There's been a big brouhaha over a crying baby in Alinea, one of Chicago's top restaurants. And that's led to some people—including my friend, Melanie—calling for a ban on kids from five-star eateries and other adult fare. But that's not really fair to families whose kids aren't bawling their way through the amuse bouche or the latest ballet. There are plenty of parents out there (including me) who want to encourage their kids to expand their horizons, and not always live a chicken nugget and Chuck E. Cheese filled existence. And there are lots of kids (like mine) who are perfectly able to behave as well as—or even better than—adults in a sophisticated situation.
And how will our kids ever learn how to behave properly in different settings, if they're never allowed to experience them?
My kids, now six and nine, have been going to swank eateries, Broadway shows, ballets and museums since before they were potty trained, and we haven't always gotten a warm welcome when we arrive. We're talking some serious cold stares from fellow patrons—the kind of ire usually reserved for a fussy baby on a transatlantic flight (and yes, we've been there, too).
But I think if we parents follow a few key rules, we can avoid being relegated to a McDonalds and Disney-on-Ice wasteland until our kids are teenagers—and help make kids more welcome in adult surroundings.
1. Be prepared to leave—STAT. This is perhaps the biggest issue I've seen. If your kid starts acting up and disturbing those around you, it's time to head for the exits ASAP—at least until your kiddo gets back under control. (And in fact, if one of these parents had just stepped outside for a little while to try to calm their baby, we probably wouldn't be hearing a thing about this.) When we first took our kids to shows, we opted for tickets on the aisle, close to the exits, so we could get out with a minimum of fuss if someone wasn't behaving. Fortunately, it never came to that—though my girls themselves have grumbled about other kids whose parents let them kick seats and cry throughout the performance.
2. Lay the groundwork. If your kiddo's older than two, you can spend some time leading up to the big day prepping them for the event. We give our kids a brief primer on the plot of a play or ballet we're seeing, and talk about the expected behavior (no kicking seats, no talking until intermission). Before a dinner out, we check out the menu online, and decide what they (and we) are getting—it makes getting them fed a little bit faster, too. We've even done practice fancy dinners, with cloth napkins and wine glasses—the girls love playing restaurant.
3. Stash emergency supplies. We usually came prepared with small toys during the wait for the meal, and small snacks to eat before the show or during intermission to ensure that hunger didn't lead to a meltdown. Now that my girls are older, though, we find that we need these less and less.
4. Don't be afraid to challenge your kids'—and your—boundaries. Even if it's a complete fail—like my daughters' first taste of Ethiopian food—it makes for a great story down the road. But maybe you'll find that your chicken-and-fries kiddo actually would like sushi. Life should be an adventure, and coming out of your comfort zone can help you find new passions and new things to love.
What do you think? Should five-star eateries be kid-free? Do you take your kids to "grown-up" places—and how do they do?
Image: Elena Stepanova/Shutterstock.com