV screen in a restaurant via Shutterstock
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Parenting, The Parents Perspective
Monday, August 11th, 2014
Joe DeProspero has two sons and a wife, and he is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is also writing a parenting humor book. He will be posting twice monthly and his previous posts can be found here. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be found on Facebook and on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
It’s possible, I assure you. Like finding a perfectly symmetrical, scar-less pumpkin the day before Halloween, or an ESPN article that doesn’t mention Johnny Manziel or LeBron James, having a successful, painless dinner at a restaurant with your kids could happen. Clearly, it doesn’t always happen but it’s attainable. Being honest, it happens about as frequently as a flawless pumpkin or a LeBron-less ESPN tweet. If you have any children (or follow ESPN on social media), you know exactly what I mean.
If you have older children, you’ve already been through “the dining experience” more times than you could likely count. But if you’re a newer parent with children aged 2-3, here are some tips I’ve found most useful when attempting to eat a meal without losing my mind or getting banned by the owner. I call them “The 5 Ps.”
The biggest mistake any parent can make when taking their small children out in public (especially to a restaurant) is not being able to come correct. By this, I mean you should have prepared diapers (if needed), a backup outfit, and the most crucial item: the entertainment. A coloring book, a doll, or an Etch-a-Sketch — anything that will occupy your child’s mind and deter him from destruction. If you’re counting on the restaurant to supply the crayons, it’s a risky bet as you’ll often be left, quite literally, empty-handed.
Whoever coined the phrase “time is of the essence” was clearly either a parent of young kids or a war general (or both). Because being tactical with your time is most important when leading troops into battle or feeding your children. And frankly, both acts can feel quite similar. In short, don’t bring your children out to a late dinner. Early on in my parenthood, I made the monumental mistake of arriving at a restaurant at a time we would normally eat dinner, forgetting that we’d need to be given a table, then order and wait for our food. And the place didn’t have crayons! Bottom line is: get to the restaurant at least half an hour before the time you actually plan to eat.
This is the trickiest maneuver to pull off successfully. Mostly because it depends on your child’s appetite and demeanor at the exact second you sit down to eat on a particular night. Has she not eaten a morsel since lunch? Has she eaten a granola bar as recently as half an hour ago? Is she being an irritable little jerk? These are all questions you have to ask yourself when ordering your meals. If your child looks like she can hold out to eat, give her a toy/book to play with first, have your meals come out together, and then eat at the same time. If your kid looks like a character from Dawn of the Dead, give her something small to eat to hold her over or have her food come out first.
A necessary virtue in any aspect of parenting, but yours will truly be tested when you’re surrounded by angry, unsympathetic patrons who are simply looking for a peaceful night out at Fuddruckers. Your child is undoubtedly going to do something to annoy them (and you). Take a breath, gather yourself, and try your absolute best not to lose it. Having patience doesn’t mean allowing your 2-year-old to knock down his juice cup on his little sister without consequence. It just means you can’t fly off the handle because two peas fell on the floor. Pick your battles. This leads right into the fifth and final P…
Goes hand in hand with patience. You can’t really have one without the other. Poise is the difference between flipping the table over and storming out the front door like Teresa Giudice vs. calmly carrying your unruly kid to a neutral zone and coolly, yet forcefully, threatening the disposal of the entire collection of whatever they love. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve lost it many, many times with my children in public. But I’ve found that, aside from the release of letting off steam, losing my cool only yields negative results. However, staying poised amidst chaos is a virtue worth its weight in gold, and it will make you the envy of every parent around you who are slamming their fists on the table in disgust.
I know what you’re thinking: But Joe, I have definitely tried all of these tips and I still want to smash my face into a wall every time I set foot in an Outback. Trust me, I understand. It’s not an exact science. And like anything related to your kids, there is no handbook/guide that guarantees a disaster-less night. But if you think ahead, come correct, and maintain whatever composure you have left, there’s actually an outside chance you could (gasp) enjoy a meal with your kids. Just maybe.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to post a comment below or read more of my ramblings here.
Image: Restaurant table photo via Shutterstock.com
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Parenting, The Parents Perspective
Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
Imagine this: You and your partner decide to go all out for a date night and book dinner for two at one of the fanciest restaurants in America. I know, I know, most of our bank accounts won’t allow for this–but just pretend! The restaurant is so exclusive that you have to pay in advance (roughly $500 per couple, and that’s without drinks!) and there are no refunds allowed. At the last minute, the sitter you had arranged for that night cancels. What do you do? Do you call an emergency sitter—heck, what’s an extra $100 when you’re already spending so much on a meal!? Or do you pack up the baby and hope her sweet face will just add to the fine dining ambience?
Last weekend, a Chicago couple faced this exact dilemma, and opted for the second option—but when their baby started to loudly scream and cry through dinner at hot-spot Alinea, it wasn’t just other diners who became annoyed. Alinea chef and co-owner Grant Achatz could hear the ruckus from the kitchen and tweeted:
I know this might be an unpopular opinion, but I wouldn’t blame Achatz if he instituted something like a no kids under 7 after 7 pm policy or banned babies altogether from Alinea. Now, it’s one thing if you’re at TGIFriday’s or The Olive Garden and your own son or a kid at the next table gets a bit loud. That’s absolutely to be expected. Even I, a woman without children of my own, but with plenty of pint-sized besties in my crew, know that kids are kids and sometimes kids make noise! But there are places that babies and kids are really too young for—places that demand more of the people who go there than little ones can muster.
When you take a small child or baby to a place like a fancy restaurant or theater that’s clearly out of their realm, they will be uncomfortable, they will be upset, they will make a fuss. And when that child acts out, he’ll likely get yelled at or at least get dirty looks from other people, even though it’s really the parents’ fault for putting their son or daughter in a situation they weren’t ready for. Or in the case of what happened at Alinea, your baby will be fussy, and you probably won’t fully enjoy the experience anyway—not to mention how your babe affects everyone else trying to have a nice night out.
In these situations, I really think we simply need to use common sense and think about what’s age-appropriate for our children, even if it’s inconvenient for us as adults in the moment. It’s so important to introduce kids to the “real world,” and to resist taking them to only the most “kid friendly” of places. But when parents wait until kids are a little older and more mature to take them to their first movie, their first music concert, and yes, even to their first nice restaurant, those events become precious milestones that everyone can enjoy. Rushing that process and putting kids in very adult settings too early just isn’t fun or fair to anyone—least of all, your little one.
TELL US: Should fancy restaurants like Alinea ask parents to leave their kids at home, or do you think your kiddos should be allowed anywhere you go?
NEXT: Great tips from real moms for eating out with your baby
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